Japanese car brand Lexus is not the very first member to the world of high-performance sedans. Their Lexus IS-F is the Asian attempt to enter this intensely competitive arena and a direct competitor to the benchmark in this segment, the BMW M3. With sales starting in 2008, the IS-F has seen numerous editions over the past few years. Currently, the 2011 model is available and the 2012 IS-F will show its face at the IAA 2011 in less than three weeks time.
Lexus offered us the chance to experience the IS-F sedan and our second member in the Japanese F-Line. The IS-F has taken on the F-mantle with success, and wears the F-badge on its widened front fenders proudly for good reason. We were handed the keys to a White Pearl 2010 model for a multi-day drive. The Lexus PR manager left us with the words; this sports car has two faces, try to find both.
Designed as a true performance machine, the different model versions featured numerous upgrades since its release in 2008. The 2011 model available at this moment received softer front springs, stiffer rear springs, larger-diameter anti-roll bars front and rear, stiffer bushings on the rear subframe, and the F sits an inch lower than it once did. On the outside you will spot the 2011 model thanks to its LED daytime running lights. The interior received new gauges, new interior trim and an optional interior treatment in a wild orange-and-black scheme.
Similar upgrades will be available for the 2012 model, providing an even better, more dynamic driving experience and improved comfort, a set of 19 inch BBS wheels in a 14-spoke design and two-tone leather sport seats. The upgrades to the car have extended its years of production and improved the handling, up to a point the engineers are fine tuning the suspension and steering setup. For the 2011 and 2012 these ingredients provide a decent improvement of its abilities, but in the end the basic platform remains the same.
The IS-F includes a 5.0 liter V8 that grunts out 423hp at 6,600rpm and a stump-pulling 505Nm of torque at 5,200rpm. The F is by far the most powerful street IS ever produced, and has been matched with the absolutely exceptional eight-speed automatic with a manual mode and shift paddles on the steering wheel. It is the only transmission offered. The acceleration is there exactly when you want it. Keep the revs below 3,600, and the car will pass into the casual onlooker’s unconscious as just an average sedan. Push the throttle above 3,600rpm and its second face provides a wonderful dark bark from under the hood and out of those iconic stacked dual exhausts.
The steering is quite precise and confident when cornering near the limit, but misses a bit of feel. The rock-hard suspension of the 2010 model is superb for true petrolheads and weekend track-day use, but a bit too rough for everyday use. It is never harsh, just a bit too firm, but we didn’t find it too unpleasant. A special system called Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system helps provide the appropriate handling dynamics and traction control. Using a variety of sensors the system keeps you on the road with a combination of braking, steering and throttle control. It also includes an electronically controlled limited slip diff.
Using a dashboard-mounted switch, you can select Normal, Sport or Snow driving modes. The Sport setting makes the electric power steering more direct and allows the driver to push harder towards the limit without obvious intervention. At track-day events you can hold the button down for three seconds and it will elimniate all traction control assistance. The 2010 IS-F comes standard with a Torsen rear differential providing additional traction during spirited driving.
The exterior setup is not a fluent connection of lines or a combination of sculptured finesse. The muscular fenders, bulging hood, and smattering of scoops and vents make sure you stand out from the normal IS series, but personally it is not the best looking high-performance sedan we have driven. The competition offers more sophistication combined with luxury and agility. The IS-F is styled like a Japanese sports car; bold, aggressive and in your face. Standard features include 19 inch ten spoke light alloy rims with sticky tires, Brembo brakes (360mm front discs, 345mm rears, all ventilated and drilled, six-pot callipers at the front, two-pots at the rear), bi-xenon headlights, and numerous F-Sport bodykit parts like the trunk spoiler, logos, and upper and lower grille.
On the inside a wide range of options are available, like keyless ignition and entry, an excellent 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system, a hard-drive-based navigation system with a back-up camera and real-time traffic and weather updates, Bluetooth wireless and a dual-zone airconditioning. The quality levels are decent, but quite different from what we see in European sport sedans. The ergonomics of the central console are a pain in the ass and the materials, which are used ask for a slight upgrade. The plastic and carbon fiber pattern trim are just not that tasteful as you would expect from a Lexus.
The seating position features good front seats with three-position memory and rear seats, which are set up to only accommodate two passengers. The F logo is showcased through out the cabin on the lower steering wheel, rear pull-down center console and outer seats cushions. The steering wheel offers paddle shifters and the brightly illuminated gauges in front of the driver offer all the information needed.
Twist the key, and all the car’s minor faults are momentarily forgotten. For such a compact car, the 5.0 liter V8 is an impressively big gun accompanied by a wonderful shifting eight-speed gearbox. The impressive speed potential, its docile nature, and throaty V8 roar create a combination that is constantly entertaining from behind the wheel.
The handling is refined, but lacks the precise feeling of a BMW in corners. Of course, we drove the 2010 model, so we can’t speak about its successors, but if there would be something to improve, this would be it! Of course, accompanied by an updated dashboard and a better choice of interior trim.
After several days inside the F-line Lexus we found and loved the IS-F’s dual personality. On one hand you have the ability to cruise around and let the eight-speed auto box do the work when you want to relax within the comfortable seats, on the other hand there is an excellent high-performing luxury sedan along the lines of the BMW M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG whispering; I am still here if you want me.