First Drive - Lexus GS-F

At Motoring Podcast we love experiencing and talking about all the latest in drivetrain technologies and, well, we've become quite expert with them. We know - and to make matters worse are proud that we know - our HEV from our PHEV from our BEV. We do, however, have a slightly guilty secret. Offered the choice we'd still rather have fun in a meaty, petrol-powered V8. We're not alone, and we rather suspect that Lexus is the same. Most of it's UK range is hybrid-powered and by day you will be guided across the showroom floor to a CT200h, IS300h or RX450h, but you suspect that by night they're pimping the GS-F and its coupé sister RC-F to the internal-combustion-addicted from the alley around the back.

All of that said, Lexus were keen enough to hand Alan the key to one of their GS-F at Millbrook earlier in the year and allowed him to spend a little time indulging himself...

The Car

We'll make no further drug-dealer analogies, but move on to explain that, in the simplest terms, the GS-F driven here is Lexus' equivalent to the BMW M5. It's a large, four-door saloon car in the most traditional sense, designed to move four adults and their luggage across a continent in quiet comfort at simply ridiculous speeds.

The Looks

Probably the most contentious part of the entire car is the corporate Lexus grille but, in the dark chrome of the "F-mesh", it's significantly less "eat your children" that the bright chrome-outlined version fitted to lesser models across Lexus' range. Despite large functional scoops below the headlamps funnelling air towards the brakes and front wheel wells, the front is more "brutally handsome" than "thug". Vents in the front wings help all of that hot air escape the brakes and add to the general vibe of seriousness without becoming clichéd. Otherwise, the exterior is little different to the rest of the GS range with only the two pairs of stacked exhaust pipes in the rear valence and the carbon-fibre boot-top spoiler to clearly differentiate the body from lesser models.
The only other clues left for the connoisseur are the satin grey 19-inch cross-spoke wheels wrapped close around slotted brake discs larger than the wheels on my first car. There are 6-pot Brembo callipers at the front and 4-pot at the rear. Oh, did I mention the callipers are orange? They're a lovely touch, particularly against the sober Mercury Grey of the test car.

The Inside

With its red leather, the interior of the test car was significantly more flamboyant than the exterior. It did look better in person than it does in photographs and stops the interior becoming like the Black Hole of Calcutta - something that happens all too often when specifying many new cars. My biggest gripe about the colour wasn't that it offended my retinas but that it clashed with the lovely blue stitching in the black leather of the upper dash and steering wheel. Over time I think that that would become a significant challenge to my OCD. Doubtless, most could live with it.
Heated and ventilated sports seats hold the driver and front passenger. I didn't spend long enough in them to be able to say how they'd be on a long cruise, but they certainly held me in place as I hustled a large car around the infamous Millbrook Hill Route.
The rear looked comfortable and despite the heftiness of the front seats still had plenty of leg room. One warning, although Lexus markets this as a car for "up to five people" in reality the fifth will perch on a mound between the heavily sculpted outer rear buckets. Best to keep the centre seat for emergency short trips only.

The Controls

The GS-F comes with a sports steering wheel which, mercifully does without either a flat bottom (for added sportiness) or an "aluminium" or carbon-fibre instep between the "eleven" and "one" positions. It does have audio and trip computer controls and well-positioned alloy paddles that can be used to control the gearbox made of genuine alloy. They're not "leather-edged-titanium Infiniti good", but they're relatively close.
The rest of the dashboard is laid out as one would expect with core controls for the ventilation and audio in the lower centre, vents and an analogue clock slightly higher and sat nav/control screen, worked from a pad beside the gearstick, up above.
A quasi-analogue rev counter dominates the gauge cluster with numeric speed and gear readout sin the middle augmenting a quasi-analogue speedometer to the right and with all status and auxiliary gauges rendered on a screen to the left. The colours and graphics change depending on which driving mode you've selected.

The Drive

Let's get to the numbers that I've so far avoided mentioning. The GS-F is a rear-wheel drive car with a hand-built 5.0 V8 engine putting out 477 DIN bhp and 530Nm of torque through an 8-speed auto box. It's fast, and the power delivery is as seamless as anything this side of a gearless electric drivetrain. According to Lexus 62mph is dispatched in 4.6 seconds, the top speed is 168mph. I have no reason to disbelieve either figure.
My limited time with the car meant I drove it only in very controlled conditions so all I can say with any authority is that it isn't upset by British A and B road conditions as simulated at Millbrook. That said I have no doubt that it would be an excellent companion on trans-continental motorway trips.

The government numbers indicate combined driving should bring 17mpg in simulated urban conditions, 25.2mpg combined and 34.9mpg on the Extra-urban cycle. Good luck with that!

The Technology

As a Lexus sporting flagship, it's no surprise that it comes brimming with technology from its dynamic LED headlamps to its electric rear sun shade. Mercifully I had no need to test much of it and the Brake Assist and Safety System Plus (incorporating the acronym soup of ACC/PCS, LDA & LKA, TSR & AHS) all unused.
In all honesty, I checked with Lexus that Sport and Sport+ modes left the "VDM F", VSC and TRC all fully engaged. There was no way I wanted to try out the ten airbags as crashing at a test day will never make you look smart or talented...
The technology I did use and test was the Active Sound Control. It's silly and juvenile, but the amplified exhaust note fed into the cabin meant I could enjoy some of what bystanders were experiencing and set me into a fit of giggles more than once.

The Conclusion

The GS-F is a vehicle that feels built and finished in the manner for which its manufacturer has a reputation and which, despite its prodigious power, should continue to feel that way. The Lexus badge may still not hold the cachet of the German marques around the world in the eyes of some. Others may see it as the polar opposite of Alfa Romeo in the soulfulness stakes (I'm thinking of the Giulia Quadrifoglio as I type this) but it certainly has its charms, the sort that will grow the more you use it, and that will become part of your life. Your understated Jeeves during the week that lets its hair down at the weekend and joins you as you either chill out or party depending on your mood.
The GS-F will never be a volume model here in the UK and to buy one will put you in a very exclusive club. The sort of club that lets others advertise and shout loudly but knows that what it has is something special and something worth seeking out. I'd love to join.

The Lexus GS-F costs £69,995.00

*These are all Lexus' acronyms. No, I'm not sure what they all are either...