The Lexus GS F is an ultra-powerful, heavily tweaked version of the GS saloon. It is the fourth Lexus model to boast the F emblem, after the IS F, LF-A and RC F.
Although Lexus refuses to say so, it is clear that in terms of price and positioning, the GS F targets the BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and Audi RS6. When it arrives in January, the car is likely to cost half a million dollars or so.
The visual changes to the recently facelifted GS saloon are quite restrained. At the heart of the car is a naturally aspirated 5-litre V8, essentially identical to that powering its coupe stablemate the RC F, except for some very minor internal developments for efficiency.
This engine delivers 471bhp and 530Nm of torque, which means it is quite significantly outgunned by the turbocharged German trio (M5, E63 and RS6) which on average boast an almost 100bhp power advantage. Indeed, the GS F's century sprint time of 4.6 seconds is merely on a par with that of the RS6's lesser sibling, the 420bhp S6.
Certainly, the GS F is extremely quick for a large, plush saloon, but it never feels as insanely rapid as the German cars.
Still, there are merits to Lexus' decision to eschew forced induction in favour of a naturally aspirated, big-capacity engine. There is ample urge available at any revs, power delivery is very linear and throttle response is scalpel-sharp.
SPECS / LEXUS GS F
Price: To be announced
Engine: 4,969cc 32-valve V8
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with paddle shift
Power: 471bhp at 7,100rpm
Torque: 530Nmat 4,800rpm
0-100kmh: 4.6 seconds
Top speed: 270kmh
Fuel consumption: 11.3 litres/ 100km
Agent: Borneo Motors
The engine is so smooth-spinning it feels like it could rev forever. Which in fact makes its 7,300rpm rev limit seem way too low. There is no hint of strain or of the power tapering off at this point, so having to flick the paddle when the upshift buzzer sounds at 7,000rpm always feels premature.
A big V8 naturally makes a lovely noise, but Lexus has also chosen to employ some additional electronic assistance (much as BMW has done with the M5). Dubbed Active Sound Control (ASC), the system uses two speakers (one at the front of the cabin to simulate the intake note, the other behind to simulate the exhaust) to amplify certain desirable frequencies of the powertrain's natural acoustics, while cancelling out other less pleasant ones.
There are four driving modes on offer (selectable via a large rotary switch on the centre console). In the two tamer modes (Eco and Normal), the ASC is disabled and the cabin is as hushed and cocoon-like as that of the GS. In Sport S mode, the rear speakers are enabled, while in Sport S+, both front and rear speakers come into play.
Purists may question the ethics of such aural artifice, but it does add to the entertainment factor - from the mid-range onwards, the engine note hardens and rises in line with the revs and the power delivery. Curiously though, in timbre it sounds more like a V6 than a throbbing, old-school V8.
Power is relayed to the rear wheels via an eight-speed autobox, and gear changes are predictably intuitive and slick. It would have been better still if the engine blipped itself on down changes, as so many sporting cars do these days.
The steering is linear and quite quick, but more weight and feedback at the helm would be good. Weight distribution is about 53:47 front-to-rear, but in tight bends you can feel the weight over the front wanting to push the nose wide (remember there is a 5-litre V8 over the front wheels), so you need to temper your turn-in speed.
And because of the slightly uncommunicative steering, it can be hard to discern the grip limits. You end up having to just turn in and trust that the tyres will bite, which they almost always do.
One party trick is its Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD), which can be switched between Standard, Slalom and Track modes. In each mode, the TVD juggles torque between the rear wheels to match the chosen driving style.
In Slalom, it is tuned for turn-in agility, while in Track mode the emphasis is on stability through high-speed bends. Even in hard driving, the differences between modes are very subtle, but Track mode would be my preferred choice for the more planted, confidence- inspiring feel that it bestows.
Today, when even some mid- range hatches have adaptive damping, the GS F employs fixed-rate dampers. The car's emeritus chief engineer, Mr Yukihiko Yaguchi, says Lexus preferred to go with a single set-up that would work in all conditions, and on the evidence it is hard to argue with this.
The GS F rides very well indeed over all surfaces, yet when charging about on track or hurtling through mountain bends, it maintains its composure. There is a touch of body roll but no more, and over undulations the damping keeps a tight rein on vertical body movements.
This is in keeping with the GS F's remit as an everyday sports saloon rather than an all-out track weapon. It is not as brutally quick as its German rivals, but is a hugely comfortable yet effortlessly swift device. In this case, F also stands for Finesse.
•The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.