It took an awfully long time, but Lexus has finally thrown its noodle into the alphabet soup of automotive performance variants. Where Audi’s A4 comes as a souped-up (oh, the irony) RS4, the BMW 3 Series comes as an M3, and the Acura TL comes as a TL Type-S, the Lexus IS compact sport sedan now comes as an IS-F, the first but definitely not the last in Lexus’ high-performance line.
If the IS-F is any indication, the Fs will be serious contenders. Equipped with a 400-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8, the IS-F is claimed to sprint from zero to 60 mph in less than 4.9 seconds.
Cosmetic exterior and interior changes are always part of the high-performance package. BMW and Mercedes-Benz have always taken a more subtle approach, as does Audi with its S lineup. However, Audi has a newer souped flavor, RS, and the resulting RS4 is more showy than the S4.
The IS-F takes more of an RS approach, with wider fenders, a deep, flared bumper with a larger mouth, vents behind the front wheels and a high-domed hood. In fairness, these items serve a purpose, managing airflow and making room for the larger, taller engine. It really is a tall engine, requiring a power dome so high that the IS-F’s profile view evokes a beluga whale.
An admirable exercise in restraint, the IS-F’s tail has a trunklid spoiler so modest it could easily go unnoticed. Quad tailpipes, in two stacked pairs, are a nice touch.
The interior gains body-hugging sport seats, in black or white, and other special touches like F logos here and there, carbon fiber trim and chrome shift paddles.
Under the Hood
The 400-hp V-8 cranks out 350 pounds-feet of torque. The redline is 7,000 rpm. The car has one transmission — with enough gears for two. The eight-speed automatic has a manual mode and steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. There is no true manual, which is sure to turn off some driving enthusiasts. Lexus says the transmission, which it calls direct-sport shift, changes gears within one-tenth of a second and executes rev matching for smoother downshifts and decreased wear. Not to be confused with some automated-manual transmissions, like Audi’s S tronic, this one uses a fluidic torque converter — but it locks up in 2nd through 8th gears.
Upgraded brakes include larger, cross-drilled discs and six- and two-piston calipers in the front and rear, respectively. The Brembo-brand calipers are gloss black and bear the Lexus logo. The standard 19-inch wheels wear performance tires.
Practically everything but the front double wishbones and multiple rear links in the suspension are upgraded. Springs, shocks, stabilizer bars, bushings and steering tuning are all optimized for performance driving. The car rests an inch lower than its mild-mannered sibling. The standard electronic stability system adds a special mode between fully engaged and fully defeated. Sport mode allows more wheelspin and sliding before interrupting and keeping you on track.
In addition to the required frontal airbags, the IS line has knee airbags and side-impact torso-protection airbags for both front occupants. Side curtain airbags protect the heads of front and backseat occupants in a side impact. Where most cars have seat belt pretensioners for the front seats only, the IS has them for the backseat, too. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system are standard.