If you’re looking for a car that will meet all your creature comfort needs, the Lexus GS F is probably not the car for you.
But if you’re the type who loves the thrill of pushing the limits and breaking the rules (slightly, of course) but still need to be surrounded by luxury and safety, you’ll fall in love with the GS F. With a hefty track-quality engine and tight, responsive handling, it will coax your soul, thrilling you when you need it, but providing a cocoon of luxury comforts (because realistically, most drives are not that thrilling).
Who this car is for
- Buyers who want a performance quality four-door sedan
- Singles, couples or small families
- Drivers who drive (or would like to learn) competitively on a track
- Buyers who appreciate fine quality and materials
- Buyers who want a reliable ownership experience
What it Costs
- Base price: about $83,000
- Mark Levinson sound system: $1,380
- Head up display: $900
- Price of the model we drove: $87,620
A little history of the Lexus performance sedan, and the meaning of F (probably not what you think)
Not long ago you might have thought of Lexus as a brand that appealed to two types of buyers: fashionable families and buyers who wanted a comfortable luxury car. What was distinctly missing was the performance buyer: guys (yes, mostly men) who sought a thrilling drive experience.
Ironically, Toyota’s legacy (Toyota is Lexus’ parent company) is rich in performance driving, so this was probably a sore point for Lexus execs. In 2009 the F series (F for Flagship and also, Fuji Raceway, where testing is done) was introduced and in the years since, the brand has racked up accolades for its performance machines. In fact, luxury performance has taken on a whole new meaning as other brands have followed suit, staking out this space as a place of distinction and innovation.
Not to be confusing, Lexus has two F distinctions: The F model (which includes the GS F) and the F Sport line, which incorporates much of the F model DNA but carries a smaller, less performance-focused engine—great for buyers who love the look and feel of the F series but don’t need the larger engine and heftier price tag that comes with it; the Lexus GS F Sport has a starting price of about $59,000.
This engine lets you know it’s there
If you drive both the F and F Sport, you’ll immediately know the difference: the GS F growls as you accelerate onto the highway with a seat-of-the-pants thrill that makes your soul soar as you hurtle through space yet still in complete control. Even in the most typical driving conditions, the GS F never lets you forget that you’re capable of speed, cornering and control worthy of the top raceways in the world.
The GS F’s 467 horsepower engine is big as engines go; it could easily power a truck or tow a sizable trailer. But this power is all for you, intended to thrill. I feared that this big engine might be overpowering for daily driving in my suburban neighborhood, but I worried needlessly. The torque, or pep of the car, is not as powerful as the engine, so while it can go quite fast, it takes its time getting up to speed. I appreciated this; there were no nasty surprises when hitting the gas those first few times and it eliminates the ‘jostle factor’ that passengers often experience (and complain about) in a performance car.
Paddle shifters: Great for the right drive opportunity
Harnessing all that engine power is the goal in this car and the experience is made even richer by using the paddle shifters. If you’ve driven with paddle shifters, you might think they are a phony excuse for simulating a stick shift. Often, that’s the case, especially if you use them during normal driving conditions, such as the daily highway commute. But then, you’re missing the point.
I had the opportunity to take the GS F on a track and learn to drive with paddle shifters. What I learned, which you can see in the video below, is that by shifting gears when you want to, not when the engine thinks the time is right, you can get a bit more power out of the engine, both to better accelerate over a hill or though a curve, or to slow the car without braking (engine braking, they call it). All this helps you to maximize the engine’s power and tests your skills as a driver. And, it supersizes the fun factor.
Safety systems you’ll be glad to have on board a performance sedan
With all that power, I was happy to know that the GS F had me well covered when it came to safety. Lexus has been among the brands innovating its safety features and the GS F has them all pretty much standard, including stability control, blind spot monitors, rear traffic alert, pedestrian detection, pre-collision braking, traction control, head up display and adaptive cruise control. It has self-tensioning seat belts that tighten automatically (but not too much as to hurt you) if you brake suddenly and you can even have a 5-point harness installed in the front seat to keep you extra safe if you decide to put the GS F to the performance test.
An interior that doesn’t forget you’re human – it cradles you in luxury
This is probably the most important factor in the GS F, or any Lexus for that matter: a super comfortable and well-appointed cabin makes this experience superb. Long the downside of performance cars is that they were sparsely appointed with only the necessities like tachometers and racing harnesses. Great sound systems, heated seats and the like were pure puffery. But really, if only 2% of drive time is spent on performance driving, why should 100% of the cabin be dedicated to performance needs?
Clearly, Lexus thought this too, so creature comforts are tended to, with a nod to the performance legacy of the GS F. Suede Alcantara accents on the arm rest and across the top of the instrument panel are soft on the eyes and to the touch; every other surface is covered in leather or carbon fiber, a performance car staple.
The unique Lexus mouse infotainment system: command & control at your finger tips
One of the more distinct features in all Lexus cars is the mouse-driven infotainment system. Just rest your wrist on the suede wrist bar, your fingers on the mouse and toggle through the info screen (not a touch screen) to select radio, apps, phone, navigation, climate control and system settings. You’ll get the hang of it, though it can be a little frustrating at first as the mouse seems to zip through the choices and maybe past the one you want (audible pops, which can be turned off, too, let you hear that you’ve landed on each selection, as a smart phone does). But you can adjust the speed of the mouse so it’s easy to scan through without overshooting. Most of the time, though, I chose to use buttons on the instrument panel to choose what I needed: radio selector, heated seats and adjusting the air temperature.
Room for passengers and stuff, but just enough
Then there’s the thing about sports sedans, even one the size of the GS F, which is somewhere between full and mid-sized: there’s often not enough room for stuff. The Lexus has a nicely sized arm rest storage spot, a couple of cup holders and a small cubby that is perfect for holding the key fob. My large iPhone 6, however, had to rest in the cup holders or inside the arm rest, where the two USB ports are. The rear seats were comfortable and ample for two passengers, but would be a tight fit for three due to the floor hump (this accommodates rear wheel drive systems and other mechanics) that makes a middle seat passenger either put her feet on it or straddle it; neither is comfortable for very long. And the trunk was amply sized, perfectly fitting our luggage for a weekend.
Where did I put my handbag?
Anywhere it wouldn’t fall over is the first answer. There’s not a natural place to put a handbag and in a performance car, that would be nice since every corner and curve tempted me to get out a little aggression (safely of course!). If I was driving alone, it sat on the passenger’s seat (which is not a great idea, but convenient). If I had a front seat passenger, I put it on the rear seat, which I could reach by turning around and stretching; it fit perfectly in the middle seat when I had passengers in both rear seats, but the optimal choice was the right rear passenger seat: It nestled nicely into the space intended for a human rear end.
Occasionally I put it on the rear floor, which I don’t like to do because if it spills my lipstick may be lost in under-seat purgatory (and if passengers get into the car with dirty shoes, my handbag becomes victimized). Also, the rear floor hump means that if my handbag goes on the floor, it may be under someone’s feet.
Don’t try this: Performance tires and snow don’t mix
During the week I test drove the Lexus GS F it snowed. I wasn’t worried, the GS F has snow mode and torque vectoring control, both of which are intended to provide an all wheel drive-type experience in challenging situations (snow mode gives you extra traction and TVC transfers power to the wheels that need it most, though this is more for track driving than snow driving). But what I didn’t realize was that the car was outfitted with performance tires, designed to give the least amount of resistance on a track. Even with extra power directed at the wheels, driving in the show was a challenge. Had it been equipped with all season tires I’m certain the experience would have been fine.
The GS F mission: comfort through the mundane until you find the perfect road
Driving in the snow isn’t the idea, it’s the reality. So is bumper to bumper traffic, a 25 MPH commute to school and inching through the Whole Foods parking lot. It’s what you do while you wait for the spring thaw, that perfect summer day, or for a fall drive through curving mountain roads that let you put the GS F through its natural paces. Those moments when you can push the GS F’s 467 horse power engine to give you just enough of a bad-boy thrill that you’ll amble through the mundane until the next time. And there will be a next time.
A playlist for the ultimate drive
Every great car demands a great playlist. Why leave it to the chance that the perfect song will pop up on the radio? We assembled this playlist for the right amount of adrenaline and elegance to accent the soaring feeling of driving the Lexus GS F.
What We Loved
- That engine and thrilling drive experience
- Lexus mouse-driven infotainment system and a screen that is NOT touch sensitive (no fingerprints!)
- Four doors and seating for 5 (more comfortable for 4)
- Luxury appointments throughout
- Alcantara suede, leather and carbon fiber details
- Snow mode
- Heated seats
- Head up display
What You Need To Know
- This engine comes with a price tag—about $20,000 over the F Sport version
- Designed for track driving
- Rear wheel drive
- Premium fuel required
- 16 MPG city/24 MPG highway; we averaged about 20 MPG
- Not yet safety rated
- 4 year/50,000 mile basic warranty
- 6 year/70,000 mile power train warranty
- Price of the model we tested: $87,620
Disclosure: Lexus provided the GS F for my test drive; opinions expressed are all my own.