Spain, Madrid, Jarama Circuit. Never heard of it? Well, then maybe you are just too young to have experienced the heydays of this 4.8-kilometer race track just outside the Spanish capital, or you are not interested in Formula 1. Yes, on this harsh, narrow ribbon of tarmac, the GP of Spain was held nine times between 1968 and 1981.
Hard to believe when you leave the pit lane today and brake into the first hairpin. Run-off areas? There are none, or in a state that you don't want to end up there anyway. Furthermore, this right-handed race course has a sophisticated nature, with blind corners, humps, and dips.
And guess what: we will have to find all in a five meter, 1.9 tonnes car. So who comes up with such an idea? Lexus, because the Japanese brand is presenting its fourth sports model to the international press, the GS-F, at Jarama.
You have to be very convinced of your own product if you are unleashing a direct competitor for the Audi RS7, BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
on this forgotten racetrack, in the hands of an inflammatory pack of journalists. On top of that, you also let them drive on small winding roads into the Madrilenian outback. An utterly hopeless undertaking? Well, it's getting worse.
While Ingolstadt, Munich, and Stuttgart would never bring their V8 shooters with less than 550 hp and the help of two turbochargers to the starting grid, the Lexus GS-F only comes with a hard-won 477 hp. Because it lacks a forced induction system, Mr. Newton's sledgehammer will be missed, especially when it's striking mercilessly above the idling speed in each of the three German sedans that the GS-F competes with.
But anyone who thinks the game's result has been decided before kick-off, is mistaken.
Because the Lexus GS-F is surprising in many ways. This includes, first of all, the expressive design language that the Toyota subsidiary has given to its model range for a couple of years now.
For the GS-F, this means that the 2012-established hourglass-like "Devil's Grin" is getting stressed even more three-dimensionally on the 1.85 m wide front, only limited by air inlets and grim-looking bi-LED headlights slots.
The rear is dominated by a battery of four trapezoidal tailpipes, which have become a sign of recognition for all F models and peep out between the diffuser ready to fire. Yes, Lexus has found its own style and as a “premium sports sedan” (Lexus on the GS-F), the four-door model expresses the necessary aggressiveness and attitude for this segment. For sure, the distinctive design of the Japanese brand is deliberately controversial and also testifies to the grown-up self-confidence the brand has achieved since its founding in 1989. Another surprise is the interior. Where the 2014-presented RC-F coupe seemed to be caught in the endless loop of typical Japanese 80s styling, its big brother is shining with some finer accents in the interior.
No, the GS-F cannot compete with the perfectionism in look and feel, material mix and intuitive operation of German premium manufacturers, but the mix of Alcantara, leather, aluminum and plastic can be described as successful.
The dashboard is dominated by a 12.3-inch display and a wide center console studded with knobs and buttons. It also includes a remote touch interface like a computer mouse, through which you can access all functions of the audio system, air conditioning, telephone and the navigation system (all standard!). With this solution Lexus is trying something very special, because you can use only two fingers for the control pad.
By tilting the pad in all directions, a cursor is moving on the screen, and the menu options will be activated by pressing the controller. Unfortunately, our test vehicle seemed to have a computer mouse on crack, because the cursor was moving so frantically fast that we could never click where we wanted to. But we suspect that is all a matter of familiarization and we believe there is a sub-menu somewhere, where you can adjust the sensitivity and the double-click speed of the mouse.
Where you don't need an adaptation phase is the Alcantara clothed cockpit, with its centre TFT rev counter showing all the information you need for sporty motoring, the little analog speedo on the right, the multifunction three-spoke steering wheel with aluminum paddle shifters, and the optional head-up-display. So you can make yourself comfortable behind the wheel in the bucket-type sports seat, which can offer a fantastic compromise between ample comfort and good lateral support.
The next surprise is found after going through shimmering blue air intake section under the hood. The five-liter V8 is already a fine piece of engineering.
The use of 32 titanium valves and eight high-strength forged piston rods was worth the effort.
This engine loves to jubilate up to the highest engine speed regions. The rev limiter kicks in to save the short stroke machine only at 7,300 rpm. Until then, in fact, there is almost always enough power available. "Almost"? Yes, because of the large naturally aspirated V8 is coupled to an eight-speed automatic.
That said, this gearbox can change gears remarkably quick for a classic torque-converter transmission, but only if you are in the drive modes "Sport S" or "Sport S +". Should you be traveling in normal or even “Eco-mode” you have a delay that feels just a bit too long from the kick-down command to the sorting of the required gear. But when the right gear shaft has been selected, the fireworks start catapulting the GS-F in 4.6 seconds to 100 km/h (or 4.3 seconds 0 to 60 mph). The urge to move forward is only limited electronically to a top speed of 270 km/h.
Its German competitors in the mid-size segment accelerate up to a second faster and even offer launch control systems, but let's be honest here: who needs that?
In this performance class, one is already too fast for law enforcement. Much more crucial, however, is how the power of the GS-F is delivered, and yes, that is really impressive.
Although Lexus is cheating a little bit in the acoustic department. It's called Adaptive Sound Control (ASC
) and can be deactivated, but why? It electronically synthesizes and assists the sound of the engine and the exhaust note in response to accelerator and shift lever operations, then disperses a pleasing sonic note via the speakers installed in the cabin. So the sound output from the front speaker rises along with the engine speed to emphasize the high tone of the air intake as well as the mechanical sounds from the engine itself. This feast for engine music lovers lies somewhere between the old BMW M3 with its 4,0l V8 and the mighty AMG 6.2L V8. Not quite as high frequency, such as the BMW, and slightly less hammering than the Mercedes.
Our special recommendation: put the pedal to the metal at 3,500 rpm so that the throttle is opening abruptly, and enjoy the goose bumps when the air box seems to burst acoustically with the aspirated air. But how is the ride in the Japanese big ship on the track mentioned above and on the magnificent Spanish roads?
Amazingly handy and that is certainly the biggest surprise with the GS-F, but explainable. The four-door model is significantly lighter than the mentioned Swabian and Bavarian power sedans and, secondly, the GS-F is only about 30kg heavier than the considerably smaller RC-F coupe with the same powertrain. What both also have in common is the fine Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD).
It transfers torque between the right and left rear tires in the ideal amount, based on data that includes throttle input, braking, yaw rate, longitudinal and lateral G-forces and other pertinent parameters.
The result is improved dynamic performance and more confidence for the driver on the road and on the track. You can already feel how well this works with the default settings. When accelerating hard out of tight bends, the rear overhang is pushed outward and the inside wheel does not slip - quite atypical for a rear-wheel drive car.
If you press the TVD button and wait until "Slalom" emerges in the tachometer, the curves on narrow mountain roads are already waiting for you.
As if the GS-F had suddenly dropped 200 kg of its weight, the super sedan scurries around all bends, and the tighter the radius gets, the better.
On the racetrack, you should opt for the “Track Mode” option, since the electrical actuators will provide maximum stability at high speed and during hard braking maneuvers. You are then rewarded with minimal understeer and great traction in all situations.
If that's not enough, you need to press the barely noticeable electronic stability control (called VSC
) button and activate the "Expert Mode". Then you can paint beautiful drift marks on the Spanish asphalt because the system turns off the traction control and switches the VSC to a very high threshold. Only the brake system could be a bit more specific.
Not that the 15” Brembo pincers with six pistons have a lack of strength, but the pressure from the brake pedal is missing the precision when braking hard from high speeds. In addition to that you could also miss a set of adjustable dampers to stiffen the suspension for a sportier ride on a racetrack. On the other hand, the Lexus GS-F is always comfy enough for daily driving even with the 19-inch forged-aluminum wheels wrapped in 255/35 front and 275/35 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.
So, the responsible folks from the Far East have every right to be convinced of their GS-F and its driving dynamics, even if it is not quite as powerful as the reigning kings of the power sedan segment.
This Lexus is an absolutely interesting alternative to the Germanic top dogs. One only needs the self-confidence to stand out from the crowd (or rather the Krauts) to be different. But then one will get a fully equipped car with an almost indecent price tag for the German market: 99.750 Euro. That is more than 4.000 Euro less compared to the more or less naked RS', M's and AMG's. But please be patient – the Lexus GS-F will not be available before January 2016 in Europe.