Review: 2016 Lexus GS F shows the underdog can put up a fight

Everyone likes a good underdog story. And the story of the Lexus GS F certainly qualifies.

The “F” brand is only four cars old, if you count the LFA supercar, which you probably shouldn’t. Understandably then, Lexus’s young performance division doesn’t yet have the clout of M or AMG, nor the motorsport pedigree – but it’s working on it. Earlier this year, a Lexus won its class at the gruelling 24 Hours Nurburgring race in Germany.

To emerge victorious, underdogs usually need a secret weapon. David had his slingshot. The Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi. But a quick look at the GS F’s spec sheet and nothing comes to the rescue. It’s down roughly 100 horsepower on the M5, and 200 lb-ft of torque against the E63. It’s not exactly the Tortoise and the Hare – because each of these cars can power through the 0-100 sprint in less than five seconds – but things aren’t looking good for this underdog. “Numbers are important, but we didn’t want to necessarily pursue best acceleration,” says Yukihiko Yaguchi, emeritus chief engineer for Lexus F. “We wanted to provide that feeling of limitless power and enjoyment for all drivers.”

Once you learn to trust its lightweight steering, the GS F can flow across a winding back road with surprising composure.

Enjoyment! How novel. Someone should tell German engineers about this. But can the GS F live up to those claims?

As it eats up another straight bit of road, there’s a loud base gargle from the V-8. It comes through the speakers, yes, but also up from the cabin and through your bones. It’s the sort of sound you only get when there are no turbochargers present.

If you’re in the wrong gear though, it can take some time for the GS F to build speed. You have to use the upper reaches of the rev range, above 4,000 rotations a minute to find peak torque. To do that, you’ll need to swap gears manually using the paddle shifters, which tend to hesitate slightly before bringing home the next gear. It doesn’t feel like “limitless power” – it’s missing the meaty mid-range and instant shove of its best rivals.

The lightweight steering is disconcerting at first. It feels artificial. But at least it’s direct. Once you learn to trust it, the GS F actually flows across a winding back road with surprising composure. It’s 100 kilograms lighter than the Germans, which helps. The ride is excellent. Even without adjustable dampers, it’s probably the most comfortable car in its class. It makes an interesting daily driver, but not a world-beating super-sedan.

A David and Goliath story this is not. The giants still live, though this underdog fought bravely.

But wait – the GS F may yet have a secret weapon: value. Lexus says pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date in December or January. If it costs more than $100,000 – as its German rivals do – it will be dead. But if it comes fully-loaded in the low-to-mid-$80,000 range, it’ll be worth a look.