Lexus has made no secret of its plan to leverage performance in ways that will further expand its brand in America as well as elsewhere in the world. Spearheading that effort are its elite F models. We traveled to Spain to drive the latest member of this exclusive family, the soon-to-launch 2016 GS F. To showcase the capability of this hard-edged GS variant, the driving encompassed a mix of freeways and backroads north of Madrid along with a lapping session at the Jarama circuit that hosted the Spanish Grand Prix in the 1970-1980. The experience left no doubt the GS F has what it takes to challenge rivals like the Audi RS6, BMW M6, Cadillac CTS-V and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG.

Only the fourth Lexus to wear an F badge, the new GS F embodies much of the same dynamic character as the current RC F Coupe, which the automaker also brought to the Jarama. Although these two rear-drivers share a common pedigree with respect to powertrain, suspension and features, the GS F introduces some unique elements to the mix -- in addition to having a pair of extra doors and a far more usable rear seat.

Packing V8 power

The GS F packs the same free-winding naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 as the RC F. Making 467 horsepower at 7,100 rpm -- 200 shy of redline -- and a stout 389 lb-ft of torque between 4,800-5,600 revs, it employs the static balancing all F-spec engines get with a new dynamic process to ensure even smoother operation (Although Lexus says we'll soon see that upgrade on all future F engines). Like the RC F, the GS F has the cabin-based Active Sound Control system that electronically augments engine and exhaust sounds to provide "an even more engaging experience for the driver."

Power heads to the GS F's rear wheels via an 8-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission. Offering a Normal and a more responsive Sport mode that uses G-force Artificial Intelligence (G AI-SHIFT) control to select the best performance gear in responding to throttle, brake and steering inputs, it also features a full Manual mode that holds a selected cog through a corner and completely locks out the torque converter in 2nd through 8th gears for a more direct feel. 

Torque vectoring enhancements

Last link in the GS F's formidable drive chain is a standard Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD). Optional on the RC F, it optimizes power fed to each aft wheel when accelerating/braking through corners to fully utilize whatever grip is available. Beyond a default Normal selection that balances agility with stability, the TVD offers Slalom and Track settings that bias for steering response and high-speed stability, respectively. If that's not enough, there's a Drive Mode Select system with Eco, Norm, Sport S and Sport S+ settings that can further tweak various system parameters including throttle, shift, steering assist and Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management mapping -- as well as the air conditioning in the most frugal Eco mode.

Despite this near endless array of adjustment alternatives, it didn't take many miles to determine the new Lexus GS F is a sweet piece of work no matter how you care to set it up. The engine packs sufficient muscle to send this 4,034 lb sedan from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds and protracted mashing of the accelerator pedal nets an exhilarating rush of power that leads to an electronically limited top end of 168 mph. Kudos also are due the lightning-quick automatic fitted with racing-style paddles on the steering wheel and rev-matching throttle blipping on downshifts.

Retuned suspension

Complementing its drivetrain, the GS F's aluminum-intensive suspension has been completely retuned from GS spec for this more demanding duty. Based around ZF Sachs shock absorbers and featuring unique geometry to accommodate the car's wider Z-Rated 235/35 front and 275/35 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on 19-inch forged alloys, it all mounts to a stiffer reinforced core that leaves the car feeling confident and planted under virtually all conditions. We thought the electric power steering, while quick, could offer a bit more communicative feedback. But the TVD was a genuine confidence builder as were the upsized Brembo binders that match a solid pedal feel with smooth, straight and fade-free stops. 

The new GS F features new design cues that give it both streed cred and aero efficiency. Its bolder nose incorporates all new panels from the A-pillar forward, punctuated by bigger air intakes.LED headlamps with adaptive high beams flank a more prominent spindle grille set off with details that improve stability and downforce. Large, L-shaped extractor vents and functionally contoured side sills dominate the GS F's profile while the rear has a carbon fiber reinforced plastic decklid spoiler and angle-stacked quad exhaust outlets with special glass wool/steel wool inserts that create a more distinctive sonic signature. Like the RC F, the underbody gains full fairings that optimize air flow and reduce high speed lift. 

Driver focused cabin

The GS F's driver-focused cabin also gets a F-style cues that include comfortable and supportive sport buckets, a multifunction sport steering wheel, digital multi-mode instrument cluster, 12.3-inch main touchscreen with navigation and the latest Remote Touch Interface controller, all set off with trim elements from fine leather and Alcantara to carbon fiber and piano black. The 12-speaker/299-watt premium audio system can swapped for a 17-speaker/750-Watt Mark Levinson surround sound system that also brings Clari-Fi music restoration technology, which except for the orange Brembo brake calipers, is the only other option. Like the regular GS, the GS F also comes with the full complement of Lexus Safety System + active/passive driver assists. 

Although not the quickest or most powerful player in its segment, the 2016 Lexus GS F may be the best balanced and easiest to live with on a daily basis. We expect Lexus will have little trouble making the 2,000-unit sales bogey when the car arrives in showrooms this December. And with pricing set to start at $85,340, don't be surprised to see this hot new overachiever find its way onto at least a few Christmas lists.

More Performance Sedans...

The restyled 2016 Audi S6 steps up its pace with a 560-horse twin-turbo V8 

With 600 horses on hand, the limited edition 2015 BMW M5 30th Anniversary Edition excels in exhilaration

Video review: 2016 Cadillac CTS-V revealed with 640 horsepower 

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