2016 Lexus GS F First Drive

"Man, this is nice," my driving partner says, as if a little surprised. We're just seated inside the 2016 Lexus GS F, awash in colorful leathers, soft Alcantara, and crisp digital displays. While I'm trying to figure out how far we are from the Circuito de Jarama track, our destination for the day, 8:30a.m. traffic engulfs Madrid on the roads all around us.

The car we're seated in will arrive in showrooms in December, and when it does, it will continue the industry trend towards upmarket, increasingly niche segments. For its part, the luxe Japanese automaker has largely avoided following in the footsteps of the big German three in that regard. In many ways, the GS F will look to make its own way as well, all 2,000 of them slated to arrive in America.

Seemingly every Mercedes, BMW, and Audi has a corresponding AMG, M, S or RS model. Not one to be left out of the party, Lexus has played the variant alphabet-soup-game too, with F-Sport models adding distinct aesthetic touches, but the true performance F models have been limited to three. These include the IS F, the brand's halo in the LFA supercar, and most recently, the RC F Coupe. And now? We've got a day to evaluate number four.

"Shouldn't be more than twenty-five minutes," I say, looking down at the nav. In retrospect, the impressions formed in that first half-hour in the morning may have been more important than those on track. While the GS F is the performance variant, we honestly can't see anyone walking out of a dealership thinking "I'm going to track this." Thankfully, Lexus doesn't either.

The reality is, in a race with the top-competing models from Germany, the Lexus would have its calipers handed to it. The BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, and Audi RS6 come packing extreme heat and blistering power and torque. The RS6 boasts 560 ponies, and 516 lb.-ft, and that's not even with the performance pack. The M5 and E63 also boast triple-digit advantages, and are flat-out quicker. But they're also pricier, and geared towards a different market.

The 2016 Lexus GS F is slated to be priced at $85,380 after delivery. That's priced, not starting. We make the distinction because the GS F comes loaded with features, and the only options are orange brake calipers, or the fancier Mark Levinson audio system (audiophiles and creamsicle lovers, rejoice). That's it. Again, Lexus is deviating from the course laid by the Germans, who offer attractive starting prices, but bundle most content and the options you want into pricey add-on packages that add features only as you pry open the wallet further.

In actuality, the GS F is more on par with very well-equipped versions of the Audi S6, or BMW 550i M Sport. Which brings us back to the directive of this car.

"It's meant to be a fast road car, but capable on the track," says Yaguchi-san, Lexus Emeritus Chief Engineer. That, it very much is. The GS F's 5.0-liter V8 is good for 467 hp and 389 lb.-ft.—tuned and rebalanced from the RC F—and paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Peak power will arrive at 7,100 rpm, just below the 7,300 rpm redline. With a manufacturer estimated 0-60 mph time of just 4.4 seconds, and a quarter-mile time clocking in around 12.8 seconds, that's a lot of metal—4,000 pounds worth—going very fast. And it's track-capable, thanks to a few tricks.

First, engineers nailed the suspension. On the road, the GS F is composed, comfortable, and sporty when you want it to be. On the track, the GS F benefits from a torque vectoring differential, standard on all models. Two planetary gear packs in the rear help distribute torque to the optimal wheel, meaning more power is automatically transferred to the inside wheel when entering a corner, and sent to the outside wheel on exit. And it really works, too. During our laps of the circuit, race instructors toggled through the various settings, of which there are several.

First, there are the drive modes. Eco does what most Eco modes do: taper back throttle inputs and reduce the air conditioning in the name of saving fuel. Around town, Eco is your friend. Next is Normal, the name really gives it away. A Sport mode taps into the powertrain's capabilities a little further, but it's the Sport Plus (S+) mode that makes the GS F happiest. Here, throttle is maximized—with the Active Sound Control helping you appreciate the V8 with "desirable sound notes" piped right into the cabin—and even the electric power steering is wound a little more tightly.

Couple the drive modes with the TVD system—which boasts Normal, Slalom, and Track modes—and the GS F is a hyper-specific, precisely-tuned machine. In addition to TVD, Lexus has outfitted its top GS with a "G-Force Artificial Intelligence" system that detects driver inputs, and adjusts the car to maximize performance. If you're hard on the throttle, it'll detect that and ready higher gears for quicker upshifts, for example.

The 15-inch front and 13.58-inch rear brake calipers help the 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports cut speed without drama after Jarama's long straight, just before the circuit's hard-right. Picking speed back up in Sport Plus is easy, power comes on fast, and shifts between gears are smooth. All of this is to say that the GS F will drop a few genuine grins on your face if you do find yourself on the track. But for those that just want a luxury sedan with performance at the ready when they want it, you'll find quite a lot to like.

Alluring sheetmetal and handsome styling, make the GS F stand out: large air intakes, the infamous spindle grille, LED lights, attractive quad-exhaust pipes in the rear, there's a lot that helps distinguish the GS F on the road. Inside, unreasonably comfy seats, a beautiful 12.3-inch screen with attractive graphics, and the best head up display we've seen yet—sharp, visible in direct sunlight and with bold readouts—make the interior as nice as any in the segment.

Interestingly, when we asked Lexus why they didn't opt for an adaptive air suspension, they said that while the technology was interesting, it didn't meet internal reliability standards in testing. If nothing else, the GS F can count on the automaker's long reputation for quality and reliability.

In many respects, the 2016 Lexus GS F plays by its own rules. The German competitors all count on turbochargers, while the Lexus goes the classic route with a large, naturally-aspirated V8. The Germans have air suspensions, Lexus makes a pliant one and calls it a day. Mercedes, Audi, and BMW have several content packages, Lexus gives you a loaded model and charges you up front for some of it.

In many ways, the Lexus GS F stands alone. And for the 2,000 buyers that will opt for one, the combination of sportiness, style, comfort, and technology will leave them happy. The GS F feels genuinely special.