With the exception of the LF-A when you think Lexus, you think conservative, understated luxury car. Lexus has always been the "safe" choice when you wanted a luxury car, but didn't want something from Germany.
The IS range from Lexus tends to fly under the radar. Most people tend to focus on three models in it's lineup. The top end LS, the mid level ES and the RX crossover. While there is nothing wrong with those vehicles, they don't come within a solar system of what you might consider engaging drivers cars, but that’s not what they were designed to be either.
The IS is the exception to that rule. Even in it's standard IS 350 guise, the IS does not feel "blandtastic" it does have strong elements that at times make you scratch your head and wonder how did this one make it through. That's before we get to the IS-F.
If you like fun and engaging cars to drive, then the Lexus IS-F is for you. It starts under the hood with a 416 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 which sends power to the rear wheels via an eight speed automatic gear box. It should be required in owning or driving this car that you either (a) have a radar detector, (b) have an attorney on retainer, or (c) be on good terms with your local police department.
Why you ask? Because once you hit about 3500 rpms the exhaust note is so glorious, that you want to keep hearing it! We hope which ever engineers were responsible for tuning the exhaust note got a large bonus because this is one of THE GREAT V8 exhaust notes of all time!
The suspension also gets an upgrade over the standard IS 350. The ride is firmer, but it is also not harsh, it is something that is very livable in everyday driving. The IS-F does corner flatter and is quicker to change directions when called on to do so quickly.
As fantastic as the engine is, the brakes on the IS-F are equally as good. The pure stopping power can generate enough negative g-forces to make you think your eyeballs will come out of their sockets. Yet unlike many big brake systems, it doesn't feel light a light switch which is either on or off, there is a nice linear travel, with excellent feedback. The brake system is sourced from Brembo and have 14.2 inch discs up front with six piston calipers and 13.6 out back with two piston calipers.
Inside the car has all the luxury touches one would expect in a $60,000 car. The leather is of good quality and the micro-fiber inserts in the seats give it an even more upscale touch. In hot or cold clients the micro-fiber is much more comfortable than leather, while waiting for the cabin to come up or down to temperature. It also offers better traction for your backside when you decide to push the car hard.
Looking onto the instrument cluster, a 9000 rpm tachometer is dead center and dominates your view. While the tach may go to 9,000 shift are handled closer to 7,000. There are a series of lights that change from yellow to red as you close in on the redline helping you if you are choosing to shift up manually in the gearbox.
Best be quick with those shifts as the engine revs very quickly! In first or second gear it is not difficult to bounce the engine off the rev limiter because the engine revs so quickly. There is a digital readout on the tach to tell you your speed, to go along with a smaller speedometer to the right of the tach.
The IS-F has an optional Mark Levinson audio package that comes with navigation. If you are familiar with the system in other Lexus models, it's features are similar. To our ear, it could use a little more base, and a little more "presence" in delivering the audio, and that is true in listening to several different genres of music, from classical, to jazz, rock and trip hop.
Fuel economy is not unreasonable for the IS-F, the EPA rates the car at 16 city/23 highway/18 combined. Our experience with the car says those numbers are very close, and that is when were were not shy with the right foot! Take it a little easier on the loud peddle and you will see the number increase. We saw fuel economy at almost 20 in the city and 24 on the highway driving in a more restrained manner.
The IS-F has to rate as the most fun cars to drive in the Lexus lineup outside the $400,000 LF-A. The best part of the LF-A is that it doesn't scream performance car, even though there are some very aggressive styling cues. There will be many a shocked BMW M3 driver when they see the IS-F's taillights disappearing into the distance, and that may be the point, excellence in performance doesn't have to be flashy, just quiet professionalism.