car, but thats the review title.
Link:The Car Enthusiast | Reviews | Lexus IS F road test
Lexus arrived eleven years ago and established itself as a premium maker of luxury cars. In the beginning, Lexus models aped those made by the Germans - particularly Mercedes-Benz - though the Japanese now often lead the way in terms of refinement and technology. However, the arrival of the IS F signals Lexus's intention to take on the likes of BMW's M Division, Audi's RS cars and even the mighty AMG Mercedes models. That's a tough crowd for any performer, never mind one so new to the game.
In the Metal
Photographs of the Lexus IS F circulated ahead of the car's debut last year in Detroit
and our first impression was of an overtly styled car, perhaps not too far away from what amateur tuners might do with the IS shape. Seeing the car at a couple of motorshows since didn't dispel that feeling. However, clamping eyes on the IS F in daylight for the first time was significant, as it looks far more subtle, in the same vein as the new BMW M3
. The colour choice makes a big difference too, as initial press shots were of a bright blue car, a colour that will only be available in the USA.
Up front, the new bonnet and front valence lengthen the car a little to accommodate the engine, while the trapezoidal shape of the front bumper and the positioning of the fog lights visually widen the IS. The front wings are larger though and at their trailing edge is a vent that extracts hot air from the brakes, as well as forming part of the car's aerodynamics - in partnership with a flat tray under the engine bay. The vent neatly integrates with the beefier side sills, which complement the tasty 'smoked metal' 19-inch BBS alloys. At the rear, the boot spoiler is virtually invisible in comparison to the unusual stacked quad exhaust pipes. There's no doubting the car's purpose.
Lexus has done just as good a job inside, managing to make the IS F feel distinctly sportier than the regular car, without any garishness. The leather seats offer loads of support and electric adjustment, along with promising looking side bolstering and the all-important 'F' logo. The steering wheel is a restrained three-spoke design, but it's a good size and thickness. Behind it is a set of alloy gear shifters and a bespoke instrument cluster that includes cool blue needles and a few more readouts than other IS models.
What you get for your Money
Lexus has priced the IS F shrewdly to compete against the likes of the M3, Audi RS4
and Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG
, but at the same time loaded the car with equipment as standard. The £51,000 asking price includes full leather, satnav, adaptive cruise control, a decent infotainment system, climate control and all the electric goodies you'd expect, as well as Lexus's Pre-crash Safety technology. The only option buyers can purchase is a sunroof.
For Lexus, this section is key to the IS F being taken seriously as a performance car for real driving enthusiasts. The competition is not only fierce, but established. Car nuts know what to expect from BMW, Audi and Mercedes in regard to focused performance cars, but until now Lexus will not have featured in their shortlist of sport saloons.
If our first inklings are anything to go by, that will change very quickly. At first, the engine dominates the experience, which is hardly surprising given the mouth-watering prospect of a 5.0-litre V8 that outputs 417bhp and 372lb.ft of torque. Though based on the design of the LS 600h's engine, so many changes were made for the IS F that it can be considered to be a new unit. As well as lightening components and strengthening the structure to cope with extended hard use, Lexus employs several innovations, all aimed at enhancing performance, as well as improving overall efficiency. The fuel delivery system for instance employs both conventional inlet port injection, in tandem with direct injection, the latter assisting with charge cooling, which allows a high compression ratio - resulting in greater efficiency in all conditions, plus enhanced performance.
Lexus also fits electrically operated variable valve timing on the inlet side (VVT-iE), which can alter the valve timing even when the engine is cranking over on start-up, resulting in massive potential improvements in emissions and performance. Regular, hydraulically-controlled VVT-i features on the exhaust side. Though the exhaust itself is important to how the IS F sounds, the engineers seem to have put more effort into the inlet system. At 3,600rpm, a second passage opens in the intake and with it the engine note changes from a subdued rumble to a spine tingling roar. Proceed to chase the red line and the mechanical noise from the V8 takes over with a hard-edged metallic sound emanating from the exhausts.
Approach the rev limiter (at 6,800rpm) when in manual mode and a simple beep warns you that it's time to change up. Ignore it and the engine will keenly slam into the limiter and then happily sit at the maximum engine speed until you're ready to pull back on the right-hand paddle to select the next gear. I must admit that one of the potential downfalls of this car was its transmission. On the face of it, Lexus has fitted the eight-speed automatic from its LS 460, and as impressive a piece of technology as it is, it's still an automatic.
Delve into the gearbox's details though and you'll discover that the dreaded torque converter is only used for first gear, it being locked-out by a clutch for the remaining seven cogs. This means no loss in the system and a far more direct nature. Slot the lever in M and you have full control, the electronics only coming into play if you try to change down at a potentially engine breaking moment. Leaving the stick in D, the transmission works as well as any other regular auto, with smooth, quick shifts.
Given how impressive the engine and gearbox are, it's a wonder the chassis gets a look in, but that would be a disservice to Lexus's engineers, as our first drive - on a race track and then tricky Spanish tarmac - suggests that the IS F deserves recognition as a contender. It's undoubtedly a stiff car, but the damping and body control are excellent in return. Our route suggested that the ride comfort is on the firm side, but not unacceptably so.
In a sequence of corners, the IS F excites as much as any other sports saloon falling somewhere between the M3 and RS4 in terms of 'pointiness', yet boasting slightly better steering feel than the BMW M3. It shares the M3's and the C 63 AMG's propensity for rear-end provocation too, as you can see from our photographs...
Given that the IS F is almost as quick as its rivals, though heavier, it's highly impressive that its official fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions figures are noticeably lower. Of course, these results are obtained from standardised tests, which don't necessarily bear any relation to real world usage, but given the increased focus on the environmental impact of the car, it's a point worth making. It's all relative of course, as we averaged less than 19mpg over the course of two days of hard driving.
The Lexus IS F has quite simply astounded us on first acquaintance. It's got the pace, desirability, looks, noise and competence to match most of its rivals; it's priced and specced competitively and it's as good at a long journey as it is at tackling your favourite back road. UK sales start in April, though only 150 units have been allocated to Britain for 2008. All that needs to be seen is how the car copes with our own roads back home. That and the inevitable twin tests with the opposition. Lexus has arrived. Again.