It’s no secret that the V8 engine is going the way of the manual transmission, the Northern White Rhino, and original storytelling in American cinema. Anyone who follows the automotive business or simply loves cars knows it. Unless the topic of discussion is Italian supercars or muscled-up working pickups, the sun will inevitably rise on a day when even the most ripped of muscle cars or the most aggressive of sport luxury machines will just have to get by with six cylinders, a turbocharger, and simulated exhaust notes.
Swimming against the tide
So, let’s take a moment before we get rolling here to salute Lexus for feeding its 2018 GS-F a proper, naturally aspirated V8. This 5.0L 90-degree, all-aluminum power plant features both direct- and port-injection, variable valve timing for both intake and exhaust valves, and redlines at a respectable 7,300rpm. Meanwhile, Lexus’ rivals are all headed to smaller-capacity turbocharged engines that struggle to get past 6,500.
The engine—2UR-GSE to those in the know—puts out 467hp (348kW) and 389ft-lbs (574Nm) of torque, to a zero-to-60 time around 4.5 seconds. An eight-speed, sport-shifting automatic transmission keeps everything moving smoothly with classic rear-wheel drive, while a set of Brembo brakes brings all of that to sharp halt. Those are eye-opening specs from a car that still insists on calling itself a luxury sedan. Amidst its lineup of comfort-based vehicles and their more aggressively tuned F Sport variants, Lexus didn’t have to take the extra step of building this solely performance-aimed version of the more tame GS.
The 2018 BMW M5—the king of the mountain and the car every vehicle like the GS F dreams of unseating—dusts the Lexus’ power output easily with a gleaming 600 equine beasties (447kW) and their 553ft-lbs (750Nm) of torque. However, the M5 also blows by the GS F’s $84,000+ MSRP by almost $20,000. Luxury sport sedan buyers who don’t want to stretch their stride north of six figures might consider the GS F as viable, if less refined and ambitious option.
If they do, Lexus offers these drivers a good-looking car. Lowered and rounding its sleek brawn smoothly to clipped haunches, the GS F is a car that tells the world it can move. Its 19-inch wheels are a proper finishing touch. Then, there’s that Lexus honeycombed grille. It’s the automaker’s signature design element—the aesthetic creation that debuted a few years ago with the primary functions of cooling more powerful engines and telling the world that Toyota’s fancier sister was no longer safe and boring. That grille is a polarizing feature. Some drivers admire the aggressive maw and the visual effect of bearing down on the road. Others consider it too large—a car-borne waterfall of excessive facia.
The sport-seated cockpit is ruled by stitched-leather along the dash and under the driver’s well-funded backside. The dynamic gauge cluster is bright and clear—changing its color as the operator rotates between the car’s driver settings: Eco, Normal, Sport S, and Sport S+. Normal provides the most comfort for longer grand-touring hauls, while Sport S+ waits for track-day use.
Gadgets galore in the GS F
No Lexus skimps on the in-car tech, and the GS F’s safety and infotainment suites don’t disappointment. Power everything and smart everything else lends memory settings to the seats and mirrors and autonomy to the headlights and in-dash monitor. Standard features include Dusk-Sensing Headlights; Blind-Spot And Lane Departure Warnings Accident Avoidance System; Stability and Traction Controls, Pre and Post Collision Safety Systems, Remote Anti-Theft Alarm System; center console touch pad selector and a full collection of steering wheel-mounted controls
The driving experience is satisfying with an occasional tingle. The V8 prepares enough acceleration to get the GS F out in front of lesser cars at any stoplight, but there’s a moment of delay if the driver really puts the toe down. Which, when you think of it, is a real shame. Isn’t one of the selling points of a naturally aspirated engine supposed to be immediate throttle response?
The suspension keeps the driver in touch with the road while protecting the coccyx from too many bumps and bruises. The sport-tuned steering is tight enough to zip the machine in and out of tight traffic at speed. However, even in the tightened-up Sports S+ driver-mode setting, there’s a hint of understeer in sweeping turns due to the GS F’s hefty 4,034lb (1,830kg) curb weight.
The end result is a car that easily delivers the most excitement in the Lexus line short of the halo LC-500 coupe. It’s not a match for the more expensive M5—never mind the stratospherically expensive $229,000+ 2018 AMG S 65 Sedan. Indeed, the more contained price of the GS F is what keeps it in some manner of competition with those Rhineland offerings, not its performance numbers.
No amount of appreciation for the like of the GS F or its various rivals from around the world will save the V8 from the bone orchard in the years to come. For now, it seems a little unfair to pit consumer production cars that still offer the power plant against each other. A performance-loving gearhead dreams of gathering all of the eight-cylinder contestants and organizing a steel- and rubber-based group hug to thank all the designers and engineers for coming to the party with all that stubborn horsepower—and perhaps to plot its salvation.
Still, this is a review, and we can’t sprinkle any ride with glitter just because of its engine. The 2018 Lexus GS F is a pleasurable ride and a good-looking car. It makes all the right noises. Lexus packed in all of the appropriate in-car safety and infotainment bangs and whistles. It earns its MSRP. But, it has that throttle delay, that slight tug of understeer, and a smidge too little straight-line acceleration to make it a full-on match for its sport-tuned German rivals.
Low-voiced rumors claim the GS F is going away soon (as did its IS F predecessor) because it doesn’t fit in this drab, bloodless world of 1.8 liter, four-cylinder beat boxes and whispering hybrids. While it lives, celebrate it. It doesn’t have to be an M5 to serve as a lonely, defiant defender of the holy V8.