2010 Lexus IS-F
Base price: $58,460
As tested: $63,978
MPG: 16 city/23 highway
- Incredible power and handling performance
- Very exclusive performance sedan
- Comfortable, fun to drive
- Very expensive
- Not worth the extra $20K over the IS 350
- Small interior, cramped backseat
By Jim Prueter
Performance Lexus is plush, fast, expensive
(This review was written in February 2008 about the 2008 Lexus IS-F. Little of substance has changed with this model and writing has been updated to include the 2009 and 2010 model years.)
When Lexus was just a twinkle in parent-company Toyota’s eye, it was known to insiders as “Circle F.” Since then, “F” has been code for any special Lexus vehicle programs that fall outside of the regular development process. Now, “F” has gone public, designating a vehicle as high performance, á la Mercedes’ AMG, BMW’s M and Audi’s S/RS. Lexus expects to sell fewer than 4000 IS-Fs in the United States.
The first production vehicle to sport this moniker is the new IS-F, a seriously pumped up version of the popular IS sports sedan. Its engine is a performance-tuned 5.0-liter 416-horsepower V-8 based on the 4.6-liter V-8 powerplant used in the LS sedan, and it’s paired with a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.
Purists may bemoan the lack of a true manual shifter, but this automatic is hard to beat, with 100-millisecond upshifts and automatic rev-matching on downshifts. The IS-F features steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles if you want to give the manual-shift mode a try. The car emits an audible warning tone when the engine revs reach about 6300 rpm, signaling that it’s time to kick it into the next gear. Redline is set at 6800 rpm and top speed is electronically limited to 170 miles per hour.
One rear-wheel drive model and body style is available, a sporty take on the traditional IS, with a bulging hood to accommodate the large powerplant, a larger grille, wider front fenders, 19-inch dark gray alloy wheels with high-performance tires, and a subtle rear spoiler. Oh, and superfluous, yet cool-looking quad-stacked tailpipes out back.
Inside, the IS-F is all Lexus: attractive, high-quality materials; controls that are well placed and intuitive; comfortable and quiet. The front sport seats are heated and can be adjusted 10 ways, and the back seat can accommodate two passengers, as opposed to the IS 350’s three-across configuration. No matter. The legroom (or lack thereof) in the rear seat of both models makes it ill suited for adult passengers anyway. Blue ambient lighting and aluminum trim further distinguish the F from the 350.
A new instrument cluster and two- tone interior has been added for the 2009 model.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, 13-speaker audio system with six-disc in-dash CD changer, keyless entry and ignition, auxiliary audio input jack and xenon headlights. Optional upgrades include premium Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system, DVD navigation system, adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration.
For the 2010 model year, a USB/iPod connector is now standard, and the optional navigation system’s voice-recognition software has been improved. A new telematics system similar to GM’s OnStar service is now included with the first 12 months of service free; after that owners will have to pay a subscription fee.
While the IS-F hasn’t been crash-tested, the almost identical IS250/350 earned the highest rating of Good from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration gave it four out of a possible five stars for frontal driver and passenger crash test rating, a five star for driver side impact rating and a four star for rear side impact.
Standard safety equipment includes stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and all expected airbags. An optional pre-collision system tightens safety belts and adjusts braking force when a frontal collision is imminent.
Driving the IS-F through the Lake Mead Recreation area over to Hoover Dam proved to be an exercise in restraint — it was effortless to push this vehicle to the outer edges of the speed limit, and beyond. Lexus claims the IS-F will reach 60 miles per hour from a dead stop in just under 4.9 seconds. It’s hard to beat the adrenaline rush you get from the sweet growl of the V-8 under full throttle. Both handling and stopping are impressive, thanks to high-performance tires and huge Brembo brakes. The tires grip the road admirably during hard cornering.
The IS-F may be too much car for short jaunts around town and back-and-forths to the grocery store (eight gears are a lot for the stop-and-go nature of city driving), but performance junkies will appreciate Lexus’ first foray into the arena.