2020 Lexus GS F review: So good, but far from the best – Roadshow

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Flare Yellow is the best and boldest color option available for the 2020 GS F buyer.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The 2020 Lexus GS F isn’t the best sport sedan, but I kind of love it. Even with awkward cabin tech making it frustrating to live with and the nagging feeling that there are better cars in this class for similar money, I’m always happy to settle into the bright yellow GS F, fire up the V8 and punch it. I’ll be sad to see it go.

Like

  • Beefy V8 engine feels and sounds fantastic
  • F Sport seat are comfortable and supportive
  • Even though it’s dated, the GS F still looks great

Don’t Like

  • Enform cabin tech lacks modern features
  • Remote Touch controller is frustrating to use
  • Expensive relative to comparable German performers

Despite its flaws, I think the GS F has still got it where it counts. It’s certainly done its part to fight Lexus‘ reputation for boring luxury cars. This particular example’s 193.5-inch length has been coated in eye-catching Flare Yellow paint (a $595 option) that turns heads everywhere I go. The exterior design is more aggressive than the standard GS, with sharpened front and rear aerodynamics, glossy black trim for the wing mirrors and rear diffuser and a carbon fiber lip spoiler on the trunk. Blistered fenders terminate in Lexus F’s trademark fender vents and you’ll spot blue, stylized “F” badges from every angle.

And yet, the GS F is still about as comfortable as the standard GS. Its 112.2-inch wheelbase leaves plenty of space in the cabin for passengers (91 cubic feet) and in the trunk for cargo (14 cubic feet). Aside from a slightly stiffer ride, the only real compromise the GS F makes is the loss of its fold-down rear seats and trunk pass-through for hauling long items.

Yellow, not mellow

The GS F’s performance formula is a simple one: A big, naturally aspirated engine up front sending power to the rear. Tucked in behind the massive Lexus grille, you’ll find a 5.0-liter V8 good for 467 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque, which it sends to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. In its sportiest setting, Lexus reckons a 0-to-60-mph sprint should take just 4.5 seconds; top speed is stated at an electronically limited 168 mph. Those are respectable numbers for a big, 4,034-pound sedan.

The GS F’s performance formula is a simple one. There’s no hybridization or forced induction to complicate things. That, along with Lexus’ legendary reputation for reliability, makes me confident that owners will be enjoying the GS F’s performance for many years and thousands of miles. However, the GS F doesn’t benefit from the efficiency gains of its more sophisticated competition. At an EPA estimated 19 miles per gallon combined (16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway) the GS F’s fuel economy is fine, but nothing to write home about. During my week of testing, I averaged just 17.6 mpg.

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The GS F’s 467-horsepower mill is one of the last naturally aspirated V8s left in its class.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Lexus’ Torque Vectoring Differential lives on the rear axle where it actively sends shifts power to the outside rear wheel when cornering to enhance the sedan’s handling. The driver can choose between three modes — Standard, Slalom and Track — for somewhat fine control over how the GS F changes directions. Standard is the default setting for daily driving. Slalom boosts agility, giving the most rotation on the tight, low to medium speed corners. Track emphasizes stability on high-speed turns. That’s in addition to the five drive modes — Sport, Sport Plus, Normal, Eco and Custom — that affect the GS F’s throttle response, transmission programming, steering feel and more.

For the sort of driving I enjoy most — hustling up and down twisty California mountain roads — the Slalom differential setting and Sport drive mode prove to be the most enjoyable combination. The GS F isn’t the most powerful model in this class, but you’d never notice without a stopwatch. Plus, the V8’s fantastic burble and linear, predictable throttle feel bring me more joy than knowing that my numbers are bigger than the next guy’s. 

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The GS F’s upgraded ride is supple around town, yet confident in the corners.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Meanwhile, the GS F is surprisingly agile, yet not at all punishing or twitchy over the uneven pavement one often finds on such secluded stretches of road. The GS F rides on a set of 19-inch, forged BBS alloy wheels in standard matte black or an optional $600 hand-polished finish. The wheels are shod with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and staggered with 255/35R19 tires up front and 275/35R19s at the rear.

Peering through the front wheels’ 10 spokes are Brembo six-piston monoblock caliper brakes that grab 14.9-inch discs. Out back, you’ll find complimentary Brembo four-pots and 13.5-inch discs out back. Suspending the vehicle over the rolling stock is a forged aluminum F Adaptive variable suspension with a double-wishbone setup for the front axle and a multilink rear. 

Like the powertrain, the handling department features some modern touches, but mostly keeps it simple. There’s no fancy air suspension or magnetic-ride dampers, just a well-tuned suspension that does an excellent job balancing a sporty, yet supple feel.

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The standard F Sport seats look and feel fantastic.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Accidentally retro cockpit

Gorgeous F Sport seats with perforated leather and suede trim suspend the driver in the cockpit and are, I think, the highlight of the GS F’s cabin. The sport buckets feel fantastic — comfortable for the longest hauls with heated and ventilated surfaces, yet very grippy and supportive during more spirited passages. And they look amazing alongside the steering wheel and shift lever, with their matching perforated leather and white and blue contrast stitching, and the glossy carbon fiber trim on the center console.

The rest of the cabin is more subjective. On one hand, the dashboard, climate controls and tech feel a tad dated, especially compared to the much more modern competition. On the other hand, that adds to the Lexus’ classic charm. The GS F’s cabin feels like the most modern interpretation of late ’90s Lexus design and I kind of love that.

The neatest tech feature is the LFA-styled motorized digital instrument cluster with its physical sliding bezel that reveals a trip computer and other information. The cluster boasts electronic gauges that change their style to match the current drive mode. The tech is a bit older and not as flexible or powerful as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit or Mercedes-Benz’s massive screens, but the design works well with the rest of the Lexus cabin design and is always a treat to see in action.

My example also features a $900 head-up display that’s a cool get, but probably not worth the extra dough.

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The GS F’s cabin, though a tad dated, feels like it’s aged nicely.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Modern-ish safety tech

The GS F comes standard with the Lexus Safety System Plus advanced driver assistance suite, which rolls in a number of familiar technologies. Up front, the standard triple-beam LED headlamps feature intelligent high beams that automatically activate on dark roads and dip when another vehicle is detected ahead. Also standard is adaptive cruise control that works at all speeds, allowing for creeping during stop-and-go traffic. There’s a precollision braking assist function with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a standard rear camera. 

The GS F also features a highway lane-keeping system with steering assist and lane-departure alerts. It’s not as advanced as Toyota/Lexus’ latest generation Lane Tracing Assist, but not bad for a vehicle that hasn’t been significantly updated since the fourth-gen GS’ launch in 2012.

Lexus Enform: Technophiles need not apply

The area where the GS F’s simple and forgivably dated vibe falls apart in the infotainment tech. Central on the dashboard, a 12.3-inch widescreen display is home to Lexus Enform cabin tech software. This is an older version of Enform, shared only by the Lexus IS at this point, with a frustrating menu system and an even more infuriating Remote Touch control scheme.

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The Remote Touch controller is awkward and imprecise to use at speed. No, I don’t like it.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

You can interact with the system using the Remote Touch controller, a sort of joystick located on the center console, to move a cursor on the screen. In practice, this is a terribly imprecise way to move around the interface, requiring a scary amount of my attention for simple tasks. Lexus does lock most of the advanced features (such as destination entry) when the vehicle is in motion. Even when stopped, entering an address with the controller was tedious. 

With its included one year Lexus Enform Remote subscription, you can take advantage of Amazon Alexa integration and even monitor your vehicle with a phone or smartwatch app while away from the car. However, there is no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity to use while inside the car.

Fortunately, there’s a decent voice-command system and physical controls for things like radio tuning and climate controls. After spending weeks with the newer Lexus LS and LC, which hide simple things like their seat heater controls three levels deep in on-screen menus, it’s nice to be able to tap a damn button for many of the GS F’s more commonly used functions.

If you don’t care about good navigation software, apps or smartphone connectivity, I think you could eventually develop enough muscle memory for the Remote Touch controller to get past the annoyance. But the learning curve is a steep one and just not worth the effort compared to newer, competing infotainment suites that manage to cram more features into less distracting interfaces.

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Not a top-tier performer, yet also not a strong value: The Lexus GS F is the kind of car that some will love, flaws and all, while the rest completely overlook.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Price and competition

The 2020 Lexus GS F starts at a heady $86,035 including its $1,025 destination charge. My modestly equipped example rolls in at an as-tested $90,395, with wheels, paint, premium audio and other odds and ends adding to the bottom line. It’s tempting to compare the GS F to the six-figure Mercedes-AMG E63 S, BMW M5 and their ilk. Among this cohort, the GS is a lot less potent, but also significantly less expensive. However, its true competitors — economically and athletically — are actually a tier lower.

Mercedes-AMG’s E53 sedan squeezes 429 hp from its turbo six-cylinder, is slightly quicker to 60 mph at 4.4 seconds and starts at $74,795 including destination. The 440-hp Audi S6 starts at $74,895. BMW’s M550i xDrive gets you 523 horsepower for $77,795. All of these land in the ballpark of the GS F’s 467 hp with better fuel economy and all-wheel drive rather than RWD. All have better cabin and safety tech. And perhaps more importantly, all are around $10K less than the Lexus, comparably equipped. 

The Lexus GS F isn’t perfect, but it’s handsomely styled inside and out, the V8 is a pleasure to wind up and the ride is agile without sacrificing daily driver comfort. It’s still got legs on the eve of its discontinuation, almost a decade into this generation. It certainly wouldn’t be the best choice in this highly competitive and shrinking class, but if you find one for a bargain, you want to grab a piece of Lexus history while you can or if you’re just picking up what the GS F is putting down, it wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.

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