It must be quite frustrating to build a truly good car only to watch it fall in the shadow of even better vehicles sold at comparable prices. Such is the case with the 2016 Lexus GS F, a new and powerful midsize sedan that, despite its many charming attributes, finds itself priced out of the very pack of high-strung performance 4-door models it was designed to compete with.
Lest that paragraph make it sound like I’m damning the Lexus GS F with faint praise, I'll repeat the message of my opening sentence: This is one very enjoyable car to drive, and I don't just mean with the throttle on its big V8 pinned to the floor. In both day-to-day use, and after aiming this luxury creamsicle at New York City for an extended road trip, the GS F shined as an incredibly comfortable cruising companion in a way that sometimes eludes more focused performance efforts from premium brands. In fact, it’s one of the rare automobiles I've driven this year that had me reluctant to drop off the keys at the end of the week.
It's the kind of car I'd love to own ― just not at the price that bulges out from the bottom of its window sticker.
Get ready to dig deep
Let's get the number out of the way: The 2016 Lexus GS F retails for $97,440, a tag that virtually guarantees only triple-digit sales figures in Canada, but par for the course when it comes to athletic executive sedans. On its own, the asking price for the GS F isn't really an issue. It's when you step back and take a more global view of the market that the cracks begin to show.
The Lexus GS F uses the same 5.0L V8 engine as the RC F sports coupe, which means a hearty 467 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque are fed to its rear wheels via a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission. Find a straight stretch of road, and 100 km/h flashes past in just a tick over four and a half seconds. Once things get curvy you can rely on a torque-vectoring rear differential and several driver-selectable modes to help tame the tarmac.
Unfortunately for Lexus, if you happen to cross the street and walk into a Cadillac showroom before signing on the dotted line for a GS F, you'll quickly discover that you can wheel yourself home in a CTS-V for about $3,000 less. This American sedan is roughly the same size as its Japanese rival, yet boasts nearly 200 more horsepower along with a magnetically adaptive suspension system and some of the best driving dynamics in the business.
That puts the Lexus GS F in a very, very bad spot. And it gets even worse if you widen your net to examine vehicles like the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG S ― two models that justify their bigger monthly payments by way of Cadillac-sized improvements in performance. Today’s world of super sedans has become so packed to the gills with cars producing many multiples of what their base models have to work with under the hood that the Lexus entry's 467 horses almost feel like a misprint.
The most fun Lexus out there
It's really too bad, because the 2016 Lexus GS F has a lot to offer ― delivered in a different manner than what one would find in its beefier rivals. For starters, the naturally aspirated 8-cylinder motor under its hood provides a respectably beast-like soundtrack (albeit one that's digitally sweetened inside the cockpit) that's hard to duplicate with a turbo or supercharger in the mix. Then there's the very high-quality fit and finish that is part and parcel of any Lexus interior, enhanced by well-bolstered, leather-wrapped sport seats, and combined with a quiet and composed on-road demeanour with the right foot subjugated by the car's (overly cautious) adaptive cruise control.
Is the jittery, mouse-like controller for the Lexus infotainment system by far the most frustrating to use in its segment? Certainly, but the extroverted menace of the bright orange paint over my tester’s all-attitude sheet metal was almost enough for me to completely forgive it. Never before has the corporate spindle grille looked so good, and the sedan's stretched silhouette is perfectly set off by the carbon fibre trunk spoiler, the more aggressively styled front and rear bumpers, and the 6-piston orange brake calipers that bite 15” rotors.
The question becomes whether there is hope for the 2016 Lexus GS F to find a greater audience than its affordability index would seem to suggest. I'd like to believe that the car’s position in the Lexus portfolio is the result of a one-year pricing error that will soon be corrected in an effort to boost sales. It's not unprecedented ― Dodge did the same thing with the latest-generation Viper when buyers balked at the stiffer MSRP, and Nissan recently dropped the cost of admission to Z ownership to keep people interested.
Taking a critical look, it seems obvious that the GS F is a more natural match-up against range-topping models like the BMW 550i xDrive and Mercedes-Benz E 550 4MATIC, vehicles that provide similar power and equipment levels, but at a significant discount. The potential for re-alignment of the GS F's core audience is underscored even more so when examining the gap in price and output between it and the model right below, namely the GS 350 AWD with 311 horsepower at $60,000.
So, in my opinion, the fact that the Lexus GS F can't keep up with its would-be peers isn't through any fault of its own. The car was simply entered into the wrong race to begin with.