A lot of good things have been said about Lexus over the years, but “exciting” is not one that pops up very often — unless you are talking about the Lexus IS F.
To bring you up to date, The IS F sedan was introduced in 2007 as an addition to the Lexus line-up of compact luxury vehicles. It was Lexus’ first effort to spice up its product portfolio, and it was given the F designation to pay tribute to Turn One of the Fuji Speedway, where it underwent a lot of its racetrack-ready development.
It is now nearing the end of its life, and a replacement is expected next year. Still, this sports/luxury sedan still feels mostly up to date
What a driver will notice first is that the Japanese manufacturer’s compact sedan is fitted with a monster V-8 engine — 5 liters, 416 horsepower, 371 pound feet of torque. Teamed with a lightning fast 8-speed automatic transmission, it can slam the four-seater from a stop to 60 mph in about 4 ½ seconds.
Lexus? Excitement? You bet.
But, hold the horses for a few moments. Lexus has made sure, especially with major updates for the 2011 model year, that the IS F is not just some one-trick team of stallions. There’s a whole lot more to this sedan than the muscle that can throw you back into your seat, put a grin on your face and make you a hero at red-light runoffs.
Starting with a standard IS sedan, engineers have upgraded and/or massaged the transmission, suspension, steering and brakes, added special performance tires, inserted high-tech electronic assists, installed a torsion rear differential to improve high-speed traction.
Add it all up and it’s obvious that Lexus prepared a high-performance sports/luxury sedan to play on the same Nurburgring as the elites from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
But, the average enthusiast was not forgotten, either. If you can stand a somewhat stiff ride, you will have plenty of fun enjoying the driving dynamics on life’s every-day roads, and you certainly will get a kick out of the muscular music streaming out of the tailpipe when the strong V-8 ventures into the upper reaches of its rev range.
So, let’s look a little closer at what puts the excitement into this rather innocent-looking rear-wheel-drive sedan.
That Direct Shift Transmission can be operated manually with steering-wheel-mounted paddles. There are two modes, D (for docile?) and M (for marauder?). In “M” mode, the transmission can hold each gear to the 6,800-rpm redline and click off shifts in a 10th of a second. It also automatically matches engine speed to vehicle speed during downshifts to achieve maximum traction.
There also are three driving modes — normal, sport and snow — which adjust the r sedan to accommodate the driver’s wants and/or needs.
The independent suspension — double wishbones up front, multi-link at the rear — was upgraded to sharpen handling without destroying ride quality, After all, this is a luxury sedan, too.
Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management integrates operation of the powertrain, brakes, steering, traction control and stability control to anticipate a loss of traction and keep the Lexus from skidding out of control. For example, when the IS F is roaring through a high-speed corner, the system helps to prevent the inside wheel from spinning by transferring more power to the outside wheel.
The 19-inch forged alloy wheels hold specially designed tires to maximize high-speed performance. To accomplish this, the rear tires are wider, with a lower profile, than the front ones.
High performance cars need high-performance brakes. Lexus accomplishes this with beefy, fade-free, ventilated Brembos. The quick, precise steering is electric rack-and-pinion.
My week with the IS F combined a lot of ordinary errand running with a 100-mile highway cruise and a few bursts of wild acceleration on essentially empty rural roads. Every mile was fun, but they did not come cheap.
The EPA estimates that the Lexus can achieve 18 miles per gallon of premium fuel in the city and 23 on the open road. The trip computer told me I was averaging between 15 and 20 mpg.
As mentioned, the ride is firm by luxury-car standards, but enthusiasts will gladly accept that as a tradeoff for agile handling. One over-zealous ride around a sharply curved highway exit ramp was enough to sell me.
There are some obvious downsides to this compact sedan, too. The articulated rear seats make room for only two passengers and adults will not have a lot of space to move around. Although it will hold 13.3 cubic feet of cargo, the trunk still seems small and the rear seatbacks do not fold forward to extend luggage space.
A high-performance car needs lots of safety equipment and Lexus obliges. The IS F comes with a full complement of airbags and side curtains, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control. Another feature is Safety Connect, which automatically provides collision notification, stolen vehicle recovery and emergency assistance
Okay, you’ve gotten at least a taste of the performance capabilities of the Lexus IS F.
What about the luxury side of the equation?
Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, heated front sport seats with 10-way power adjusters, sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, trip computer, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a premium audio system with 13 speakers, satellite radio, Ipod integration, auxiliary audio input and a 6-disc cd changer.
Options on the test car include navigation with weather and traffic information, backup camera and the Lexus Enform infotainment system (a $2,490 package), and intuitive park assist with front and rear sensors (for $500).
Combine the options with the base price of $63,350 and a $910 delivery charge, and the bottom line comes to $67,250.
What’s new for 2014? Not much, really. There is upgraded leather upholstery, a carbon fiber rear spoiler and LED fog lights. That’s about it.
The Lexus IS F may not come immediately to mind for some performance enthusiasts. But anyone with the money, the inclination and the time to enjoy a serious sports sedan will find the Lexus a satisfying proposition, even after all these years.