By on August 27, 2010

Robert Farago didn’t have many kind words for the cars he reviewed. But, while noting the car’s shortcomings, he lavished quite a few on the Lexus IS-F, even implying that he’d like to own one. How did Lexus’s first attempt at an ultra-high-performance car manage to melt RF’s normally stone cold heart?

Reviewers haven’t been kind to the IS-F’s exterior styling, and RF was no exception. I certainly had a WTF moment the first time I spied the F’s fender gills and diagonally stacked faux exhaust tips. There’s no shortage of tuners without taste, but usually the factory does better. Some changes were made for 2010; why wasn’t the body kit among them?

I had a second WTF moment when the tested car first pulled into my driveway, but this time in a good way. Apparently the right shade of metallic red paint with the right dark gray forged alloy wheels (a new design for 2010) transform this car into a stunner, at least when seen in person (the photos only begin to do it justice). I’d been looking forward to driving the Lexus IS-F. Upon seeing this one, I wanted to drive it badly.

The cleanly styled interior was near the top of the segment five years ago, but seems much less special today. The tested car’s cockpit was nearly all black save for “aluminized composite” trim, which looks like carbon fiber that has been painted silver. Some people liked this trim. Most found it about as tasteful as the body kit. Look closely, and you’ll also spy a touch of the F sub-brand’s signature blue here and there—the gauge needles, a segment of the steering wheel, the seat stitching. Unlike the silver trim, these highlights are overly subtle.

Fantastic front seats manage to both coddle on the highway and grip tightly in the twisties. The gangsta driving position, though it helps lend the IS-F a distinctive, coolly menacing character, has more limited appeal. The tall instrument panel and low anthracite windshield header conspire to constrict the view forward. The side windows are even smaller. Prepubescent children in the cramped back seat can hardly see out.

Twist the key, and all the car’s faults are momentarily forgotten. The 416-horsepower DOHC 5.0-liter V8 sparks to life with gusto, taking a second to proclaim its potency before settling down to idle. This moment is truly something special. Drive the IS-F casually, and it sounds much like other V8-powered Lexus, just a touch louder. Not a bad thing— ever since driving the original LS 400 over two decades ago I’ve felt that Lexus makes some of the best-sounding V8s. There’s engine noise, but thoroughly refined noise, all of it good, none of it tiring.

But if you’re going to drive casually, there’s no point in getting the F. Nail the throttle and wring the engine past 3,600, and a second intake opens up to dramatic effect. The resulting howl is like nothing I’ve ever heard—and I’ve driven over 600 cars in the last decade. Definitely a high-performance V8, but with a depth and polished resonance that make the experience almost surreal. RF cannot be blamed if the aural pleasure provided by this siren’s song led him off his usual path.

The IS-F accelerates so smoothly that only a glance at the speedometer indicates how quick it is. Floor the car from a dead stop, and 40 arrives in a blink with almost no sensation. Only at that point do the senses start to catch up. Just a couple seconds later it’s time to lift your right foot if you want to retain your driving privileges.

No manual transmission is offered, but the eight-speed automatic performs better than most. In casual driving it shifts so seamlessly, topping out in eighth at 42 miles-per-hour, that only the tach and gear indicator suggest that a shift has occurred. Numbers change with more drama in an elevator. Neither the regular nor the sport programming is quite right, and the switch to toggle between them could be much more conveniently located. In normal mode the transmission occasionally feels like it’s lugging the big engine, while in sport mode it tends to hold onto low gears too long. The solution: snick the lever to the left and use the paddles. Under hard acceleration the transmission snaps off shifts quickly and firmly, but still with a modicum of polish. Once again, the sound is truly distinctive, with that howl briefly silenced during the shift as the fuel flow is interrupted.

Fuel economy? It could be worse. I averaged 16.4 with a generous number of full-throttle excursions. Driven sanely, the IS-F manages high teens in the burbs. The last few miles, with the DTE at zero and my manual calculations suggesting the same, I hypermiled the car, and managed 25.4. Idling is a special case. Turn on the AC, and the idle speed jumps from 500 to 800, which takes a rapid toll on the displayed average MPG. Does it really take this much energy to spin the compressor?

Handling? It could be better. Between the Camaro-like driving position and the meaty-but-numb steering, the IS-F feels like a big car that has been magically compacted. It hunkers down in sweepers, but feels unwieldy in tighter turns, and lacks the precise feel a BMW offers. You sense the mass of the V8 up in the nose. On the other hand, even with 371-pound feet of torque distributed by a torsen rear diff (new for 2010) oversteer is much more easily managed than in the considerably less torquey Infiniti G37.

Ride quality is also much better than in a sport-suspended Infiniti G37, unexpected in a car with the F’s aspirations. The suspension is certainly firm, but it’s rarely busy and never harsh. Unless you unleash the V8, noise levels are low, with just a touch of whine from the high-performance treads.

The Lexus IS-F can’t keep all of the promises made within that first second as the V8 roars to life, but it has undeniable charisma. A compact car stuffed full of the brand’s largest V8, insanely quick in a straight line but lacking finesses in curves…we’ve seen this formula before, and it has been a winning one.

Lexus hasn’t so much created an M3 competitor as a 21st century muscle car—with one critical difference. Open up the V8, and it sounds like nothing else as it rockets the car forward. But drive the IS-F casually, and the car relaxes, and lets you relax, with just enough of a hint of its potential—“I’m here when you want me”–that the experience never becomes ordinary.

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of vehicle reliability and pricing data.

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59 Comments on “Review: 2010 Lexus IS-F...”


  • avatar
    carguy

    Nice review. Maybe the car initially reviewed badly because the expectation was of an M3 wannabe and not a C63 competitor. I love all nationalities of muscle cars but the IS series is getting too long in the tooth and the price of the IS-F doesn’t help it’s cause. I don’t need 4 doors so a 5.0 Mustang would do the trick for me.

  • avatar
    segfault

    “Twist the key?” Looks like it has a start/stop button.

    Pretty color. The empty switch plates to the left of the steering wheel look cheap. What buttons are optional on the most expensive model?

  • avatar

    You lost me at “no manual transmission is offered”. Lame for a brand that is trying to establish itself in the ultra high-performance luxury car scene, very lame.

    n.b. I know Mercedes has been pushing this with AMG in America, but this too is lame.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Second agreement. I believe that any ‘performance’ car that comes equipped with two pedals on the floor should have a full width ‘poseur’ decal across that back bumper. Standard and un-deleteable. I don’t care how good modern automatics are, if there’s only two pedals on the floor, then it means my wife has driving privileges.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Agreed

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      “I believe that any ‘performance’ car that comes equipped with two pedals on the floor should have a full width ‘poseur’ decal across that back bumper. ”

      I agree that non-stick-shift performance cars are for poseurs. (This coming from an ex C43 AMG owner.) At least a stick-shift gives you something to do while driving at 1/10 of the car’s capability.

      If it’s like most Mercedes, though, this one has a 3rd pedal… for the parking brake. :-)
      The most pedals I’ve ever seen on a Mercedes were 5: accelerator, brake, clutch, windshield washer fluid manual pump, and parking brake. The parking brakes on the Mercedes, by the way, have a release controlled by the left hand so that they are still effective for hill holding when starting up with a stick shift.

    • 0 avatar
      kog

      I got to borrow this car for a weekend. The sound of the engine when the second air intake opens is like aural pornography. I could never own this car as I would get way too many speeding tickets just trying to get another fix of that amazing engine note. But if I were to buy it, I would get the automatic even if a manual was available. For me manuals are great on lower end cars where I am trying to eek out as much performance as possible. A manual helps me feel more connected to the driving experience. The brilliance of the IS-F is that you can drive it like a normal IS then unleash the beast. I really didn’t feel like I was missing anything with the automatic. If if the IS-F was my track day car then maybe I would want a manual, but then again I wouldn’t buy this car as a track day car, I would probably get more satisfaction from a Miata.

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      Syke:
      I believe that any ‘performance’ car that comes equipped with two pedals on the floor should have a full width ‘poseur’ decal across that back bumper.

      Agreed. I also feel the same way about these large “pickup trucks”. Especially ones that are driven by office workers in 3-piece suits.

      Rule 1: Real sports cars have three pedals.

      Rule 2: Real trucks have three pedals.

      Rule 3: I use my truck to HAUL things. I use my CAR to drive to work.

      (For the record, I have a 1987 1/2-ton Chevy Pickup with a three-on-the-tree manual transmission which guarantees that my wife won’t borrow the truck to go to the shopping mall.)

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Huh. I had no idea that F1, WRC rally, ALMS, and pretty much every other pro racing driver are posers!

      Manual boxes are dead. Everything in higher end competition driving is sequential and left foot braked. Gate shifters and clutches may make driving more challenging, but so do manual choke and spark advance. Clutch+gate boxes are slow, prevent lfb – which is essential for fine car control, and increase the chances for driver error, which is a bad thing if you’re not just concerned with being manly.

      It’s time to move on.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      +1 Perisoft,

      Whether or not one has the ‘nads to admit it, a computer-controlled trans is better than you are.

      Non-negotiable.

      I too enjoy flicking the lever or flipping the stick, but reality is what it is – the computer is faster and better than you, me, and Schumy.

      There is something to be said for controlling your shift, mixture, and braking from the cockpit – that something is that you are gonna lose to HAL every time.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “Whether or not one has the ‘nads to admit it, a computer-controlled trans is better than you are.”

      I think ‘computer-operated’ is a more accurate term here. The computer doesn’t make any decisions about when to shift on a race car, so the transmission as a whole is still manually controlled. I suppose that may be just a semantic argument though, as the computer may control things like clutches and solenoids. Of course, a sequential manual doesn’t even have to involve a computer.

      Regardless, none of the aforementioned race cars involve a torque converter!

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      Perisoft:

      It’s time to move on.

      …towards a society with fewer and fewer challenges. Towards a society increasingly controlled by electronics and microchips. A society where human thought, imagination, and creativity gradually loses its relevance….

      The Rise Of The Machines!

      (evil laugh goes here)

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      @Vento

      Assuming you’re being partly serious – again, you could have made the same argument about any number of other automotive innovations. Synchromesh, five speed boxes, six speed boxes, low-lag turbos, better suspensions, power brakes…

      Usually, people just happen to think that the perfect level of technological development in cars is whatever it was when they were 16, just like people think that the line of free speech ends precisely where things start to offend them.

      That doesn’t mean it’s true. I was thinking about it, and while my initial reaction to the Tesla was one of revulsion (No engine sound! No gearbox at all! Unacceptable!) I realized that that thought process just made me a hypocrite. Everything I’ve read about it suggests that it’s quite a remarkable vehicle (if not a profitable one).

      I’m of the opinion that anything that lets the driver concentrate more on keeping the car on the knife edge is good. When I’m driving, I want as few distractions as possible from the fundamentals of keeping a car in the physical place I want it to be. The Tesla eliminates a big chunk of those distractions, just like sequential boxes eliminate other ones.

      So, I tend to think that, despite the lack of the roaring, resonant V8 that I remember from my dad’s racing days, the Tesla is a legitimate, and maybe even more pure, reflection of driving than my dad’s 1986 Trans Am car was.

      Then again, his car did 0-60 in 2.2 seconds and hit damn near 180 on the back straight at Watkins Glen, so the Tesla has a bit of a way to go before it can be taken seriously as a competition vehicle rather than just a really nice street car.

    • 0 avatar
      200k-min

      I don’t understand all the gripe when a manufacturer doesn’t offer an antiquated stick shift with clutch. Ferrari and their likes don’t offer this old technology. True performance shifting is not what it used to be.

      Now if someone offers the manual as a base, aka “cheaper” option on a std. run of the mill vehicle, I can understand, but this is a Lexus. You don’t buy a stripper model Lexus. Nor does the IS-F have a history like the Mustang where someone would want to relive their loved classic.

      As a side note, the IS is just too small for me, and I’m only 6′-1″. Felt very cramped – more so than in a 4 dr Civic. Lexus needs a GS-F model to get me to look closer.

    • 0 avatar
      HollowScar

      I don’t get this real cars have three pedal crap that most enthusiasts paddle. You want a real car, then get one without any power brakes, power steering, abs, or even traction control. Then you can have the full control of a car, and fully drive it in snow, and such. Don’t complain when it becomes too hard.
       
      I am sorry to ramble, but here is the way I look at it. This car at least had the guts to offer paddle shifting which is really good compared to some manuals out there. You still control the revs, but it is not traditional. You can switch it to auto mode for stop and go traffic. It is a pretty nice car, and the automatic does not undermine that. It is a fancy car for a Lexus, and its contenders are Chrysler 300C SRT-8, Dodge Charger SRT-8, and Chevrolet Impala SS from the day. I am not sure if it can defeat the Pontiac G8 though.

  • avatar
    John R

    I’ve always liked this. When I see them on the road they remind me of a Romulan Warbird. (http://tinyurl.com/38yghst)

  • avatar

    I think the C63 is the better comparison car.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Now this is how you do a proper sport sedan. It doesn’t look like a bloated Camry, it has proper RWD versus FWD-based AWD, and it has a proper V8 versus a high-strung, expensive V6.

  • avatar
    AlmostThere

    How does this 5.0 engine compare to the one in the 2011 Mustang GT? I know it makes 4 more horses than the Mastang’s.

    • 0 avatar

      The Mustang’s new V8 sounds much better than the one in the Camaro, but it sounds nothing like this one. The IS-F’s engine sounds like money. The Mustang remains more raw and visceral, with more evident punch at low rpm.

    • 0 avatar
      AlmostThere

      Thank you for the response, Mr. Karesh.

      I guess the price tells the difference as well. Although I can’t tell how much would the Toyota/Lexus 5.0 will be priced at, the Coyote 5.0, albeit being brand new but only goes for 7k as crate engine. I guess there must be much potential left for this engine to grow, weather this is a case of production cost base control or “Under Engineering” by design (less likely). On the other hand, refinement such as “smoothness” doesn’t mean better quality. I just test drove a 2009 Accord (4 pot AT) the other day and it was boring and mediocre at best. It was numb and “quiet” in the city, then I tried to merge into a high way when the true “potential”, or lack of, of this engine totally came out – I floored it, the response was harsh and it was struggling too hard to catch up, needless to say I almost got rear ended by a car which I could usually get away in that situation with my 2001 Tribute with the 3.0 V6. I know, you may argue that old 3.0 V6 made by ford has more power and torque, but not by much on paper. And don’t forget the Tribute is a heavier car too. I feel much more confident when driving the Tribute and needless to say, the Accord did not replace the Tribute, not even close.

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    What’s the depreciation like on these?

    • 0 avatar

      Like everything else, too much if you’re selling an not enough if you’re buying.

      After some initial glitches, the Lexus IS has been faring well in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. I own a 2000 Lexus GS 400 with 117k miles that has required nothing beyond a tie rod ends and a right rear brake caliper over the past 2.5 years.

      To help with the survey:

      http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    SomeDude

    “Lexus hasn’t so much created an M3 competitor as a 21st century muscle car…”

    Well, it starts at $60k, to begin with. So much for a muscle car. Further, I don’t really see a reason, any reason, to take this over a V8 Camaro or Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Two more doors, a much nicer interior, more features, better ride and, yes, brand cachet.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a Camaro SS for a few days the week after I had the IS-F. NVH is a few orders of magnitude higher. Under hard acceleration, the 6.2 V8 sounds like it’s going to tear itself apart.

      The Mustang has other issues, including an antiquated rear suspension that, even after years of tweaking, still comes unsettled far too easily. Under hard acceleration the car feels like it wants to bounce into the next lane.

      Neither interior can hold a candle to that in the Lexus, though the Mustang’s is certainly nicer than the Camaro’s.

    • 0 avatar
      jj99

      What is up with the solid axle on the Mustang. I had one as a rental, and when going around a bumpy curve under acceleration, the car started jumping. Ford, if you upgraded that axle with independent suspension, you would have a decent car that I would consider for a weekend driver. Of course, I would not want GT badging, tape stripes, or a spoiler

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Michael,

    This is your best car review, by far. Great job.

    Nearly 25 mpg for this car is quite impressive. Strangely, I like the look of this car in F guise. Without it, meh. I like the quad exhaust pipes, as it seems like the Lexus answer to the M3 quads lined up differently.

    Most surprised by the ride quality. Even without the M3 package, the 3 series sport lets you feel most everything. Sounds like the F is even more softly sprung than the 3 sport. Must be the damn run flats.

    • 0 avatar

      The 25 only happened by going very easy on the gas with the AC off. With the same driving style in a Prius I managed 67.

      I personally recall the BMW’s ride as acceptable, and nearly as good as the IS-F’s. But I haven’t driven an M3 in two years, and my wife (who couldn’t stand the ride in the G37) wasn’t along for the test drive.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    My understanding is that this car was a kind of off-the-book, skunkworks project that somehow made it to production.

    Personally, it’s also the car I’d buy if I somehow quadrupled my income.

  • avatar

    If there is a volunteer to buy me one, please send me an email. Not enough people would buy manual tranny to warrant that kind of investment. Besides, with 416 HP you’ll be glad you can keep your hands on the steering wheel. Some people think that without a manual tranny a sports car is not a sports car. I think this is a false projection of the mind. If the supplied transmission is good, you don’t need manual shifting.

  • avatar
    quiksilver180

    I did a track day with Lexus in the IS-F… coming from my STI or somewhat other cars, it didn’t have that power kick that I was expecting, but quite impressive. Handling was fairly decent, but as Michael said, it doesn’t have the BMW feel. In a way, it’s the car that isn’t really considered but it’s out there. And to be different from the M3, RS4, and others, it’s not a bad way to go… and blends in quite well until you step on the pedal.

    I see myself purchasing a used one in a few years…

    • 0 avatar

      As noted in the review, it doesn’t feel nearly as quick as it is. It truly does get to 40 with almost no sensation of anything–you’re simply there.

      The key question: do you want to be quick, or feel quick?

      I personally prefer “feel quick,” and have much more fun driving my much slower Protege5.

    • 0 avatar
      quiksilver180

      Michael: I think the “Oh SH*T!” factor is quite important, but I think it could be improved upon with a little tuning. But for stock… no.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I sat in one of these at a local auto show, wife asked me to guess the price – I said $45K. She laughed and pointed at the sticker in the window. Then I laughed.

    Seriously it looks like standard Lexus with a bunch of tacky Pepboys add ons (inside and out). The blue lights on the dash were nicest part. Honestly I found the interiors in most Volvo’s to be more upscale then IS-F. However this is a rare car for sure, I’ve seen one on the road and I live in South Florida where mega-buck, fancy-pants cars are pretty common.

  • avatar

    Funny it was so porky in the corners.

    If I remember one show correctly, they did an engine-swap in a Lexus and the 8-cyl was actually lighter than the 6-cyl. (block materials)

    +Lexus, please hire some better designers.

  • avatar
    golf4me

    Couple of things:

    RF never met a Toyolex he didn’t like.

    My GF has a 2007 IS. It squeaks, thumps, and rattles worse than any car I’ve ever owned. My 325i is a vault in comparison and is 10 yrs old and has 160k on the clock. Hers also has spent more time at the dealer. I’d hope this car is better pit together for this price…

  • avatar
    ajla

    So did you do any burnouts to test out the new LSD?

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Interesting car.
    I like rare cars, and this is very rare.
    The lack of a manual transmission is unfortunate.
    I´ve seen a Lexus with this paint and it´s very nice.
    The price though is a deal breaker.
    With the same price as the class leader BMW M3, the IS-F will continue to be very rare.

  • avatar

    Paging Mr. Jack Baruth. Mr. Baruth, your sharp wit is requested at TTAC, Mr. Jack Baruth. Thanks.

  • avatar

    Excellent Job, as always Mike !

  • avatar

    Nice review Michael. I’m on my second 3-series in part because I can drive a car the size of a Civic which carries four adults in reasonable comfort. That it will also provide decent pucker-factor in a track day makes me a fan. The IS was on my shopping list when I bought the 335 as I knew it would be a better long term partner, but the rear seat room made it a non-starter.

    I was disappointed when the V8-engined M3 appeared; the performance is good, but the V8 does not deliver anything like the great sound of the Audi V8 in the R8. Even the wonderful NASCAR-like noises which emanate from an E63 humble the M3. Most of all, with the 5-second 0-60 of the 335 and 20 mpg in around town driving, I would not spend the added money to lose four tenths; the 335 is already much faster than I am.

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing beats the Italians in this area. After that it’s the Audi and Lexus V8s for me. I haven’t heard the AMG motor. The M3 didn’t impress me as much as it did others in this area, and I generally agree that the 335i is a much better choice for most people. Around town the 335i feels stronger and its steering isn’t as light.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    The 335i is also easy to tune.
    You can get 367bhp and 376 pound foot for € 700.

  • avatar
    Eye Forget

    I just wonder how many of you real (stick shift) guys even know what a decent manual trans feels like. You must be old and gray if you do. In the last 30 years the only good shifting street car boxes I’ve used were a BMW 2002 and 1st gen 3- Series (though delicate trans and linkages), a Miata and an Esprit. Beyond those I’ve owned a subsequent probably 30 cars with sticks and have yet to find one that’s even commendable in it’s incompetence. If you prefer to shift like I do, then do it. However, please don’t suggest it’s some sort of pure form of driving when the current boxes in these cars is like pushing a paddle through peanut butter. Yes, you can buy the red car, if you can afford it. And, hurry up because even the best of the best is moving to automatics only.

  • avatar

    I’d take this bad boy over the M3 just because it’s a Lexus and they have VERY high customer satisfaction.  It’s a very nice car, a bit over-priced, but nice.  However, I like to have fun with my cars, so it isn’t for me.  I’d rather pay 20-30k less and spend my money on goodies that make this car seem like a taxi cab.  There are quite a few cars I’d take over this one.  The 335 and the Mustang being two of them.  For the money, I easily take a Z06, no comparison. 


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