Lexus Rocks Hard : Lexus IS-F [review]

Car Specifications
Engine: 
4968cc, Normal Aspiration
Cylinder Layout: 
V8, 32 valves, DOHC, VVTi
Top Speed: 
270 km/h
Transmission: 
8-Speed AT with manual shift
0-100km/h: 
4.8 sec
Power: 
423 bhp at 6600 rpm
Torque: 
505 Nm at 5200 rpm
Features: 
  • Yamaha tuned V8
  • Proper hard-Lexus

What car has four doors, a 400 plus bhp V8 engine, does 0-100 km/h in under 5 seconds and has a top speed over 250 km/h? Could it be the C63/CLS63, M3/M5 or RS4? How about if it has an 8-speed automatic gear box and if it comes from the land of the rising sun? Impossible?

This particular Lexus would not have made it into production were it not for a fortuitous chain of events. First of all the IS platform is an abbreviated version of the GS platform which can accommodate a V8. Secondly, Toyota is heavily into motorsport namely Formula One and the Japan GT series. And last but not least, an enthusiastic engineer by the name of Yukihiko Yaguchi wanted to make a M3 challenger.

Toyota (and hence Lexus) is a very conservative company and unless they can see that a project will make money, it would not make past the drawing board. Engineer Yaguchi who prepared a pumped up version of the previous IS300 during its last year of life managed to convince the bigwigs at Lexus that this IS-F might be possible with a minimum of tooling and additional cost as it would use parts already available from the entire Lexus range. (and only 300 of the 2000 engineers and technicains on staff!)

Take the engine, it is from the 5-litre V8 of the LS600 which is of course related to the entire range of V8s for the GS and LS models. The idea was not to extend its rev range to 8000 rpm for that would need a new block and other stronger parts. Yaguchi called upon Yamaha (a Toyota-owned company) to help with the tuning. They managed to get 416 bhp from the motor without special parts other than new cams and software.

This V8 comes attached to a state-of-the-art 8-speed automatic that was just waiting for this sort of application. Careful tweaking of the gear ratios and shift programs to deliver the unthinkable (for Lexus), a thumping shift shock at full bore acceleration to convince you there is some sort of robotized manual hidden under the transmission tunnel. But treat it gently and it goes into Lexus mode delivering the trademark Lexus smoothness we all appreciate. Gear shifts are down to 100ms going up through the gears and 200 ms going down along with the requisite throttle blips all the way from 8th to 1st. Brilliant.

Of course there are the de rigueur gear-shift paddle located on the back of the steering wheel but not fixed to the column ala Ferrari. Well at least with a +paddle on the right and – paddle on the left, it is more intuitive than the one switch in front and another on the back of the steering wheel. Still when in full twirl it can get disorientating. It has to be said that this is one rapid response transmission, swapping gears instantaneously as the paddles are triggered, matching any F-1, E-gear or PDK transmissions. A small miracle considering this is actually a torque converter type transmission.

To complete the transformation from mild to wild Lexus spent some money on the foot pedals, new speedo, bespoke 19-inch alloys, 360mm 6-pot Brembos and 345mm 2-pot ones in the rear. Also on is a pair of sports seats that provide the usual Lexus level of sublime comfort, new flared front fenders, bumpers and the necessary but gawky power bulge that detracts from the lovely lines of the IS shape.

Admittedly the best expenditure is on the exhaust system. Not that it looks nice, far from it but that it sounds great. A Lexus sounding like a proper sports car? This must have caused major consternation back at Lexus HQ. But credit must be given for going against the grain to deliver such a musically(Yamaha) tuned exhaust.

Few are the electrically assisted power steering systems that we approve of but luckily the IS-F has one of those. It is no heftier than a typical Lexus but seems more connected to chassis and road. The chassis is definitely more communicative as we could explore its limits readily as it displayed decent front end grip.

In Sport mode the progressiveness in the way the IS-F handles is brilliant. The first time it gets its tail out of shape there is ample warning and it seems to happen in slo-mo giving you plenty of time to apply correction to which the IS-F responds quickly and favorably. Sometimes entering too fast results in understeer but it is not excessive and just by lifting tightens the line.

The surprising thing is how quickly Lexus has learnt about providing that little more tolerance while in Sport mode for some tom-foolery yet not appearing ragged or obtrusive at all. Of course there is a way to completely switch off the VSA to get the car into all manner of angles should you prefer.

Budgetary constraints meant there is no special rear LSD but the engineers have devised one based on the ABS function that remains engaged even with VSA-off and it delivers the goods provided prolonged drifting is not your thing.

While the pictures show the IS-F in full drift, the rear brakes are getting a real workout because it is constantly trying to stop the excessive spinning. When it reaches the point where the pads are overheated (maybe on the second or third lap?) the rear responds no better than an open differential vaporizing the inner wheel.

To get the IS-F to handle like a proper sports car its suspension gets lowered by 25mm and stiffened considerably so one cannot expect a typical Lexus ride. For most road surfaces it works commendably well but when on worn or badly surfaced roads, it is rather busy.

At one end of the scale the IS F delivers the refinement of a standard IS250 should you only want a pleasant drive through town. But once you hit the accelerator hard it lroars like no Lexus we know of and rockets off like the German super saloons but has a higher 275 km/h top speed which might be a virtue on unrestricted highways.

It handles so progressively that one need not be a race spec driver to cut swaths around corners unlike some of the existing super saloons. The gearbox will deliver Lexus smoothness and attacks like the electro-mechanical manuals in the exotics when provoked. In short, the Lexus IS F is truly two-in-one, it will match head on, the German sports brigade yet it can behave impeccably Lexus-like when just cruising around.

FAST FACTS : LEXUS IS F
ENGINE
CAPACITY : 4968cc (2UR-GSE)
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V8
VALVES : 32 valves
BORE X STROKE : 94.0 x 89.5
COMPRESSION RATIO : 11.8 : 1
MAXIMUM POWER : 423 bhp at 6600 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 505 Nm at 5200 rpm

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : 8-Speed
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED : 270 km/h (electronically limited)
0-100KM/H : 4.8 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : Double wishbones
REAR : Multi-link

BRAKES
FRONT : 360mm discs, 6-pot Brembo
REAR : 345mm discs, 2 pot Brembo

TYRES
TYPE : Bridgestone RE050
SIZE : f: 225/40 R 19, r: 255/35 R 19

SAFETY
ABS : Yes with EBD
AIRBAGS :
TRACTION CONTROL : VSA, TRC, VDIM

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 4660mm
WIDTH : 1815mm
HEIGHT : 1415mm
WHEELBASE : 2730mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1700-kg
TURNING CIRCLE : 10.2m

Summary

Kudos to Lexus for having the courage to move the brand toward higher recognition. While it is obviously against the nature of a Japanese car manufacturer to exploit such epoch making image-enhancing products should there be a hint of poor returns, Lexus relented and this IS-F is just brilliant. It could be a tad better but it is already an huge achievement. There is a strong cult following in the USA and we hope it spreads worldwide. - AL

Photos: 
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