Can we forget the BMW M3 for a moment? If you analyze the IS-F from a evo-lutionary perspective, the highly-horsed Lexus four-door is a loser. Looks, handling, pedigree, charisma, horsepower– the IS-F is the Bimmer’s bitch. Instead, imagine approaching the IS-F as I did, after test driving the LS460. Driving along in Japan’s big ass barge, the usual pistonhead thoughts occurred. Sweet engine! If only the throttle was a touch more responsive. If there wasn’t this dreaded Old School floaty rebound. If the car was a bit… smaller. I don’t know. Fun. And then you jump into the IS-F. Mission accomplished. Only who asked Lexus to build a car for me?
In terms of brand betrayal, the Lexus IS-F is only sight less egregious than Jaws 3-D. Why add a performance sub-brand to a marque that answered the question: when better Buicks are built, who will build them? Suffice it to say, this is no time to be screwing around with Lexus; sales have slipped lower than an M3’s front valance. The F-on or F-off argument will remain in suspended animation until the worldwide auto business recovers. So I’ll let my grandchildren hash it out. Did I just say M3 again? Damn.
Which reminds me of the English expression: damn your eyes sir! Done. It’s hard to discern the difference between fish-eye photographs of the IS-F and the wee beastie in the flesh. (I half expected my high school headmaster to thrust his face in front of mine and ask “Are you sure you haven’t taken something?”) There isn’t a single viewing angle that makes the slightest bit of sense. The rear three-quarter is as close to handsome as this tuner-clad mutant gets, and that’s ruined by quad tailpipes designed by Salvator Dali.
Lower yourself into the supportive embrace of the IS-F’s Lexian leather and there’s much to admire. The oil dampened ash tray’s a hoot. And I love the feel of lacquered milled aluminum in the morning. Feels like… plastic. Only sexier. The IS-F boasts the world’s finest gauges: simple, legible and elegant. The tachometer is right where it should be (on the right). And what’s this hold-me touch-me steering wheel doing in a Lexus? Even stranger, the brand’s faultlessly boring buttons, knobs, dials and icons all seem somehow more purposeful when mounted so close to hand. There’s not a lot of head, leg, shoulder, arm or torso room in the back, but that’s someone else’s problem.
Stirring the IS-F’s Yamaha-fettled direct-injection 5.0-liter V8– the same engine that whooshes the LS 600hL’s occupants to the Sierra Club annual ball– rouses a pillow-smothered burble. The speedo and tacho’s white wands swing to clockwise and back in a two rapid, perfectly synchronized arcs. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not headed for the golf club. Or if we are, we’re going to get some serious driving range action before tee time. It’s my kind of cognitive dissonance.
Yes, yes; there’s no stick; like any good English public school, paddles rule. Lexus’ trick tranny is plenty quick, and there’s a sport button to make you think it’s even faster when you’re in a hurry. So just make sure you brought your Shell car, put it in D and mash the gas.
The 416hp IS-F’s goal is instantly clear: to provide more thrust than the kidney-crushing Mercedes C63 AMG. Which it can’t And doesn’t. But it’s not for lack of trying. The IS-F generates more shove than a German buffet line, propelling the carcoon from zero to sixty in 4.2 seconds. Above 3400 rpm, an induction howl rushes in even as the blood rushes away from your extremities. Redline arrives at “just” 6800 (cough M3 cough), but there’s enough basso profundo sonic enticement to make cog swapping a pleasure.
The IS-F’s greatest handling “fault” (in the comparative, not absolute sense) is a heavy, sodden feeling at initial turn in. It’s the kind of sluggishness that once characterized uber-Audis, that tempts you to just go on floor the damn thing already. Muscle car aficionados will appreciate the tail wagging action. If you like to dance, there are more balletic partners.
There’s a better way to look at this. The IS-F’s steering, handling and brakes are more than good enough when you want to drive a Lexus like your hair’s on fire. Of course, that presumes you want to drive a Lexus. And as a rule, people who want to drive a Lexus don’t want to drive like they’re in pain. Why would they?
So why would Lexus build the IS-F? How many bi-polar pistonheads would spend the thick end of $50k on an ugly Lexus that goes like Hell? Judging from current IS-F inventory levels and the fact that I can’t find any PR shots, not many. It doesn’t make much sense, but I know of at least one driver who’d adopt this unlikely orphan.