Entries in 2011 Lexus IS-F (2)


First Drive: 2013 Lexus ES

While there might be endless arguments about the validity of trickle-down economics, the validity of trickle-down design and engineering is shown to great benefit and effect with Lexus’ new ES 350 and 300h. Both from an exterior and interior design, the new Lexus ES takes many of the great elements introduced in the GS and brings them down to the new ES.

Wearing the new Lexus corporate face along with other styling cues from the GS, the new ES goes from forgettable to striking. It’s not only the new signature spindle grill along with the LED lights, it is the fact that the sides have more character, and a bit more muscular appearance. That is not to say the car is overly masculine, because it’s not, rather these character traits make the car attractive and actually stand out a bit.

If you liked the interior of the new Lexus GS you will very much like the interior of the new ES. While not an exact copy of the GS interior, it takes the look and style and scales it down a bit. Rather than the giant 12.3 inch display, the new ES has a 7 inch display, the rest of the center stack is relatively uncluttered, and you do have the Lexus “mouse” to navigate the display interface.

Available only in the hybrid model, Lexus is offering the bamboo interior trim option that was first shown with the new GS. In talking with people from Lexus, they may offer this handsome bamboo trim in the regular  ES 350 if there is enough demand. They also stated, that they have  received positive feedback on this bamboo trim from journalists and consumers alike and are waiting for a bit more data before they move forward to offer it in other models then the hybrid.

The materials used in the interior of the new ES are quite nice.  There is plenty of leather, and soft touch materials, along with tastefully done wood trim to make this car feel upscale. When a lighter colored interior is chosen, the cabin in the ES feels much roomier than one whose interior is primarily darker colors. It’s strictly an optical illusion, but it makes a nice difference. While most reviews focus on the drivers perception of the interior, those riding in the backseat of the new ES will enjoy substantially more like room, as the two inch longer wheelbase allows for almost four more inches of rear seat legroom.

During the event in which we drove the new ES, we had a chance to have a longer conversation with officials from Lexus on the Harman Kardon stereo. Whether it be in Toyotas, Lexus’, or science, we find the Harman Kardon/JBL/Mark Levinson systems to be lacking. We have consistently found the highs to be thin, the midst to be “there” and the base/low-end to have no feeling. While officials from Lexus talked about how their engineers to the audio, using a Lexus supplied CD we were able to sit with those officials, and explain our perceptions. It was very nice to see the Lexus corporate people being very open to this feedback, and because we were using a disk with which they used to tune and evaluate the systems, they can they can take that feedback directly back to the engineers and walked him through our feedback.

The previous ES, while a solid car, was a bit forgetful. It has often been described as the stainless steel refrigerator of cars. That being it was an appliance, but it was in stainless steel to make it more upscale and a bit more attractive. The new ES on the other hand, can stand on its own as a car. While the new ES will never be a “driver’s car”, it at least does engage the driver especially when you select the sport mode. Again, that’s not to say the sport mode makes his car sporty, rather it firms up steering, throttle, and suspension, so that it feels much more connected to the road in the driver.

We had the opportunity to spend time behind the wheel of the hybrid ES and came away pleasantly surprised. One of the biggest revelations for us, was the transmission. We did have to double check that the transmission in the hybrid was actually a CVT. Normally, we enjoy CVT transmissions as much as we enjoy colonoscopies. The CVT in the ES was good enough for us to think that it actually was a real transmission, with real gears. No higher compliment can be paid to a CVT transmission.

On the road the new ES is quiet as you expect a Lexus to be. There is some road noise that comes through the tires, if you are on a particularly abrasive road service, but other than that we have no complaints about interior noise levels. As we said earlier, the steering in the new ES is far superior than the previous model. While it is an electric steering system, the ratio has been quickened and there is actually more feedback through the wheel, to give you more confidence while driving on the road. Power in the hybrid is a 2.5 liter I-4 Atkinson cycle four-cylinder along with Toyota’s hybrid drive system, the combined total of the two produced 200 hp.  While the car is not swift, it is really more than adequate for daily driving needs. The ES 350 uses the same 3.5L V-6 engine as the Camry which is 268 hp and comes with a 6 speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy in the hybrid is 40 city 39 highway 40 combined. For the V-6 is 21 city 31 highway and 24 combined. 0 to 60 times for the V-6 are estimated at 7.1 seconds, and 8.1 seconds for the hybrid.

Technology of course is readily apparent in the new ES as there are 324 different combinations of personal settings that you can set with the electronics. The ES will come with theEnForm infotainment system, smart key, which works on all 4 doors, and can be customized for air-conditioning and heat settings, steering wheel settings, as well as seat position settings. Each key for the car, can be set up to an individual, so that when that car recognizes the key all the settings will be tailored to that individual. Also available on the new ES are blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert and automatic high beams.

Overall, we have to say that the new ES surprised us. Never a big fan of the previous generation you cannot argue with that sale success. We feel however, that the new bolder styling, more engaging driving dynamics, along with a substantially better interior will turn the ES from a higher-end car for people who could care less about cars, to something that will be shopped by people who normally would be interested In a Lexus. We look forward to getting the new ES in for a longer-term look later in the year.

Please take a look at our full photo gallery of the new ES.


Reviewed: 2011 Lexus IS-F, Japan's Stealth Fighter

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.