471bhp. Not so long ago, that’d be a pretty healthy output to have in a mid-sized four-door, wouldn’t it? But over the last few years, things have gotten rather silly in the horsepower department for super saloons. We’re living in a time when the Mercedes-AMG E63 - soon to be replaced with an even more powerful model - puts out anything up to 577bhp, while the last hurrah BMW M5 Competition Edition puts out a frankly silly 592bhp.
So these days, 471bhp doesn’t sound like that much, but that’s how much the Lexus GS F wades into battle with, around 100bhp less than the likes of the aforementioned E63 and M5, and a fair way off the (estate only) Audi RS6.
I don’t think this is a conscious effort from Lexus to make a statement about the horsepower war raging amongst its German rivals. Rather, it’s about as much as the company’s 5.0-litre, naturally-aspirated V8 can make without resorting to the kind of turbo power Audi, BMW and Mercedes has. That’d cost a hell of a lot of money to develop, for what is an incredibly niche product for the Toyota luxury brand.
However, as much as us petrolheads crave masses of power, the amount of poke from these cars has gotten utterly stupid. If you’ve ever driven an RS6, a car actually slightly less powerful than its predecessor, you’ll know you’ve maybe got a couple of seconds of wide open throttle to play with before you have to back off.
The Lexus, whether intentionally or unintentionally (I suspect the latter), sticks two fingers at the Germans and their willy waving horsepower war, with a sensible amount of power you can actually use and enjoy on the road. With a 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds it is still quick, just not quite as brisk as the others. And since it’s the only one that’s still naturally-aspirated, the power it does offer is available in an instant, accompanied by a cracking soundtrack.
With peak torque at 4800rpm and peak power at 7100rpm, this is an engine you find yourself gunning up to its 7300rpm redline frequently. And as with most powerful N/A engines that require frequent fraternisation with the redline, the noise means you don’t really care.
The V8 lets out a howl at 4000rpm, almost like it’s trying to imitate the fabulous 4.7-litre V8 that’s nearing the end of its life over at Maserati. It could do with a little more volume, though. Even in Sport+ mode, it’s too muted, and externally shot video footage shows that the F’s exhaust note disappears into the wind mere seconds after it’s torn past the camera.
Despite the low exterior volume, that revvy V8 simply dominates the whole driving experience, but that’s not to say the chassis is hopeless. Show the GS F a set of bends, and you’re shown a car that’s taught enough without being harsh and skittish, endowed with more than enough grip, and exudes a feeling of brisk sophistication.
The steering’s good too - feedback’s decent, it feels consistent, and it’s just about quick enough in the angrier drive modes. Do I wish the rear moved around a little more? Sure, but having a relatively modest 390lb ft which doesn’t arrive in its fullest form until high in the rev range is never going to translate into a car that lights up the rears under power willy nilly.
There are some more pressing issues with the GS F, though. As is the case with the RC F coupe, the seven-speed gearbox is borderline infuriating. It’s never quite on the ball in auto mode, and is sluggish and downright stubborn when you’re downshifting using the paddles.
What’s more, despite the power deficit to those Germans and a fairly simple chassis (you get a torque-vectoring differential but only passive dampers) the GS F is £70,594, not a whole lot less than an M5.
Worst of all is the mouse/joystick thing you use to navigate the infotainment system. It’s hilariously bad, and makes entering an address as easy as playing pin the tail on the donkey while blind drunk. And wearing boxing gloves.
But here’s the thing: that price is a better deal than you might think, as unlike similar stuff from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, there isn’t a myriad of expensive options to mull over - there are just two. Almost everything - from the fabulously comfortable 10-way adjustable seats to the G-meter/laptimer gubbins - comes as standard.
As we’ve already discussed, the drop in power isn’t an issue either. A car like this really doesn’t need an engine that knocks on the door of 600bhp. In fact, if the Audi RS6 and cars of that ilk suddenly switched to more characterful N/A engines and dropped 100bhp or so, I’d be a happy man.
That isn’t going to happen, so why aren’t we giving Lexus a little more credit for keeping the naturally-aspirated flame burning a little while longer, when every other rival car has switched to forced induction? The sweet-sounding, surprisingly wafty GS F gets a nod of respect from me - it’s an accidental V8 hero, and a refreshing alternative to every other hot saloon out there.