Stick Shift: 2018 Lexus GSF

The brand new, extra shiny 2018 Lexus GSF arrives like Christmas morning. It’s first impression leaving me giddy and a little weak in the knees. Built on the already impressive Lexus GS sedan, the GSF brings magnificent performance with the help of a pitch-perfect V8, aggressive driving modes, a strong chassis, wonderful suspension and more. This isn’t the boring mid-90’s GS you remember your grandparents chaffering you around in. Jump in, invite four of your friends and tell everyone to buckle up tight.

Of course, the GSF makes plain its case for performance first, Lexus luxury second from the start. Before you’ve even pushed the engine start button, the many design enhancements clue you in that this four-door sedan has come to play. Building on the already elegant looks of the current generation Lexus GS, the GSF steps it up with aggressive, yet thoughtfully integrated aerodynamic elements. It pushes the visual envelop just far enough without losing that core charm. While these aerodynamic additions look great, they’re also completely functional. The already brash spindle front grille that dominates the face of every Lexus these days is extra exaggerated on the GSF. It’s flanked by a couple of air intakes for the oil and transmission coolers. Flared fenders get their own ventilation cut-outs to help keep engine temps in check. Attention is paid to areas beyond the reach of the naked eye as well. Get down on your stomach and you’ll find under-body covers to smooth out the airflow and improve high-speed stability.

From the rear, quarter panels receive the same flared treatment with that beautifully stacked quad exhaust. A feature now infamous on all F models. The look gets rounded off with a small carbon-fiber spoiler, another clear indication of it’s performance prowess, for those of us who know which dots to connect. Let me make special mention of the gorgeous 19” forged alloy wheels. They are close to indescribably beautiful. Knock you in the teeth pretty really, and tucked just behind you’ll find big, six-piston opposed aluminum calipers, painted orange, poised to pinch the living daylights out of the oversized Brembo ventilated brake rotors. It’s enough to reduce you to a puddle to tears and raw appreciation. As a picture is worth a thousand words, consult the one below and swoon away.

Photo by: Brandon Randall

Once inside you’ll find the expected level of polish and attention to detail you’ve come to expect from the Lexus brand. Alcantara trim is stirred in with leather, polished carbon fiber, aluminum and suede in the classic horizontal themed dash layout. Other sporty touches abound, like aluminum pedals and sport seats that are colored blood red and shaped like the musculoskeletal anatomy of the human body. They are supportive, relatively comfortable and beautifully sculpted. The ride can border on a tad too firm when road conditions dip below ideal, but the adjustable shocks help soften the blows when set to comfort mode. Since the GSF has the same interior space as the base model GS sedan, you’ll find the back seat capable of comfortably fitting a couple average-sized adults. The remote touch interface remains as cumbersome to operate as ever, an area in clear need of improvement. The picture is sharp and clean though, and the GSF multi-information display adds graphics for torque distribution, G-forces and even the position of the rear wing.

Photo by: Brandon Randall

The real star separating the standard GS and fire-breathing GSF is the 5.0 L V8. Churning out 467 hp through an 8-speed sport direct-shift transmission, this engine means business. Power feels available in abundance at nearly any speed and rpm. The throttle response is near-immediate and the V8 soundtrack sings all the right songs and hits all the right notes. Lexus has even piped a little extra into the cabin through the speakers.

To make the new GSF a track-attacking machine, extra attention was paid to the chassis and suspension set-up. The GS is already a great foundation to build on, but Lexus went several steps further to strengthen the frame with four extra underbody braces. The GSF is blessed with its own double wishbone geometry, using aluminum components to keep unsprung weight down. A torque-vectoring differential, the already mentioned improved aerodynamics, big brakes and sticky summer tires culminate to deliver a car with sharp handling and predictable mannerisms when driven hard.

Photo by: Toyota

Most influential to how the new GSF behaves through the twists and turns are the many driving modes available with just the twist of a knob. Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+ are all on tap. Each mode really changes the car’s personality. In Normal, the steering is light with crisp turn-in. When pushed hard, the traction control steps in, giving up some grip in corners and inducing some predictable understeer. In one of the two Sport modes however, especially when the differential, also adjustable electronically, is set to Slalom or Track, the GSF seems to shrink in size and become as playful and toss-able as the best of them. It’ll step out of line willingly, corrects easily and in general, feels tight and agile no matter what you throw its way. No matter what mode you select, the brakes provide more bite than an enraged pit bull, with no hint of fade or squeak of protest to the abuse.

Bottom line, the 2018 Lexus GSF is semi-roomy, well-mannered when it wants to be but ready to throw down at any moment if you should feel so inclined. It’s looks straddle the fence between elegant and edgy in a way that deserves serious applause, and the interior is top-notch, with a perfect amount of sportiness weaved in. The biggest problem is that as good as the new GSF may be, its competition couldn’t be stiffer. Automotive heavy-weights like the iconic BMW M5, power-crazed E63 AMG or drop-dead gorgeous Audi RS 7 bring serious heat and have a more lustrous pedigree to boot. We’ve entered posters on your bedroom wall territory here. Lexus has made great strides to close the gap and behind though it may be in a category or two, its as worthy a contender in this heavyweight fight as ever.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $88,855.00

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