Lexus adds GS F sedan, 2nd high-performance model

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Lexus "has the itch" and it's hoping its expanding performance series is the answer.

Best known for its hybrids and other high-mileage vehicles, Toyota's luxury brand has been hoping to pump a little more passion into the brand. It launched the high-powered RC F coupe last year and brought to the North American International Auto Show a second high-performance model, the GS F sedan.

While the new model had been expected, Lexus pulled a second jackrabbit out of its hat, also unveiling the RC F GT3, marking its return to motorsports with a program it hopes to take to tracks around the world.

"We've got the itch to go racing again," declared Lexus General Manager Jeff Bracken.

With the 2016 Lexus GS F, the heart of the beast is a 5.0-liter V-8, shared with the 2015 Lexus RC F, making 467 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque. If there was any surprise, there had been some speculation Lexus might bump up the numbers just slightly to reflect the heavier mass of the GS sedan.

In keeping with the brand's traditional emphasis on fuel economy, the V-8 can operate in both the standard Otto and more efficient Atkinson cycles. That, Lexus claims, will "maximize power and efficiency in given situations."

There will be no manual gearbox, something that might disappoint a few driving enthusiasts, but the RC F has received positive reviews for the quick, intuitive shifting of the 8-speed automatic it will now share with the GS F. That gearbox offers a manual shifting mode that can be controlled by steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The RC F will also share the Torque Vectoring Differential, or TVD, introduced on the RC F. It will offer the driver three driver-selectable operating modes, including a track setting that minimizes the intervention of such "nanny" systems, such as electronic stability control.

The stock GS unibody platform has been upgraded with structural reinforcements to handle the added demands of performance driving, and Lexus says it has developed a modified suspension that will offer track handling, when demanded, while maintaining ride quality under less aggressive maneuvering.

Lexus hasn't set a price for the GS F yet, but it will launch sales in the fourth quarter of this year. Plans call for sales of about 1,600 annually.

While Bracken wouldn't confirm it, Lexus insiders vigorously shake their heads when asked if still more F models are in the works. There's even a reported supercar program to replace the marque's now-abandoned LFA model.

The push is, in part, a response to Toyota Motor Co. boss Akio Toyoda's push to give his company's products more "passion." There's also the fact that Lexus is generating a solid response to its mid-range F Sport models. On average, they account for about 25 percent of the customer orders on models where F Sport editions are available. That jumps to 50 percent on the entry-lux IS F sedan.

Lexus is hoping to boost the public's "heartbeat and adrenaline," suggested Bracken, with the launch of a new racing program based around the new RC F GT3. The plan is to take it into the European GT3 series this year and then take it to a "yet-to-be-determined series in the U.S. in 2016," Bracken said.