Review and road test of the Lexus GS F (2015 - 2018)
By Jonathan Crouch
What should the ultimate sports saloon really be? Back in 2015, this GS F model answered that question from a Lexus perspective and in its three years of production, did so with characterful uniqueness thanks to its glorious naturally aspirated V8 engine. It's an acquired taste - but a very satisfying one.
4dr saloon (GSF V8)
Launched in 2015, the GS F was the closest that the Lexus GS model line ever came to providing a sports saloon to match the Teutonic players in the most dynamic part of the full-sized part of the Executive sedan segment. A proper old-school 5.0-litre 32-valve twin-overhead camshaft V8 set this model apart, loudly and proudly talking its torque without the need for turbocharging. It was all rather refreshing, particularly from a brand known primarily for eco-centric hybrids rather than driver-centric high performance. Inevitably though, there was a price to pay for this approach, both in power and at the pumps.
The running costs of this model were closer to those of a lottery-winning supercar, while in terms of power, similarly-sized turbocharged rivals in the 2015-2018 period, cars like BMW's M5 and Mercedes' E63, generated 20-30% more. Meaning that for performance parity, potential GS F buyers had to compare this Lexus to slightly smaller super saloons like BMW's M3 and Mercedes' C63 in the class below.
The GS F's Chief Engineer, Yukihiko Yaguchi, was unrepentant when back in 2015, he was questioned in any of these areas. The whole point of this car, he argued, was in the way it offered something different to its German turbocharged alternatives - as it had to. Lexus didn't have the turbo technology or the motorsport heritage of its Teutonic rivals, so there was little point in the brand trying to match that. As Yaguchi-san observed with typical candour, 'we chose not to get involved in a fight we can't win'. Not many new car buyers understood that perspective and the GS F sold in tiny numbers before departing completely when the GS range was replaced by the Lexus ES in 2019.
What You Get
You don't look at this GS F and think 'street racer' in the way that you might with, say, a BMW M3 or a Mercedes C63. This Lexus has a demeanour a little above that sort of thing, yet it retains a very extrovert, purposeful and dynamic streetside presence thanks to the small but significant changes made over the standard GS model.
Inside, the more mature theme continues. At the wheel of an M3 or a C63, you can never quite forget that you're in a relatively inexpensive car that's been heavily optioned-up. A GS F, in contrast, feels a more expensive, exclusive product, albeit one more suited to the boardroom than Brands Hatch. It's not ostentatious and some of the materials are quite varied, but it looks unique, cultured and clever, with the ambience dominated by the kind of lovely high-backed leather sports seats that rivals would include only as an exorbitantly-priced option. Getting comfortable behind the chunky electrically adjustable three-spoke F-branded leather-stitched steering wheel is easy and through it, you view a spectacular instrument panel derived from that used in the brand's LFA supercar.
In the rear seat, you'll find another potential GS F selling point. This is an Executive-segment BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class-sized model that most buyers will be considering as an alternative to smaller 3 Series or C-Class performance saloons. If that's your perspective and you come to this car after experience in the back of an M3 or a C63, you'll find that the rear of this Lexus feels very spacious indeed. For the boot out-back. GS F buyers have to have an electrically-operated boot lid which rises laboriously to reveal a 520-litre space that's 85-litres bigger than a C63 and 40-litres larger than an M3.
What to Look For
Lexus has an unparalleled track record for reliability, and the GS generates a particularly low percentage of warranty claims. We struggled to find any buyers who had a bad word to say about it in our ownership survey. Only one we came across had had to repair anything - and that was only an automatic side mirror tilting function. Still, it's worth doing a very thorough check and getting any faulty electrical items fixed under warranty. It's highly unlikely that there will be any (just as well as some of the systems are incredibly complex) but check sunroof and window motors and make sure the leather and paint is in tip top shape. The hybrid drive system is incredibly tough and we've never heard of a failure. The wheels can be prone to kerbing, so factor in any refurb costs if they've been dented or scuffed. Insist on a full service history.
(approx prices based on a 2016 GSF - ex Vat) Lexus parts aren't that much cheaper than those you'd get from the premium German marques, so don't expect big bargains here. An oil filter is about £8-£18, an air filter is about £77. Wiper blades are in the £10-£12 bracket. A spark plug is about £23. A pollen filter will be in the £9-£17 bracket. And a wing mirror glass will be about £31.
On the Road
So what's the experience like on the move? Very different to that served up by obvious rival super saloons from this period is the answer. They were nearly all turbocharged, as well as being lighter and more agile, meaning that GS F buyers must sacrifice a little when it comes to agility and outright speed. In return though, this Lexus serves up the kind of aural firework display that Teutonic rivals can only dream about, aided by an 'Active Sound Control' system that emphasises the majestic exhaust note. With 471bhp on tap from the 5.0-litre 32-valve twin-overhead camshaft V8, 62mph flashes by in just 4.6s on the way to a top speed that would register at 168mph, were you to find yourself on a deserted stretch of de-restricted autobahn.
In truth, it's the autobahn rather than an autodrome that represents this car's real comfort zone, but that doesn't mean it can't really reward you when the road gets twisty. The 'Drive Mode Select' vehicle dynamics system offers 'Sport S' and 'Sport S+' modes that quicken throttle response, firm up steering feel and speed up the ratio changes of the eight-speed Sports Direct Shift auto transmission. In the 'Sport S+' 'Drive Mode Select' setting, you've also the option of altering the response of the GS F's stability and traction system's via the 'Sport' and 'Expert' settings provided by the 'Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management' system. Plus to help through the corners, there's a TVD 'Torque Vectoring Differential' that more precisely controls power distribution between the rear wheels and can be tweaked via 'STANDARD', 'SLALOM' or 'TRACK' settings. Lots to play with then, in a car that allows even less experienced folk to feel confident in exploring its potential.
In summary, if you're in the market for an executive sports saloon of this kind, we'd urge you to look beyond the press reports and make your own mind up about this GS F. Let's be clear: if somebody took us to the Nurburgring and made us choose between this Lexus and, say, an M3 or a Mercedes C63, we'd pick the German option without a second thought. But if we had to drive the model in question every day for a year, there's no way we'd go with the Teutonic choices - something we never thought we have said before we tried this Lexus. It's old school in feel but new wave in execution. And there has to be room in the market for that combination.
Lexus GS F (2015 - 2018) review by Jonathan Crouch