You don’t hear much about the 2020 Lexus GS F. It’s been out for a while now, the model having debuted for 2016 and the base GS sedan stretching all the way back to 2012. That’s an awful lot of time for the automotive world to whiz by, especially in the upper echelon of performance sedans. Packing 467 horsepower is suddenly weak sauce when rivals have crested the 600-hp plateau. The fact that Lexus still hasn’t convinced the automotive enthusiast community at large that it actually makes compelling performance machines certainly doesn’t help.
To be perfectly honest, I have avoided testing the GS F for several years now. “Who’s going to buy that?” I’ve pondered, considering all of the above plus its $85,000 price tag. Nevertheless, I’ve got more time on my hands these days to test more cars and a Lexus Flare Yellow paint job is impossible to ignore, so hey, why not?
Well, after a week, I didn’t want to turn over the keys. When faced with first-world automotive journalist problem of picking between the the Flare Yellow GS F and the BMW M340i also parked out front, I quickly chose the Lexus. And if I had $85,000 to spend on a high-powered luxury sedan, I honestly think I’d happily choose it over the Germans that outdo it on paper.
Many of you will think that stupid and will point to the numbers at hand. The GS F’s 5.0-liter V8 sends 467 hp and 389 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels only, and is capable of a 0-60 run of 4.5 seconds. A BMW M5 has 600 hp and hits 60 in 3.2 seconds; the lesser M550i has 523 hp and a 3.6-second time. That M340i xDrive also in my driveway? It hits 60 in 4.1. Over at Mercedes-AMG, the E 63 has 603 hp and a 3.3-second time. Only the lesser E 53 is comparable to the Lexus with 429 hp and a 4.4-second 0-60 time. Its torque is also comparable, unlike the rest of those Germanic monsters that utterly roast the Lexus.
However, all of that extra output and all of those quicker times are also indicative of the very reason the GS F remains so desirable. It doesn’t have a turbocharger, ensuring unencumbered response, a zesty 7,800-rpm redline and marvelous noises that don’t require the sound enhancement feature Lexus throws in anyway (and that I turned off). It also doesn’t require all-wheel drive to quell elephantine gobs of tire-shredding turbocharged torque, thereby letting the front wheels simply handle the steering. The rears, meanwhile, can smoke away and swing loose should you disable the appropriate settings to do so.
The allure of the GS F isn’t just about this characterful and increasingly old-school engine. This will still seem like an unbelievable statement to many in the automotive enthusiast community at large, but Lexus steering is excellent, especially in the GS F. It’s fluid and friction-free at speed, granting a degree of rewarding precision that lets you grip the wheel with your fingers as you dance among corners. There is actual feel. It’s also weighty yet naturally so at around-town speeds, meaning that regardless of the driving scenario, the GS F grants you the feeling of being in control of a machine. It’s pleasantly old school in that way.
The adaptive suspension is impeccably tuned for a back-road assault, while not also waging war on your spine around town. Standard is a multi-setting Torque Vectoring Differential that constantly controls the amount of power sent to each rear wheel via a multi-plate clutch, while the stability control has Sport and Expert settings that allow for a bit more fun. Lightweight Brembo brakes (six-piston front, four-piston rear) are fit snug inside 19-inch matte black wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.
Admittedly, the interior shows its age. You can see a glimmer of the eye-catching design that would go on to be found in today’s LC or LS, but it doesn’t quite work and is a bit dull. It also has an older version of Lexus Remote Touch that works with a little joystick instead of a touch-sensitive control pad. This input device is actually better in some respects, but is nevertheless so baffling and irritating to use that it can make you feel like you’re driving an old car (which, in a way, you are). As for the exterior styling, well, I’ll just say Flare Yellow pulls an awful lot of weight.
But then I would lay into that glorious V8. It didn’t matter if I was blitzing a mountain road as in the video above or just going for a casual evening drive loop with my wife. There’s just something about a naturally aspirated V8 that’s special and that transcends numbers on a spreadsheet. I never did a 0-60 run, so I didn’t particularly care that the rather sterile BMW M550i would smoke it or that the Mercedes E 53 would turn in the same time with two fewer cylinders. Both also cost a few grand less.
Yet, there’s more to cars than numbers, and in that realm, the GS F revels. There are the noises that fill the cabin, the sensations filtered through the steering and the response felt through your right foot. It’s about the entire experience, not just some facts and figures to regurgitate to friends at a barbecue. The Lexus GS F may never win a comparison test, but it’s nevertheless a special car and it deserves more attention than it gets. Sorry for doubting you, bud.