UNITED STATES—Winning over serious performance sedan enthusiasts hasn’t been an easy task for Lexus. From the get go, Lexus was always about serene cruising. One of the first LS400 (first production model from Lexus) commercials played with this idea by taking the viewer for a ride as one-by-one, wind noise, road noise, and finally driveline noise were muted until the viewer was left with a completely silent commercial. While this was a cute gimmick that temporarily carved out a market niche of drivers seeking the “quietest” car on the road, Lexus realized that this was a passing fad at best. Eventually drivers would become bored with this “librarian’s paradise on wheels” and return to the stalwarts from Germany, which offered more stimulation for the senses.
Today, Lexus has ditched its pursuit of micro shares in the luxury/sports sedan market. Instead of trying to offer the one missing ingredient from its competitors, Lexus has decided to take them head on with whatever rules they’ve established. To that end, Lexus created its F division. Much like BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG, the F division essentially takes standard Lexus vehicles and injects them with a sort of “super soldier” serum that includes upgraded suspension and drivetrain components. Two of the latest offerings in F trim are the RC-F and the GS-F.
My first encounter with the RC-F occurred at Willow Springs last year. After a few laps, I was impressed but I also had a few concerns regarding the RC-F’s hard-core 8-speed transmission. For my final verdict on the RC-F, please watch the follow-up video review at The Steering Column on Youtube.
To find out just how serious Lexus has become in its pursuit of driving purists looking for something with four doors, we took the 2016 GS-F to Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca in sunny Monterey, California. Rather than conducting a fully instrumented test, we thought it would be more fun to play a game of follow the leader. I would pilot the GS-F and my fellow Journalist, Deanna Isaacs would lead in the 2016 Chevrolet SS. My previous experience with a game of follow the leader around a professional racetrack was humbling to say the least. It was my first time and there was a professional racecar driver breathing down my neck. I didn’t win. This time, I was following, and I was not following a professional racecar driver. I had a much better chance of leaving this one with some pride still intact.
As was expected, The GS-F had no trouble keeping up with the less powerful and less expensive Chevrolet SS around Mazda Raceway. Despite my colleague’s daredevil “you only live once” nature, she was unable to shake me from her rear view mirror. The only thing saving her from being overtaken was a Subaru WRX that happened to slow me down until a passing lane opened up.
“Why not pit this Lexus performance sedan against something equivalent from BMW or Mercedes?” you might be asking yourself. Well, it seems that Lexus (for whatever reason) is still a bit hesitant to throw caution to the wind with an all out challenge to the heavyweights from Germany. In fact, the GS-F is not a true competitor to either the BMW M5 or Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG, with their roughly 100 horsepower advantages. Mind you, the Lexus is still about 10 grand less expensive than the Bimmer and around 15 grand less expensive than the Merc, but in this price bracket (all are around $100K realistically), who cares?
Thankfully, Lexus has been far less conservative with their interior design in recent years. Everything is both classy and sporty in a way that BMW and Mercedes would never dare to be. And herein lies the opportunity. While the two German brands have always struggled when they’ve strayed too far from tradition (remember Chris Bangle’s blasphemous BMW designs), Lexus has almost nothing to lose by reinventing itself. And this is exactly what makes Lexus the most exciting of the three companies today. Who knows what twists and turns lie ahead?