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December 12, 2008 • Autos, Reviews

Lexus IS F fast, fun, Fierce!

“Military Intelligence” seems to have been the poster child for oxymoron for as long as I can remember. Since entering automotive journalism prior to the end of the last millennium I have had extreme difficulty using the words “Lexus” and “performance” to describe each other as well.
Not anymore.

Seriously … stop laughing. While Lexus has been giving the European luxury sedan segment fits for the past couple of decades, they have won many battles but fell short of winning the war. This may change things.

Toyota’s luxury division has unleashed a new weapon – codename “F” – in hopes of attacking the premium sport sedan flank currently dominated by the likes of Audi RS, BMW M and Mercedes-Benz AMG.

Lexus has been toying with the sport sedan segment since introducing IS to North America several years ago, and they got real close to giving the Bavarians a real run for their money when giving the line a complete makeover in 2006 with the IS 350.

I guess after hearing “put up or shut up” so many times, Lexus engineers have answered with a shot right to the midsection – IS F.

Built on the IS platform shared by IS 250 and 350, this new car is more than just an engine upgrade – hence Lexus chucking the idea of IS 500 as its moniker and going with the single alpha designation.

Engineers looked no further than their own parts bin for powertrain components, giving the IS F the modified 5.0-liter V-8 and 8-speed automatic gearbox found in their LS600h flagship luxury liner – with a little bit of tuning, that is.

Lexus first introduced us to the new car on the shores of Mobile Bay, near the site of a historic Civil War naval battle. In its day, the clash of Merrimack- and Monitor-class ironclads represented the apex of power and technology, a phrase, Lexus says, not lost on the new IS F, which they describe as a modern-day study in high-tech power and all-around performance.

We used some slightly more colorful words to describe our experiences behind the wheel of the new IS F, many we cannot repeat here.

What we enjoyed was an exhilarating show of force and finesse – a 416 horsepower, 371 lb. ft. of torque sport sedan combining the agility of a cat with the nasty temper of a wild javelina and – wait for it – the throaty growl of a grizzly bear when eager drivers push the tachometer past 3,600 revs (courtesy a secondary air intake valve).

So as not to appear completely prejudiced against the Germans, Lexus gives Italian engineers the “what for” as well. Seems the new F1-style paddle shifters on the IS F steering wheel are capable of faster up-shifts than a Ferrari F430 and downshifting the Lexus treats occupants to wicked-cool throttle blips that mate engine speed to vehicle speed. Words cannot describe this latter feature justly – one must experience it in person.

A demonstration video played for automotive journalists gathered in the dim ballroom elevated blood pressures and pulses as factory drivers heated IS F rear tires to the boiling point. Naturally, being the complete journalist I am, I would not rest until I found out for myself if these demonstrations could be replicated in real-world conditions.

They can. Switch off the traction control and crazy things happen – crazy FUN things! (Our legal department insists I insert a disclaimer here that GearDiary does not recommend anyone trying this at home.)

Also helping secure a performance attitude for the IS F is the V-8 car getting a bit more suspension attention over its four- and six-cylinder siblings. The new car is also a few inches longer up front to accommodate the new powerplant and associated components. Front fascia gets a larger mesh grille and lower air dam for improved engine cooling, with a vent in the lower area below the headlamps for brake cooling.

Speaking of braking, IS F is stopped (on a dime, I might add) via large drilled and pillar-fin ventilated front and rear discs from Brembo. The new Lexus sport sedan rides on unique BBS directional forged 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels shod with high-performance, low-profile rated to 186 mph (the IS F is electronically governed at 170 mph U.S.).

Inside IS F we find state-of-the-art technology at every turn, enjoyed comfortably and safely from a pair of form-fitting sport bucket seats up front. Rear seating also allows no more than two and adults may not enjoy their experience back there on any lengthy road trips. Leave that space to the kids.
Despite our dinner entertainment at the launch program being a jazz band, the new Lexus IS F is all about rock and roll. This is a serious contender, one not to be taken lightly by the competition in any way, shape or form. This is Lexus’ first real foray into the luxury performance genre, and if company history proves anything it is that Lexus is very successful at whatever it puts its mind to.

Pricing for the IS F starts at $56,000 with our comfortably-equipped test model coming in at $64,178, and although target customers don’t pay attention to fuel economy numbers, the Lexus fetches higher figures than its European competitors (16 mpg city/23 highway).

And while sales numbers are expected to remain very low, look for the “F” to appear on other Lexus models in the future.

3 Responses to " Lexus IS F fast, fun, Fierce! "

  1. mchinsky says:

    I have the IS250. At 210hp it definitely feels a bit underpowered but in the Northeast you gotta have All Wheel drive. The F is unusable in the snow IMHO as a rear wheal drive car with ultra low profile tires.

    The 250 handles well but I really wonder if the F can handle like the legendary M series BMW.

    This car is small. The back seats are children seats only IMHO. Even the front passenger seat is tight for tall folks. I’m fairly average size and I’m comfortable but the drivers seat is almost all the way back.

    I get great mileage, can get over 30mpg highway but I highly doubt the F is in the league.

    My biggest beef is what justifies 40% more price just for a more powerful engine. It just doesn’t cost remotely that much more to make a car real fast (look at what Chrysler sells at low prices)

    It is amazing that an engine that powerful can actually fit in an unmodified engine compartment. My “measley” 210 hp engine visually appears to fill most of the space under the hood.

  2. Lex says:

    What a well named car. (No relation.)

  3. 2008 Audi RS4 vs. 2009 Lexus IS-F says:

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