By: Brandon Randall
When the IS F debuted in 2007, it filled a hole in Lexus’ line-up as an aggressively styled, potent, four-door track machine. Its sights were firmly set on the BMW M3. Fast forward to today and sadly, we find a car struggling to stay relevant in the Lexus family, squeezed out by the highly anticipated RC F Coupe and much more affordable IS F Sport.
The future of the IS F is foggy. One ominous sign is that the IS F has missed out on Lexus’ big design refresh for the third generation IS. If it is in fact being emancipated from the Lexus family, is it because it’s a bad car? Or is it just a victim of an evolving market? Puzzling over this question, I slid behind the wheel to find out for myself.
Some people might be saddened by the lack of a design update. I however absolutely love how the IS F looks, and breathed a small sigh of relief to discover its exterior remained largely unchanged. The swollen hood, flared fenders, brake vents and crouched ride height are all still there. The stacked quad tailpipes remain as well, to my immense relief. New for 2014 we see a polished carbon fiber rear spoiler, LED fog lights and a few interior changes.
On the inside, the IS F hasn’t aged quite as well as its outside. While the re-designed IS models get a crisp, full-color LCD screen displaying everything from engine stats to media, fuel economy, navigation and more, the IS F remains stuck in the past with a monochrome display only delivering the basics. For the price and year of the car, it should be so much more.
The rest of the interior is only mildly updated, and as a result, feels outdated. Lexus has chosen to use generous amounts of “aluminized composite accents” throughout the cabin. This material looks like a cross between fake carbon fiber and the knurled dashboards common to older Bentley’s. It’s stunning. Another new for 2014 is firm but comfortable two-toned leather and Alcantara upholstered seats. Enough of the superficial, let’s get under the hood and examine what makes the IS F really shine bright.
The V8 may be borrowed from the Lexus LS, but with such a comprehensive overhaul like Yamaha-designed high-flow cylinder heads, titanium valves and dual air intakes, you’ll hardly realize it. Everything adds up to 416 HP and 371 lb-ft of torque, with a top speed of 170 mph. Acceleration is neck snapping as you click through the 8 forward gears and race from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds.
Open up the throttle and the exhaust elicits a spine tingling metallic howl that’s pure magic. A truly refreshing contrast from the whisper quite murmur of most Lexus.’
Power is lag-free and builds steadily. In “M” mode the transmission becomes even livelier. Lexus reports gear changes in 1/10th of a second, each shift accompanied by a throttle blip to perfectly match engine and vehicle speed. The outstanding engine paired with such a capable transmission combine to provide a driving experience that feels more like a video game than real life, all the while never compromising on excellent driver feedback.
With so much power going to just the rear wheels, Lexus had to pull some serious tricks out of their traction management hat. It’s called Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management. This system will anticipate traction loss and react faster than an electronic stability system could by itself. It works tremendously well and you could sense it stepping in to inconspicuously lend a hand without ever being too intrusive.
The suspension can be on the uncomfortable side when tooling around town, but the stiff spring rates are a necessary evil to help the IS F corner with so much precision and so little body roll. The big cross-drilled Brembo brakes look incredible tucked behind dark 19” forged BBS wheels, and do an excellent job of quickly bringing the car to a stop. Add a responsive chassis, stir, and you end up with a fantastic, engaging car that encourages your best driving rather than limiting it.
Purchasing the Lexus IS F would be a no-brainer…… if you lived on a race track. However, when commuting around town, limited by irksome traffic laws, you can’t help but feel that the IS F’s potential is squandered. The boring, real world forces us to look at the IS F through a practical lens. Suddenly, the stiff suspension, heavy steering and 18 mpg combined V8 start to shine less brightly. Sadly, the best of the IS F is wasted on the majority of our U.S. roads.
With more practical and affordable options in the Lexus family, there might not be a place for the IS F much longer. But for those who still yearn for a car that doesn’t compromise performance in the name of practicality, and want it in a four-door, the IS F is deserving of very strong consideration. On paper it might not seem like the best option, but you’ll forget all the reasons why once you get behind the wheel with a winding stretch of road in front of you.
Price as tested: $68,170