As Lexus stakes an increasingly assertive claim as a producer of drivers' cars, the new GS-F paradoxically succeeds because of its comfort and practicality. The company has great models like the compact IS-F sedan and RC-F coupe, along with the dazzling LC500, that all provide a convincing argument to lure discerning drivers.
The $86,770 GS-F offers the purring 467-hp 5.0-liter V-8 we loved in the RC-F. But it also provides a roomy, spacious back seat and a reasonably large trunk. Both are bigger than those in the harder, meaner Cadillac CTS-V. Its performance credentials are solid, with 4.5-second 0-60 acceleration and an electronically limited 168 mph top speed.
But while the Cadillac has a sharp bark from its exhaust that fits with its track-escapee persona, the GS-F's engine purrs, providing a soundtrack this is more likely to be satisfactory to customers kicking tires in this price range.
That sound doesn't happen by accident. All carmakers go to lengths to tune their cars' exhaust notes, but with the GS-F, Lexus engineers added the old hot-rodder's favorite, glass-pack resonators to the system, just ahead of the chromed exhaust tips.
Glass-packs are favored for the rich, warm rumble they convey, with all the nasty sharp edges of sound absorbed by their fiberglass insulating material. In this case, Lexus uses a combination of steel wool and fiberglass, for durability, but the result is the same soothing tube amplifier effect.
Inside, the GS-F sounds even better. That's due to a bit of electronic chea.. er, wizardry. Enthusiasts are definitely skeptical of it, but Lexus uses the car's awesome 835-watt, 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system to supplement the engine's sound with artificial intake honk from the front speakers and simulated exhaust bass from the rears. Nobody likes to be tricked, but it does sound good.
This tuned engine sounds sets the tone for the GS-F: refined, comfortable performance. Lexus was once known just for conservative comfort, but as the company works to sharpen its competitive edge, it is good to see that it is working to retain the kind of relaxing ambiance that premium customers want if they aren't at the race track.
Lexus boasts that it has an artificial intelligence computer controlling shifts in the 8-speed automatic transmission, and while we didn't challenge the computer to a game of chess, like IBM's Deep Blue, or to Global Thermonuclear War, like NORAD's WOPR in WarGames, its brainpower on gear changes was impressive, as the GS-F oozes seamless shifts and seemingly always makes the right decision.
That means not only knowing when to shift, but also, when not to. As transmissions get more ratios, computers seem to find the many options tantalizingly irresistable, with the result being an annoyingly busy transmission that is constantly changing gears.
Everything about the GS-F manages to be soothing. That doesn't mean it is soft. The suspension and steering are precise and responsive, and the drive mode computer offers plenty of adjustments to quicken the car's reflexes with faster throttle response, quicker shifts and adjustments to the power steering assist.
The computer-controlled differential is also adjustable to help the GS-F turn when shredding curves on a race track or dodging cones in a slalom course. But despite the GS-F's capability in these areas, if they are a driver's focus, they are probably looking harder at the IS-F or RC-F.
The GS-F provides everything the enthusiast wants—and it's one step closer to Lexus winning all of us over.