By on May 19, 2011

If there’s one thing you get here at TTAC, it’s diversity. Well, it’s actually sarcasm, but you also get diversity. Here’s an example: This week, we tested two different cars. Out on the West Coast, Alex and his partner were rolling around in a completely electric Nissan Leaf. Imagine them, gliding silently down the road, perhaps having a polite conversation about the proper color of glass for one’s table service. No, that isn’t a stereotype, I happen to know that he’s actually worrying about that. Think of the peace! The quiet! The sustainability!

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, your humble author was thumping a Lexus IS-F down the back straight at Summit Point’s Shenandoah Raceway. I had a stunning-looking young woman from metro DC trapped in the passenger seat and digging her nails into the door handle. We were swinging the needle past 110mph, deep into the braking zone, gulping fuel at a rate of just four miles per gallon.

It’s hard to believe that one site can bring you both kinds of coverage, the same way it’s hard to believe that the Leaf and the IS-F can both be produced by the same enormous Japanese conglomerate.

That’s because they aren’t produced by the same enormous Japanese conglomerate, of course. I just wanted to see how many of you ran off to comment about my stupidity before reading the rest of the article.

The IS-F is authentically Japanese, however. Its distended nose is a direct tribute to the original long-nose Celica Supra, and like the Supra, the change is necessary to make the engine fit. In white, the IS-F often looks as if it is about to challenge Captain Ahab for supremacy of the sea. Your opinion may vary.

Car and Driver’s opinion of the changes made to the IS-F for 2011 — limited-slip differential, completely revised suspension — is that they put it on par with the BMW M3. Having recently driven the M3 during our Mustang BOSS 302 test, I’m not so sure. Although the collective M3 owner group is the most loathsome bunch of subhumans since the Manson Family, the car itself deserves no such criticism and on track it’s almost self-directing despite its weight and complication. I can see the IS-F being able to stay close to the M3 at tracks like VIR and Road America where it could stretch its legs. Our test track, Summit Point’s “Shenandoah” course, has no such opportunity. One of my journalist pals takes the IS-F out for a spin and I have no trouble keeping up, using a V6 “Mayhem” Mustang. True, the IS-F drops the ‘Stang on the back straight and out of certain corners, and it has a genuine advantage in “Big Bend” where it just seems slightly more comfortable doing the high-speed, constant-load thing than the aforementioned ponycar, but in the tight sections the IS-F flounders, requiring its driver to turn it on the throttle.

Which, by the way, is easy to do. When it’s my turn to take a seat in the IS-F’s two-tone interior, which is a seeming attempt to combine a whorehouse, Superfly’s Eldorado, and the video game “GORF”, I set the eight-speed transmission to manual mode and end up going sideways on the pitlane exit. This is a big-hearted engine, and it’s amazingly close to Ford’s “Coyote” five-liter in character. The way it catapults the IS-F down Shenandoah’s short straights is positively Supermarine, old boy.

If only the transmission would play ball. With a six-speed manual, the IS-F would be fun. With a dual-clutch auto, it would be quick. The transmission is fundamentally a conventional torque-converter, planetary-gear automatic. “Manual” shifts take place pretty much whenever the transmission feels like it, which is almost never immediately after one clicks the paddles. Once you’re rolling, the torque converter locks and all shifts are absorbed by the planetary clutches. Honestly, if the transmission came from anyone else but Toyota I would describe it as “a grenade waiting to happen,” but I haven’t heard any reports of it being anything other than reliable. Every shift, however, feels like bloody mechanical murder and it makes driving the car in wet conditions a bit of a challenge. The clutches engage with a “bump” and if you’re already at the limit of traction you are going to have a chance to become acquainted with the I’m-off-no-wait-I’m-really-on-but-waiting-for-you-to-screw-up stability control. The electronic leash on this call pulls tight and it can kill forward progress around a racetrack like an arrester hook.

With a little more grip from the front end, the IS-F would be even quicker. Blame the 225-width front tires, which are thirty millimeters narrower than the rears and simply give up too quickly when asked to shove the nose around in a hurry. I’d balance mine out to 265s all the way ’round.

The brakes, on the other hand, could be left alone. Pedal feel is good, which is important since for most trackday drivers this car will be a point-shoot-brake-turn device. I didn’t experience any fade during my two sessions, although to be fair one session was in the wet and the other was limited to about eight laps. Another nice surprise: the ABS isn’t in a massive hurry to engage.

My overall experience with the IS-F was pleasant. It’s more than fast enough on the track, and if the transmission doesn’t work very well at least the rest of the running gear is up to snuff. The competition is all of either questionable reliability (M3, C63, RS4 when it arrives) or dubious prestige (CTS-V). I would be happy to own one. In fact, it’s probably the only Toyota I would be willing to own. The ridiculous exuberance of the sperm-whale snout, dopey stacked faux-tailpipes, and “Unique Whips” interior just about rescue the IS-F from the shameful, completely manufactured prestige associated with Lexus. I’d probably end up being one of those morons who puts “Toyota Crown Altezza Century Super Bongo” badges on his IS simply to avoid parking-lot chats with soccer moms who just love their RX350.

Naturally, any misconception of “Toyota” ownership would be shattered when the monthly lease statement arrived. Lexus made their name in this country with bargain-basement pricing, and the LS460 still sells at a five-figure discount compared to the Germans. The IS-F, on the other hand, is priced heads-up with the C63 and slightly above the M3. On the positive side, you’re buying a car that is far more likely to knock out 200,000 miles than either of the above. On the other hand: AMG money for a Toyota with a deformed hood, a make-do automanual, and white leather seats? At $50K this car makes a solid case for itself as a 335i alternative. At $65K, its appeal will be limited to only the most hardcore of Lexus fanatics, assuming any exist.

Perhaps Alex and I were really reviewing the wrong cars. He could have traveled serenely to work and play in an IS-F, knowing it would never break and that it would be recognized everywhere as a wise choice. Any deficiencies versus the big Germans wouldn’t matter much on the open road. Meanwhile, I could take some gorgeous broad out of the town and we could clutch each other in shared terror at the prospect of being stranded somewhere. Range anxiety? Maybe that’s more exciting than anything Lexus has to offer.

This is at least the fourth review of the Lexus IS-F, although it is the only one of the 2011 model. P.J. Mc Combs did the original review here. Robert Farago called it “the Bimmer’s bitch” in his Take Two. Michael Karesh performed a comprehensive styling and handling review of the 2010 model here. Disclaimer: Lexus provided this vehicle to Speed:Sport:Life, for which your humble author is also a contributor. Photography by the delightful Nicole Gagnon and the less delightful Jack Baruth.

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44 Comments on “Track Test/Take Four: 2011 Lexus IS-F...”


  • avatar

    “It’s hard to believe that one site can bring you both kinds of coverage, the same way it’s hard to believe that the Leaf and the IS-F can both be produced by the same enormous Japanese conglomerate.”

    I admit it, you almost got me.

  • avatar
    Byron Hurd

    Throw in 265s and a manual transmission and the decision between this and the M3 would be entirely down to styling preference.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Interesting. This is the first real set of complaints I’ve heard about this transmission. I’ll admit it’s not MT or SMG-capable, but it can’t be worse than the C63s (haven’t driven the IS-F, have driven the C63).

    Otherwise, yes, I agree that this is a good car that isn’t quite there. My understanding is that it started life as a skunkworks project and doesn’t really have the corporate backing that the M3 does.

    I’d probably end up being one of those morons who puts “Toyota Crown Altezza Century Super Bongo” badges on his IS simply to avoid parking-lot chats with soccer moms who just love their RX350.

    I thought sniping midwestern soccer moms was your thing?

    On the other hand: AMG money for a Toyota with a deformed hood, a make-do automanual, and white leather seats?

    One, technically it’s a Lexus everywhere now. You can’t buy an Altezza or Aristo any more, and I think the Soarer goes out this year. You may as well call the CTS a Chevy.

    Two, the AMGs, or at least the C63 AMG, aren’t/isn’t that good that you should be suffering cognitive dissonance. I’d be asking why I’m paying AMG money for a C350 with a bigger engine, worse seats and much worse transmission, but that’s me. At least the IS-F is an improvement over the IS350.

    (I’m hard on the C63 because it’s such a disapointment; I really liked the C43 and C55).

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’m paying AMG money for a C350 with a bigger engine, worse seats and much worse transmission, but that’s me.

      You’re killing me. The M156 isn’t just “a bigger engine” it’s “the grandest modern V8 you can get for under $75k.” And the seats aren’t that bad if you are an order of magnitude smaller than you.

      I will agree though, that like with the IS-F, pricing on the C63 is a little optimistic. Mostly because I can’t afford either.

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      My C43 is a superior automobile in all ways. I rank it right alongside my W30, big block,442.

  • avatar
    Penaloza

    Great review, not a car I care for at all, but an entertaining read. The refreshed C63 has a different transmission that is supposedly much improved.

  • avatar
    jaybird124

    Well, I could be wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Was going to comment on the C63 also having a pretty standard slushbox, but apparently it is finally getting the MCT from other AMG products for MY2012

    Anyway, even with that, the C63 is IMO indeed just a C350 with that big ol V8 cramped under the hood…The poor engine can’t even get enough air so it delivers some 70HP less than in the larger AMG Mercs, but really that is just as well cause the chassis can’t get the power on the road as is anyway. Sure, the noise is fun and I guess it’s entertaining drifting around all day whether you want to or not (for one day) but really, as a product and as track day equipment, it can’t hold a candle to the M3, yet is priced about the same or slightly higher.

    I then, would put the IS-F about on par with the Merc, get over the preconceived notions about M3 owners (a lot of the douchebags moved to Audi anyway according to mr. Clarckson theory which I subscribe to in this case) and just get the best product you can buy in this segment, which is still, the M3.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    “which is a seeming attempt to combine a whorehouse, Superfly’s Eldorado, and the video game GORF”

    I almost snorted my drink on my keyboard at that one. And I agree, tacky interior. But for the super bling types who tend to buy these, they will love it.

    I am guessing that very few who buy these will track it, so they simply dont care about its deficiencies there. They want it to be very fast on the street, so they can drag race thier buddies and brag about how reliable it is as well. For the well-heeled poseur in his Ed Hardy gear, its perfect.

    I dont think anyone actually buys them, so the price is almost arbitrary. You lease these, on whatever deal Lexus is pushing that month.

    And finally, why change the badges to avoid soccer moms?? Some of the hottest MILFs drive Lexi…

    • 0 avatar
      Roffles

      A rather trollish response to a rather trollish review in my opinion. For starters, the tranny shifts gears in 200ms and complaints about shift delay are obviously the result of not knowing how to work it. And to complain about the tacky white interior when 9 of 10 isf’s produced come with the classy dark interior? The interior of this car is on the level of MB and Audi. The interior on an M3? What interior! We’re talking about trackable road cars here….not track cars that occasionally see the road. Interior luxury, reliability, and performance all must be considered and that’s why this car is a good buy for the money. And it’s not that nobody buys them…it’s that their production numbers are limited. At the time of my typing this, the car is already sold out in NA and you have to buy used or factory order new with a 100 day wait. Driving an exclusive car has its own rewards. And yes, this car is as fast on a track as an M3. I would much rather use car and drivers lap time from Virginia International for comparison rather than this confused impression from Summit Point. And I can personally confirm the isf rather easily out-accelerates an M3 from a roll. That wheezy V8 has no balls. Isf is a better daily driver and is as good or better on the track than its direct competitors. That’s the bottom line.

  • avatar
    wsn

    I appreciate it that the author provided hyperlinks to the other 3 reviews.

  • avatar

    I didn’t appreciate no link to Ms. Gagnon’s work

  • avatar
    carguy

    “Range anxiety? Maybe that’s more exciting than anything Lexus has to offer.”

    Maybe Lexus owners don’t need any more anxiety?

    Nice work Jack.

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    I am wounded Jack, wounded I say. I’ll have you know I was discussing stemware while my passenger was screaming and hanging on for dear life while going sideways in a $130,00 Mercedes.

  • avatar

    Funny stuff, Jack!

    btw, who stacked the tailpipes first, Ferrari or Lexus?

  • avatar

    One funny thing is, some IS models have manual transmissions, but not IS-F. Another funny thing, the AWD version comes with the same tires front and back. That might be something to look into. Oh and also, do they only sell the riceracer blue? The only IS-F I have ever seen was the same color.

  • avatar
    John R

    Maybe it’s my upbringing on Voltron and Gundam but the styling appeals to me. Oh, well, off to see Fast Five!

    (Now, should I wear my Dragonball Z t-shirt or my Robotech tee…)

  • avatar
    nels2727

    The earlier versions of these haven’t performed well in the used market, at least when compared to their german counterparts. I would wait 18 months to 2 years for the key revisions in the 2011 rather than buy an ’09 today. However, If the same depreciation story bears out the clearly more reliable IS-F seems like a great $45K used buy with 10K miles on it especially when compared to $55K or above for a similar CPO M3, C63, or RS4.

  • avatar

    I wish Mazda and AMG wouldn’t go overboard so much making the exhausts look as fruity as possible.

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    I know what a whorehouse and Superfly’s Eldorado look like but I had to Google ‘GORF’ – hilarious.

  • avatar

    Diversity is actually a cult in Cambridge Mass and certain other parts of the United States. Politicians in those parts of the country who fail to bow to Diversity generally don’t get elected.

  • avatar
    william442

    “Self- directing” Thank you for the term. Now I understand my need to own certain cars. My AMG is self-directing. My Accord needs planning. The S2000 is somewhere in the middle.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Looking at the pix of the car in the rain at the end of the article, I can’t help but be reminded of those late WWII German-Japanese aircraft collaborations. I’m thinking of the Messerschmitt ME-262 dressed in Japanese Imperial markings…

    While I will never play in the AMG/M/RS league, I can’t help but observe that there’s a specific template for those cars, as best exemplified by the 3-series. The IS-F looks a fair amount like a 330i with some aftermarket styling tweaks, IMO. Or like some of those Japanese copies of WWII-era Luftwaffe equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      My analogy is more like a Frankenstein’s Monster car. It’s put together and has specs like the other cars but something, somewhere is wrong. It has life but no soul. For me, a lot of Japanese cars are somewhat like this. There is some little something that is lost in translation. In the case of the IS, it’s no manual transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        CarnotCycle

        Toyota lost the ‘soul’ when the MR2 and Supra went away. Toyota’s very good at building a car that attains the bar-graphs and pie-chart goals of marketing and so forth. But yeah, the car is missing some kind of life to it. I see them all over in Santa Monica, and when I see them they strike me as especially spiffy appliances, but nothing more.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “I’d probably end up being one of those morons who puts “Toyota Crown Altezza Century Super Bongo” badges on his IS simply to avoid parking-lot chats with soccer moms who just love their RX350.”

    You were on fire today Jack.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    I know a family of lexus fanatics. They’ve had or have, an LX470, GS430, SC430 and an IS250. I’d doubt they’d touch this thing with a 10 foot pole. Performance just isn’t a concern of the so called “lexus fanatic”. In fact they aren’t even fanatics, maybe they just liked the dude that sold lexus’? Shit idnk.

  • avatar
    lets drive

    It’s always interesting to read these reviews when you have first hand experience with the vehicle. I both own an IS F and have spent some time out at Summit Point, given I’m a bit more than an hour away. Needless to say, my impressions are different in some areas, but I respect the author’s opinion/experience.

    I haven’t ran the car on the track in wet conditions, but shifting in turns in a dry setting hasn’t produced issues for me, and doesn’t bring a shortage of confidence. I don’t have to let off the throttle between gear changes, as I do in a manual car, which isn’t exactly favorable. On straights, I appreciate the tactile mechanical feel, and in combination with the secondary intake, I think most would agree, adds character.

    I shared a similar experience with the lack of brake fade, but I’m curious as to why the electronic assist weren’t disabled, if you felt they were invasive (and I suppose this depends on what setting you had selected). I’ll lastly add that there is the usual bit of understeer dialed in, which is unfavorable on a course, and the car could stand to lose some lbs.

    As to the cost, I think it’s necessary to add some relevant information. Granted, the F cost more at base than an M3, but it also comes with more features. Comparatively priced, a nicely equipped F ends around the 65k point, but a similarly equipped M3 totaled to an excess of 10k more and included a gas guzzler tax. I’m in full agreement that the M3 is a solid car, and has enough recognition to command such a price, but even before discounts, it’s only a cheaper car if you’re not taking some key details into consideration.

    Too bad you didn’t get a shot of the actual 2011 interior, with the new center tach and consistent black dash (that’s the 08 pictured), but all in all, its nice to see some variation and honest impressions. Big fan of TTAC *thumbsup*.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Unfortunately, my photographer didn’t manage to come up with a shot of the interior despite my request :)

      No matter what setting we tried for the stability control, it would “panic” and come back on when running through the Carousel at full speed. To be fair, this has happened to me in other cars. It’s an extremely violent situation for any car to be well above 1.0G and thumping over seams at 50mph.

      I agree with you, the manual shift is not a problem in the dry. In the wet, I think it’s simply too jarring if you’re already exiting a corner at max available grip.

      Thanks for commenting… see you out there some time!

  • avatar
    jkross22

    It’s odd that Lexus chose to make a manual available with the IS 250 but not the IS-F. My perception has been that unless you’re in a sports car, manuals are reserved for the stripper versions of low to mid end cars.

    I know the 250 is the low man on the IS totem pole, but still. Odd.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      For 99% of drivers and situations, the automatic is faster and more efficient and handles better (because the wannabe race driver has one fewer thing to worry about). What Jack Baruth found out is irrelevant to them, because it exceeded the limit of most people.

  • avatar

    “The ridiculous exuberance of the sperm-whale snout, dopey stacked faux-tailpipes, and “Unique Whips” interior just about rescue the IS-F from the shameful, completely manufactured prestige associated with Lexus. I’d probably end up being one of those morons who puts “Toyota Crown Altezza Century Super Bongo” badges on his IS simply to avoid parking-lot chats with soccer moms who just love their RX350″

    I lost all respect for you after I read this. Just to let you kno. Moron.

    And BTW I LOVE the ISF. I know two guys who own these special cars and man I love seeing them on the road. I actually like seein them more then the M3 and C63.

  • avatar

    ” most hardcore of Lexus fanatics, assuming any exist. ”

    Plz vist Clublexus.com

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    Long time ago I had a Rover Sterling 825SL. Basically an Acura Legend with a shift-kit. And Lucas everything else but that’s a different, darker story.

    But I sympathize here. That 825SL was the same way, slamming-type shifts that needed feather-pedal control not to drive the car, but drive the computer controlling the transmission. Manual shifting differences aside, you always were worried about breaking the transmission.

    Of course, with it being a Sterling, the tranny broke thoroughly and often. And the Sterling was maddening with low-speed take offs. But still a touch of similarity here…

  • avatar

    I’ve driven the F on many occasions, and I’m looking to purchase one within the next couple of months. I’ve never been more impressed with the shifting capabilities of a car, notwithstanding dual-clutch units. I believe the 8-Speed DirectShift is said to snap off upshifts in 100ms. Most reviews (even on this very site) seem to agree. From what you’ve described, sounds like something was wrong with the vehicle you tested, even taking into consideration you were in the wet. Loud noises and harshness do not even remotely describe my experiences with the IS-F. Other than the annoying shift-beep, it’s smooth, quiet, and ultra-quick.

    • 0 avatar
      Michaelv

      I have had my 2011 ISF for two weeks now and absolutley love it.
      Today I experienced the delay in gear change but when the engine heated up it went back to its normal well behaved self.

  • avatar
    StatisticalDolphin

    One man’s MILF is another man’s trophy wife.

    Same with cars.


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