Recently Lexus invited us to drive one of the last 5.0 liter V8 powered Lexus IS-F sedans, a model that will not be offered for the 2014 model year. This hot-rod Lexus has made tracks around the globe, and we wanted to get our own seat of the pants feel for it.
The first time you see the IS-F you notice its bulging hood and flared fenders. The large quad-pipes emerging from the rear fascia and wide 19” wheels tell you this Lexus isn't like the others. No, this one has a different soul than your garden variety ES-350 to be sure.
At fire up, the engine sends a purring vibration through your seat that's ever present, reminding you what you are driving. The seats are stiff and tight with thick bolsters, making sure the engine’s hum isn’t lost when you start throttling it hard.
The interior design is old-generation Lexus with the difficult to use touch-screen infotainment center stack, but that issue fades when you notice fine details like embroidered seat logos, contrast stitching and other bespoke elements that impress.
Optioned in our IS-F tester was the Mark Levinson premium audio system with touch-screen navigation, Entune and all of the latest applications which tap your phone’s dataplan. You can connect up your Bluetooth enabled widgets and your smart phone.
The 8-speed automatic transmission is the only one offered, but has paddle shifters on the steering wheel that encourage your use. There’s a sport button on the steering wheel which dials up the sharpness of throttle response and transmission shifts considerably.
The suspension is stiff like it should be in a serious sports car, the power steering heavy and direct. Turning the wheel requires effort, making this drive an athletic exercise. Rewarding this work, the IS-F corners with wicked grip
The chassis performs as if it has the aftermarket parts from the catalog bolted on. But it also remains refined like the factory Lexus it is. It seemingly has a 50/50 balance in transitions from left to right though actual weight distribution is 54/46.
The 2UR-GSE 5.0 liter engine’s 416 horsepower power comes on higher in the rev range, thus isn’t a habitual tire smoker. In fact the Torsen rear differential and electronic chassis nannies pretty much prevent any such uncivilized show of force. Even with traction control off, launches are all thrust, little dust.
The sound it makes is just euphoric. The engine has duel intake tracts, one of which opens up at 3,600 rpm and above. That would be the noisy one, because when you mash the throttle and hit that rpm you get a sonic boom of sound that makes you want to do it often.
The transmission did have an inconsistent way of following orders however. The manual shifting via steering wheel paddles or console lever are quick and direct when it wants to, non existent when it doesn’t.
The rev-matching feature was a nice touch when down shifting toward a curve provided you aren’t asking for it too early. If you do, it just won’t do it. Conversely up shifting in manual mode will let you hit the rev limiter if you aren’t right there with another one behind it.
These are small quibbles tho as once you learn it’s quirks you can rattle shifts up and down like smack. Overall, it’s a car that can make you look like a pro if you’re a moderately talented driver, and save your behind if you are a novice.
The 2013 Lexus IS-F has been the thing of icons and legends for the Lexus brand. As the 2014 IS sedans are now arriving without the IS-F big brother we can only hope they have good plans for a future model to once again wear this badge.