Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: Lexus IS-F

The BMW M3. Back in the late 80’s it was the pioneer of the high-performance luxury sedan. It was the Hulk of the automotive world. A regular E30 3-Series was a sporty, good looking, fun to drive vehicle. However, someone ticked off the 3-Series and muscles tore out of its body, wings sprouted out, and a screaming 2.3L struck fear into anyone within earshot. Building such a beast could not go without retaliation however. Soon after, Mercedes introduced the 190E Evolution, also a muscle bound animal. The two locked horns in battle on streets, circuts and stages around the world.


Fast forward 20 years. BMW and Mercedes are still at each others throats, although they now have some competition. Audi’s manic RS4 can also be added to the list of horrifically fast saloons. As of late, Lexus has been competing with BMW’s several different levels although have never really stepped up to the plate with a truly high performace machine to rival the M3. Well those days are long gone. Let me introduce the IS-F, the bad boy of the IS series.


Like the original M3, Lexus has designed the IS-F to demand authority. Clear identifications that this is not just a IS-250, or 350 are clearly announced with an aggressive low and wide stance, massive wheels, and a pair of badass flare vents on the front fenders to offer extra cooling for the massive V8 shoehorned into the engine bay. There is no doubt about it, this car looks the business. But is its bit as bad as its bark.


Yes! With BMW, Mercedes and Audi all having large high revving V8’s, this can be a hard act to follow. No problem for Lexus, they stepped forward with a 5.0L high revver of their own, which slots in nicely between the Audi and Merc. Squeezed into the IS body, this mill propels the car forward with extreme violence. With TC off, be prepare to fight to keep everything straight, as gearshifts from 1st to 2nd and 2nd to 3rd will have the rear end waving to those you just left far behind. Even with the massive 20-inch rims wraped with 375/30 super sticky Michelin Pilot Sports.

In the handling department, this is a super tight car. The chassis, steering, shifting, suspension, brakes, everything about this car feels tight and firm like an athletes body conditioned for competition. Couple this with excellent seat positioning, the IS-F is extremely good at talking to the driver. The driver can feel every bit of what the car is doing through touch alone.


Coming into a corner at speed, (something hard not to do with this car) the IS-F turns in with an incredible amount of frontal grip. This car just will not understeer, however if you get too aggressive with it, be ready to catch the oversteer that will come barreling at you once the rear grip becomes too much.


Unfortunetly the flappy paddle gearbox takes away from the drivers envolvement in this car. Lexus see’s this gearbox as a crowning achievement of the IS-F, although I see things a little different. Now before all you statisticians out there email in with your hate mail, yes, a dual clutch automatic gearbox is faster than a manual. Specing out a dream car on paper will have this car looking quite attractive. However, for a true driving enthusiast who is actually going to get behind the wheel, it can be a bit of a handicap. Truth is, it does take control away from the driver, as well as the joy of a perfectly produced downshift. Eight speeds help fuel efficiency and allow you to always be in a good cornering gear, but its easy to get lost in the maze. More than a couple times I’ve come flying into corners and had to look down at the dash to see what gear I was currently at in the sequence of six downshifts. I’ve never really liked paddle shifters, and as this is the only option available for the IS-F, its left the first bad taste in my mouth.


The interior is quite civilized when compared to its muscle bound competition. The seats are not as aggressive, but still hold the driver in place nicely. The dash is pleasing to both the eye and the fingers as many functions are not as complicated as the Germans. Even the rear seats prvide a comfortable environment for terror striken passengers.


So at the end of the day, does the IS-F match up to its highly competitive rivals? This group of car are so evenly matched, that choosing a favourite is hard enough as it is, and now Lexus throws in a wild card. Well let me tell you that Lexus got it right, in a big way. It slots nicely in with the entire crowd and holds position like it has been there the whole time.




Engine: 5.0L V8

Power: 414 hp, 375 lb.ft.

Weight: 1,750 kg

Transmission: 8-Speed Dual Clutch Automatic with manual shift

Price: $66,450

Competition: BMW M3, Mercedes C63 AMG, Audi RS4, Infiniti G37 Sedan, Cadillac CTS V

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