A comfortable, elegant performance sedan with airtight handling and power to spare, Lexus’ new is f proves that elegant speed and power aren’t always served with schnitzel…
To call the lexus is f a sport version of an existing model is a bit of an understatement. In fact, the performance sedan is, as Lexus has it, “everything you thought the company wasn’t.” After a careful look at the stats and an abbreviated trip around the crowded streets of New York City, the statement makes some sense.
The focus here is on performance, not comfort. That’s not to say the is f isn’t comfortable, but it’s obvious at every turn that when it came time to make decisions, speed and handling were the priorities. Not so much a departure for Lexus—the luxury features, dependability and smart appointments of the IS series sedans are still there, after all—the is f appears to represent a pushing of boundaries, an example of the company’s best efforts when it comes to performance. You might not have expected Lexus to produce a car like this, but fans of the brand should be happy it exists.
Under the Hood
The interior of the car is beautiful, but it’s clear that most of the design time was spent under the hood. Time well spent, we say. The car features a modified version of the engine found in Lexus IS sedans, but a great many of the engine components were lightened and strengthened to increase performance and efficiency. Additionally, many of the onboard systems were improved or replaced. This includes fuel delivery, which is now achieved via a combination of both inlet port injection (standard) and direct injection, making for higher compression and more performance.
The end result of the design tweaks is a 5.0 liter V8 that redlines at 6,800 rpm, puts out approximately 416 horses, 371 lb-ft of torque and makes 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. You may not hit 170mph in the is f, but if you had a track and the right conditions, it wouldn’t be impossible—and that’s a governed top speed. The engine is impressive, to say the least.
To help you harness all this power Lexus has introduced the first-ever SPort Direct Shift 8-speed transmission. Suffer traffic around town in the “automatic” mode or hit the open highway, throw it into manual and use the paddle shifters to achieve nearly instant shifts (as quick as 0.1 seconds) among the wide array of gears.
The is f’s suspension helps keep things on the ground as well. The body structure is rigid as can be with high-strength steel and strategic bracing, helping sophisticated stabilization and steering systems to function at optimum efficiency. To help drivers maximize the suspension’s potential, the is f offers a Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system, which can be turned off. When it’s on, it can “save your bacon,” as Lexus puts it, while simultaneously helping drivers get the most out of their is f experience.
Stopping is fundamental to any good day of driving, and the Is f achieves this splendidly. Top brake-maker Brembo designed a new braking system for the is f, which includes huge 6-piston aluminum calipers that clamp onto 14.2-inch cross-drilled rotors in the front and 2-piston calipers grabbing 13.6-inch cross-drilled rotors in the back. The result, according to Lexus: “Short, drama-free stops—time after time.”
Behind the Wheel
All of the power and technological advances of the is f were, sadly, a bit lost to us during our test drive in New York City. The streets were in poor shape as it had been raining for some time, and Manhattan’s notoriously crowded West Side Highway seemed to be at full capacity. That said, there was a glorious stretch of open road that—largely because of the power—was traversed all too quickly. In fact, when a hole opened up in the traffic and I put the pedal down, it was impossible not to be impressed. Response was immediate. The engine has a satisfying note; “throaty” is an oft-used term and it’s appropriate here. The growl came with a burst of power that launched us forward with the pushed-back-in-your-seat thrill one looks for in such a vehicle. Tight, and I do mean TIGHT, handling helped us thread between lanes and other cars until it became silly to challenge the increasingly dense conditions and the Brembos were put into action to help us slow down. The wheel fits well in hand but the steering felt a bit heavy, though I have to believe the weight was due to the incredibly slow pace. At speed on an open road or track, I’m confident the full response would be well appreciated.
Most of the time, buzzing along between 5 and 25mph did give me a chance to enjoy the interior, which is lovely. Aside from the occasional growl that slips through on hard acceleration, the is f features the typically (and wonderfully) silent cabin for which Lexus is known. The incessantly honking horns and din of daily life in New York did not penetrate our comfortable refuge from the rain. Drilled aluminum-faced pedals and aluminum trim on the dash and instruments give the car a modern performance look while full leather seats and other accents keep luxury at the fore. Lexus chose a blue theme throughout the is f, and it works. Blue is the color of the LED needles on the speedometer and tachometer, blue stitching runs along the leather sport seats and tightly trimmed door panels and there’s even blue trim around the “F” logo. Typically understated, Lexus did well to make the is f sporty while keeping all design bits well within the bounds of good taste. The car looks as good parked in front of a country club as it does cornering hard on a track, and that’s not an easy trick to get right.
As luxury cars do these days, the is f comes with a navigation system. Unlike so many of the systems though, this one actually works, furthermore there’s integrated Bluetooth for “hands free” communication via mobile phones.
Music cognescenti will be thrilled by the top-drawer audio system designed by Mark Levinson, which is offered with the option of satellite radio. Lexus work with Mark Levinson for a reason: the company has exceeded the expectations of passionate audiophiles for over three decades with precision engineering, premium components and superb craftsmanship, a combination that has consistently delivered flawless acoustic performances. No wonder then that Lexus, with similar engineering principles, has identified Mark Levinson as its audio partner, and no wonder that Mark Levinson is the worldwide leader for home entertainment systems.
There’s enough room to fit four adults comfortably, though the supportive sport driver’s seat may feel cramped to those who enjoy their desserts. Rear seating is adequate, and certainly in line with other offerings in the genre. There’s more than enough room in the trunk for two sets of clubs, standard equipment includes the full component of air bags and other bits you’d expect from Lexus and—this is important to some people—there are plenty of cup holders. One bit of advice: With this kind of power and cornering, you’d be wise to keep a cap on your drink.
The design is as tight as the steering and the performance is unquestionable. Sure to endure a rash of comparisons to the BMW m3, the Lexus is f should be considered by anyone looking for a luxury performance sedan. Will the is f rise to triumph over its competition? We don’t know, but more offerings in the genre means more fun for everyone.
And after all, Toyota says that fun is what the “f” in is f stands for. We certainly had our share around Manhattan, but boy oh boy we sure would love to get the is f on an open road.
Find out more about the 2008 Lexus is f