California State Highway 74 climbs out of Palm Springs, writhing into the mountains with immaculate blacktop, sweeping curves, and grand vistas. I’ve never driven this road before, yet I’m tackling every bend, curve, and kink in it like I’m a local. Capable cars have a way of instilling such confidence in their drivers.
From behind the wheel of the Lexus GS, a midsize luxury sedan that struggles to compete against the heavy hitters in this segment from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it’s clear that Lexus deserves more consideration than it gets. The automaker isn’t just about the cushy ES cruiser or the popular RX crossover SUV. Not anymore, anyway. And the funny thing is, it’s the gas-electric GS 450h that’s making me feel like a champion high above Palm Springs.
For 2015, Lexus applied its F Sport treatment to this green machine, which effortlessly averaged 28.7 mpg despite the rousing run up to 4,000 feet of elevation and back, and in F Sport+ mode. More powerful than the GS 350, the GS 450h accelerates to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, according to Lexus, and now that it also comes with more appealing F Sport design, staggered-width 19-inch wheels, a Sport S+ driving mode, upgraded brakes, a performance-tuned Adaptive Variable Suspension, and a Lexus Dynamic Handling System, it makes far better use of its power.
Sticky regenerative brakes and artificiality in the steering, however, ensure that the GS 450h F Sport won’t woo hardcore enthusiasts to the GS lineup. That task now falls to the limited-production, high-performance GS F model, so I headed to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix, to test this Lexus’s mettle.
Stuffed full of high-revving V8 engine, the 5.0-liter motor churns out 467 horsepower at 7,100 rpm and 389 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. This pales in comparison to force-fed engines in chief competitors from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but at $85,380, the Lexus is almost 10 grand less than the M5 and saves more than $15,000 off the AMG E63 S.
On the other hand, the Audi S6 is $13,000 less than the Lexus, is equipped with a comparably powerful engine, and includes all-wheel drive. And then there’s the Cadillac CTS-V, priced about the same as the GS F but rippling with muscle, performance, and athleticism. Long story short: Don’t challenge other big-buck luxury sport sedans to stop-light drag races.
Umm, where was I? Oh yes. Lexus isn’t boring. If the GS F’s engine specifications leave you limp, trust that it demonstrates plenty of talent while getting around a track. Granted, the competition was not present, and I’m new to Chuckwalla, but I had an absolute blast ripping this car around the deceptively challenging circuit.
In addition to the V8, the GS F is equipped with an 8-speed automatic with G-force artificial intelligence in Sport mode, a torque-vectoring rear differential, Brembo performance brakes, specific suspension tuning, and staggered-width Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires wrapped around lightweight forged aluminum wheels. A sport exhaust system with quad exhaust outlets roars and burps and burbles appropriately, depending on how you’ve got Drive Mode Select set up.
My favorite way to drive the GS F around this unfamiliar track was in less-aggressive Sport S mode and with the automatic transmission doing all the thinking while I tried to make sure I kept the damn thing on the pavement. Quick, precise, capable, and forgiving, the GS F proved itself an excellent tool for learning a new track.
Better yet, the GS F effortlessly transitions from the track to the real world—comfortable, quiet, and remarkably fuel-efficient (23.6 mpg) for the hour-long slog down Interstate 10 back to Palm Springs, my favorite music flowing from the Mark Levinson premium audio system, the heated and ventilated sport-bolstered driver’s seat a soothing sanctuary after a day exposed to the harsh desert climate.
Lexus can design, engineer, and build a credible performance sedan. The new GS F proves that. But people buy vehicles like this Lexus as much for bragging rights as anything else, and while the GS F is an impressive automobile, on paper it struggles to make a case for itself.
At the end of the day, one of the big reasons to choose a GS F instead of an S6, or an M5, or a CTS-V, or an AMG E63 is the same reason why people might select the GS over the A6, 5 Series, CTS, or E-Class: It will probably run forever.
And in this case, hard, loud, and fast.
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