Rising Sun : Lexus IS F [Driven]

Car Specifications
4969cc, 32-valves
Cylinder Layout: 
Top Speed: 
270km/h (electronically limited)
8-Speed Automatic
4.8 seconds
423bhp at 6600rpm
505Nm at 5200rpm
  • Addictive kick above 5000rpm
  • Entertaining chassis
  • 'Q'-car credentials

Motor Prime drives the Lexus IS F

Read about Motor Prime's initial impressions of the IS F HERE

(click on thumbnails to enlarge images)

Think 'V8 sports sedans' and the first cars that quickly come to mind are the Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG and the BMW M3...

… which is where Lexus enters the fray with its 'bahn-storming IS F.

Although we've heard otherwise, the press material references the 'F' in the car's nomenclature to the Fuji Speedway, the IS F's 'spiritual' birthplace and proving/testing ground.

Audi's last generation RS 4 was another worthy contender, but it was only available in manual transmission, a format that doesn't tend to be terribly popular here in Singapore. The success of both the M3 and AMG can be attributed to the fact that they are available in 'automatic' (yes, we're well aware the M-DCT is a trick dual-clutch system, but for all intents and purposes, it's automatic enough for the people) form.

The IS F joins the two Europeans with its party trick – an 8-Speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic transmission (this made its debut in the LS 460) mated to a 4969cc V8.

For whatever reason, the casual enthusiast does not seem to have a convincing impression of the IS F, especially in relation to the M3 and C 63 AMG. Even the average Lexus owner can't seem to be able to appreciate the performance potential of the Lexus sports-cars, which now includes the exotic limited edition LFA supercar (at last tally, five units have been confirmed with a sixth on the waiting list).

We're always ones who believe in actually driving the car before passing judgement and we have to say that the IS F has all that it needs to to take the fight to the Euros... now if only the consumers can open their minds a little to think outside of the Euro-box, they might appreciate the IS F for what it offers.

Lexus' 'F' may not have the brand catchet of the AMG and M cars (yet), but everybody's got to start somewhere. Moreover, with the IS F, Lexus has benchmarked two of what are clearly the best representatives in the V8 sports-sedan segment, so the largest hurdle to accepting the car is likely to be in the mind.

With the M3, it's probably safe to say that a large proportion of the cars make it on track at one point or another. However, we believe that this may not be the situation for the C 63 AMG, in which case it's likely mostly used for Point A-B journeys with a healthy stable of exotics kept at home for track use, which makes the IS F such a compelling candidate given the car's genuine competence and Lexus' strong track record for after-sales service.

Without a dedicated team for such specialised cars, one problem that arises is the sales staff tend to treat these rarefied machines as a 'chore' to sell, especially since you end up having to deal with genuine buyers and tyre-kicker 'customers' alike, who make it a point to request for a full run-down of these tech-heavy cars. Since it's mostly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff, it's mostly the genuine buyers who suffer.

As far as on-street driving goes, the IS F will give the AMG a run for its money and keep pace with the M3. Also, the 5L engine fits in rather snugly between the M3's 4L and the AMG's 6.2L V8s – not crazy big, yet big enough, if that makes the same sense to you as it does to me.

Morever, unlike the familiar linear slabs of torque we've grown accustomed to in such big capacity cars, the IS F has a delicious cross-over as the engine speed breaches 5000rpm to both tickle your ear-drums with the hardening induction note, as well as wallop you in the kidneys with the accompanying second surge of acceleration.

Visually, there's no mistaking the IS F for another garden-variety IS model, since it boasts all the bulges, and flares to endow it with a subtle musculature that never comes across as over-the-top and always functional. At the front-end, the deep trapezoidal bumper gives the car a powerful presence, while the radiator grille and lower air-ducts are larger for improved air-flow to the brakes and engine.

The bulge on the bonnet fittingly accommodates the V8 engine, as does the extended front overhang (which results in extended rear overhangs to 'balance' out the car's design). The gorgeous ten-spoke 19-inch forged alloy rims also enjoy more space under the front flared fenders, while the wings feature side-vents to provide better cooling to the engine. The lower edges of these wings flow into the thick side-skirts to accentuate the car's wedge-like profile.

Like so many good things in life, the IS F has a really attractive back-end: coupled to the car's phat stance, a gorgeous and well-sculpted boot spoiler that is scarcely discernible and a set of stacked oval exhaust tail-pipes help complete this perky package.

Although our test car was the 'old' 2010 model, we understand that the 2011 version is due by first quarter 2011 and will feature Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) that have been made so popular, thanks to the current batch of Audi offerings.

Visuals aside, the IS F does not have the same proliferation of conspicuous badges proclaiming its model (or engine size) like the M3 and the AMG, which makes it all the more entertaining when you end up surprising belligerent turbo-diesel taxi-drivers at the traffic lights.

For good or for ill, the 'F' badge is still rather innocuous and most people are in the dark as to its significance. In fact, we've had people asking us if this was some new form of hybrid Lexus, since the silvered 'F' with its electric blue outline could well point to a new breed of tree-hugging technology!

Inside the cabin, Lexus has gone with a rather striking two-tone leather combination. In this case, we have terracotta-black leather bits covering strategic bits of the sports seats, rear seats, steering wheel and gear-knob mixed up with some panels of wood, which may seem incongruous, but with everybody else likely to specify the milled aluminium finish, we thought it was quite interesting in a quirky, off-beat way, kind of like the notion of a Lexus supercar... hey waitaminit!

The front seats are snugly supportive and there's even a little 'F' insignia embroidered into the outer bolster of the seats, which is visible to all and sundry when the door is opened prior to ingress/egress - a little concession to vanity, perhaps?

Again, although the general cabin architecture is similar to the other cars in the IS range, there are little elements that help distinguish the IS F. The Optitron-style instruments feature blue LED needles and the instrument cluster now incorporates electronic voltage and engine oil temperature meters.

Like the earlier Altezza, the IS F is vigorously animated by a rev-happy, Yamaha-tuned 2UR-GSE 5L V8, which sings lustily to the tune of 423bhp and 505Nm. Like the 4L in the M3, this is a great engine to really flog hard, yet it combines the low- to mid-range torque characteristics of the C 63 AMG. Lexus has done quite a bit of work on the engine and its ancillaries to ensure it is track-ready, which should come as some surprise to those who assumed this was just a 'big softie' of a V8 for boulevard cruising.

The die-cast aluminium block has been reinforced and the internals have been strengthened to deliver consistent performance at sustained high rpms. In anticipation of high g track workouts and the resultant heat build-up, there's also a high-mounted oil scavenge pump and oil cooler; the former ensures a constant supply of oil to the valve-train, while the latter keeps the oil at an optimised operating temperature and prevents oil deterioration.

Inside the fuel tank, an offset high-output fuel pump and a sub-tank help prevent fuel starvation during cornering. Apart from these measures, there are also a whole array of cooling aids, which help to ensure the reliability and longevity of the car, even under hard driving.

Unlike the highly-strung M3, the IS F never feels frustrated driving at low speeds. From idle to 5000rpm, the car can be driven around in as docile a manner as any IS250. With eight speeds to play with, the engine is only turning over at 1500rpm at a cruising speed of 100km/h. The eight-speed Sport Direct Shift features a torque converter in first gear, with 'lock-up' technology applied from the second gear onwards to offer the driving enthsiast better control.

Literally anybody and everybody could get in and drive this without ever suspecting the fireworks that are waiting to go off just north of the 5000rpm mark.

There's a real Mr. Jekyll crossover the moment the needle breaches 5000rpm as the induction note sharpens, hardens and your senses are bludgeoned by the sudden surge in acceleration. Paddle shifters allow the driver to change up/down instantly, with downshifts accompanied by rev-matching as the engine speed is 'blipped' to meet the lower gear – this entire process takes 0.2 seconds.

On the move, the steering weight is never heavy, such that it's a cinch to manoeuvre around in tight confines. However, it retains sufficient communication to let the driver know what's going on under the wheels at all times. Mated to the peppy engine, the IS F proves to be a lively and agile performer that fits in snugly between the very focused M3 (which could prove to be too 'hard' for the most) and the AMG.

With all the electronic nanny aids disabled, the car lends itself as a willing participant in wayward sideways shenanigans... or so we hear. The chassis is progressive enough to allow even less experienced drivers to feel what the car is doing before correcting the slide with some opposite lock action.

Lexus' VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) has been adapted to suit high performance driving. Apart from controlling the ABS, TRC (Traction Control) and VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), the electrically-driven power steering is also varied according to driving conditions.

If all else fails, hammer on the brake pedal and the brakes should rein the car in before the forged BBS rims make contact with the unyielding kerb. Developed by Brembo, the IS F runs on ventilated 360mm in front, mated to 6-pot callipers, and 345mm in the rear.

Ultimately, how well the IS F will do depends on the distributor's attitude towards potential buyers, especially those from outside the Lexus fold. Local distributor of Toyota/Lexus, Borneo Motors, has long concentrated on traditional mass market models at the expense of the niche models, so it remains to be seen if the IS F will languish and fall by the wayside or be pushed into the spotlight as Munich Automobiles has so competently accomplished with BMW's M range star cars. As far as we're concerned, the IS F already ticks all the right items on our checklist. - story DK; photos AL/DK
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