Twenty-seven years ago, Lexus introduced its fourth vehicle in its growing lineup. The GS fit into the gap between the front-drive ES sedan and the luxurious LS flagship. Out the gate, the GS stood for performance that discriminating drivers want in a sporty premium sedan.
Over four generations, Lexus provided owners many flavors of the GS sedan without diluting its intended mission. There had been hybrids, and an assortment of non-electrified powerplants ranging from turbocharged four-cylinders to powerful V8s. The sedan's performance promise has never deviated from the expectations of its owners.
There is a confession to make. I have never driven any of the first three generations of the GS. That all changed on this fourth and current iteration of Lexus’ premium mid-size sports sedan. In 2013, I reviewed the GS 350 with all-wheel-drive. It was a prime example of Lexus staying true to the mission of this sedan while establishing a new styling direction for the brand.
Four years later, that was followed up by the GS F. If someone wanted to create the ultimate performance sedan with the Oval-L up front, this car was it. While it offered it smoother ride than the RC F coupe, the F Performance V8 made it into a rocket ship that manhandles curvy roads at the same time.
Compared to other models in its current lineup, I have not had a lot of time behind the wheel of the Lexus GS. Normally I would live with this, except for one small factor. This model year will mark the final run of the Lexus GS.
How do you say good-bye to a sedan that helped Lexus build its brand by being the most extroverted model in the lineup? You send it off with a bang.
The final ride of the Lexus GS came in the guise of the 2020 GS F in Ultrasonic Blue Mica. I couldn’t have picked a perfect send-off for this car.
Perfect? Darn near. I will explain why…
Let me start off by saying that this 2020 GS F tester presented its credentials spectacularly. The color was on-point. It is one of the signature hues for the Lexus F Performance lineup. Infrared and Flare Yellow, as well. Personally, blue is my favorite color. This blue is the perfect paint for this particular car.
Scanning over the exterior, I noticed some more cool details. The black brake calipers have the F Performance logo. You have to get close to notice them behind the 19-inch hand polished split-10-spoke forged alloy wheels. Those brakes get plenty of airflow from both active entry and exit vents from the front bumper to each fender. The four-tip exhaust frames a subtle diffuser on the rear bumper, while the trunk lid is crowned by a carbon fiber rear spoiler.
The interior just feels the part. You have these racing-type front seats that know your body and lock it in. It hasn’t always been the case. When I started getting symptoms of my illness last year that affected my lower back, I tried sitting in an RC F at the Washington Auto Show and…let's just say, it wasn’t pretty. More than a year later, my body feels better. So were those seats. Long stints behind the wheel were no problem.
While this could be the last Lexus I will drive with the fiddly Remote Touch mouse on the center console, my command of the GS F from the driver seat has been just near perfection. I am happy to see the head-up display showing me what I need to keep my eyes on the road. But, why do I need three speedometers? Not just the one on the head-up display, but the analog one sitting in the right corner of the instrument binnacle and the digital one on the center dial.
As for the driving experience? Do you really need to ask?
That 467-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 makes the GS F the happiest place to be on the road. You can hear its thunder from the four exhaust tips out back. If you want more of that sound, flip the dial to Sport S or Sport S+. The latter two settings will hold the gears higher up the rev range, which is fine by me. The two paddle shifters will fine tune the shift points when you don’t need to be hovering over 3,000 RPM.
There is the standard Torque Vectoring Differential that enables you to maximize your final drive experience at the rear axle, while choosing the kind of driving you want – sometimes inappropriately. If you’re just staying on road, leave it in the standard setting. After all, not every road is a motorsports venue.
To finish up the driveline, the eight-speed automatic is absolutely flawless. In fact, the entire driveline is flawless. It is not a rumbling muscle car, but a refined cruiser with a massive force when you need it.
I suppose we should talk about fuel economy. I averaged 22.2 MPG. It was better than I expected!
Let’s go back to the Sport S+ setting for the moment. While it weighs down the steering effort and firms up the dampers in the suspension, you really need it when you taking the GS F onto a winding, fun road. On the highway, the Normal setting offers a wonderful driving experience expected in a high-performance luxury sedan.
I would be remised if I did not mention how well it handles. The steering is so sharp that I could do evasive maneuvers quite quickly – including lane changes – as well as giving you a tight turning radius. I just love the response from the steering wheel – in either Normal and Sport S+ mode.
Let me explain something as to why the GS F is a wonderful car and specifically featured in this review. Now, I could have brought in the RC F instead of this sedan. After all, the RC F got a power bump and a few updates across the board. Not to mention it is enjoying a great season in the IMSA's WeatherTech Sports Car Championship since its reboot at Daytona in July.
However, the GS F is a longer car with a longer wheelbase. Following automotive conventional wisdom, the longer the wheelbase, the better the ride quality. At 112.2 inches, this wheelbase created a smoother ride overall. That’s great, if the piece of tarmac is free of cracks, expansion points, and other road imperfections. You do get some resistance and noise from the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires over each imperfection.
Behind the 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports are some massive Brembo brakes. Up front, there is a pair of 14.9-inch slotted and ventilated rotors with a set of six-piston monoblock black calipers wearing the F Performance logo on the outside. In the rears are a pair of 13.5-inch slotted and ventilated rotors with four-piston monoblock calipers. Together, they stop this 4,034-pound performance sedan with authority.
In all, this $89,510 package of absolute goodness has been full of healthy, happy moments.
The GS F brings out a personality that has always been part of my DNA. In some circles, I have always been considered a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who sometimes wear his emotions on his sleeve and a huge boulder on his shoulder. It is safe to say that the Lexus GS F is not a "wolf in sheep's clothing" by any means.
While it gave me some happy moments, there is a tinge of sadness.
The Lexus GS is no longer in production. This is not the fault of Lexus or Toyota Motor Company. It is a victim of the marketplace. Customers do not want sedans anymore. Even though Lexus has added another variant to the ES for 2021 and Toyota already added TRD versions of the Camry and Avalon, the company is still bullish on sedans.
Yet, it just seems that no one in the premium/luxury space want a car like the GS. That’s a shame, really. It is a fun, sporty sedan that is made for enthusiasts. It has never been as popular as the ES sedan – the car that will fill the GS’s space in the Lexus lineup. It is also a bit tight on rear sear room compared to the BMW 5-Series. And, of course, you get can a more powerful version of an AMG machine in any of the SUVs Mercedes-Benz sells.
This is not to discredit the GS F at all. It is an uncomplicated machine. It is civilized and wicked at the same time. It is extroverted and introverted simultaneously. Plus, because it is a sedan, I have the seating position and space I would want for my "move over peasant" vehicle.
Overall, this is the Lexus I would choose above all – with no budget constraints whatsoever. Full stop.
And, I'm going to miss it.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern