Not so long ago, some knucklehead at BMW thought that it would be good idea to slap on the engine from their M1 supercar into a run-of-the-mill 5 Series.
While many thought that the idea was mental, it turned out to be utterly brilliant. The car was inconspicuous, fast, and brilliant to drive. It was so good, you could practically drive it all the way to Baguio only to realize that you left your jacket back home, and happily drive back to down to Manila. The M5 started the category of the super saloon, and it’s been a brilliant compromise for those going through a mid-life crisis. Your wife will never give you the go signal to buy a red Ferrari, but a BMW M5 in black, she will. It looks just like any other 5 Series, at least it used to.
Nowadays, when BMW makes a crap of an eco box, you can assure yourself that Audi or Mercedes-Benz will have a go at it too. Mercedes-Benz and Audi were left in awe of BMW’s creation of the M5, it looks years for them to respond. They knew it was a masterpiece. Even then, when the competition decided to have a go, the cars they created were somewhat different. Audi had a little bit of rally heritage bleeding in its RS models veins and Mercedes-Benz created hot rods in bespoke suits. BMW was really the company that took precision driving to a whole new level.
While BMW still create ultimate driving machines, the competition isn’t so far-off. Sometimes they’re better. Also, something tells me that they’ve lost their way. All M cars are now turbocharged, including their latest M5. We all know how effective turbocharging is, but we also know that if not for the environmental adjustment bureau, BMW would never stick a blower in its M cars. The value of a naturally aspirated inline-6 cannot be quantified. Apart from that, gone are the days when the M cars were subtle. Perhaps their newest one is a little bit more conservative, but you still cannot trick your wife and pass your brand new M5 as the same basic 5 Series that your neighbour has.
It’s a shouty, racy looking thing that drifted out of the Nürburgring and into your garage. It’s the same story with Audi and Mercedes-Benz. They’re completely blinged out. There is an alternative though, and it comes from Lexus. It’s called the GS F. It’s right about the same size as an M5, but with a very different approach. It isn’t fitted with super complicated computer boxes that calculate spring rates and dampening movements to get you around the corner 0.2 seconds faster than whoever it is that you’re racing. Neither does it have horsepower or torque figures that will win you a game of trump cards. It looks just like one you see in church on Sunday, except of course, it isn’t.
Emotion over numbers.
For starters, it’s fitted with an atmospheric 5-liter, 32-valve double overhead cam V8 engine. If the new M5 is fitted with an engine architecture similar to what you find in Max Verstappen’s Formula 1 car, the one on the Lexus is closer to Niki Lauda’s. It’s proper old school. Surely, it isn’t as sophisticated and definitely nowhere near as powerful as the Bimmer, but I can guarantee you that this stirs the soul much better. Its engine sounds like - and this is the highest praise I can ever give it - an Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
Even when this car was new, it was no match to the previous generation F10 M5 in terms of horsepower. However, where the Bimmer struggled to put down all 600 of its wild horses through a set of rear wheels, the Lexus laid out all 461 of them without any fuss. The suspension is better too. It isn’t as clever a system as what you find in its rivals, but it works perfectly in the real world. And truthfully, isn’t that where you’d want to drive a saloon? It’s a bit stiff, but it’s supple and it’s never jarring. It doesn't harm the spine.
"The GS F feels more M3 than it does M5. And that, my friends, is an extremely rare talent."
The interior is dated. You can tell from the on-board computer screens that it’s been left behind by the bewitching LC 500 that we tested last year. Nevertheless, it’s still a lovely place to be in. The seats and the driving position are bang on. It’s pretty amazing to think that an interior this nice is created by the same group that makes the Avanza. What isn’t as instantly pleasant is the on-board computer system with a pseudo mouse of sorts.
If you were kidnapped and given thirty seconds to plot a destination in the navigation system in exchange for your freedom - you wouldn’t make it. You wouldn’t even if they gave you two hours to do it. Unlike BMW's iDrive system, wherein your dog could easily do it for you. The interior has aged and it shows. There are more Toyota bits in this car than there are in the LC 500. I’m sure that the next model will be a pretty remarkable thing.
The wonderful thing about driving the GS F is its rare ability to shrink mass around the driver. It’s quite hard to explain that in words, but basically, I feel like I’m sat in the car and not on the car. As I take on corners, the car feels more M3 than it does M5. And that, my friends, is an extremely rare talent because there’s no hiding the unsprung mass and size of this thing. I do love and loathe its 8-speed torque converter. It doesn’t snap into gear anywhere near as fast as a dual clutch in an Audi RS, but it’s also significantly more relaxed in most real world scenarios. I never feel like I’m forced to be in a race I didn’t choose to be in.
When I’m on Sport mode, the transmission is lively, but it must be said that some of the rev matching on the downshifts can be a bit dodgy. The 10-speed system found on the LC 500 is already on another level, whereas this feels a bit old school. I do love the engine in this car. It’s not the fastest, but it has so much fizz. The fact that it doesn’t have blowers bolted to it is reason enough to celebrate. It produces some really lovely noises that you will no longer find in new BMW M cars. The steering isn’t half as bad as you’d expect either. It has great turn-in feel, which I can't say about most of the cars they make.
Hot rod hearts.
I love this car, because I adore big and fast saloons. I drove the RC F last year and I thought that this would be the same car but with two more doors. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is an infinitely better car than that. The way every bit from the engine, to the transmission, to the steering connects in this car - seem to have a speed dial to each other. It revs majestically with tons of gusto.
The driving experience is delightful. It leaves the RC F, a confused hotrod that’s all over the place. Never in the RC F’s wildest dreams would it have been able to give the M4 a run for its money, but this GS F - this one - can annoy the M5 like a buzzing fly on the nose of a rhinoceros all day long. And for significantly less money, it’s a rather enticing thing. Now, if I only had the dough to gas it up.