This is the high-performance import sedan for those who march to the beat of a different drummer. It's decidedly different from the longtime category leader, the BMW M3, from the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, or even the Cadillac CTS-V. Like those three sedans, though, it's got one helluva V-8 engine stuffed under its hood, and it's mated to a state-of-the-art eight-speed automatic gearbox. The IS-F feels a lot smaller and more intimate than the other cars, which will be good for some people and off-putting for others. It's a bit more frenetic than its competitors, too, and perhaps falls more on the sport/performance side of things than the luxury side. Whereas the Cadillac and the Mercedes split luxury and sport equally, I'd venture. If you never thought Lexus could make a truly hard-edged sport sedan, you ought to drive this car; it likely will surprise you.
The Lexus IS-F has a brute of an engine under the hood, making 416 hp and 371 lb-ft of torque from the 5.0-liter V-8. The IS-F has a seriously taut suspension that, as Joe mentions, is myopically focused on sport. It's interesting, though, that the powertrain happily dances between laidback cruiser and high-strung hero. Keep the engine under 4000 rpm at low load and there's no hint as to the potential of this machine. There's no raspy exhaust or aggressive tip-in, just subtle, consistent power delivery. Dip into the right pedal, though, and the engine comes to life, unleashing a deep intake roar midway through the rev range. The dichotomy between Lexus-like smoothness and raw acceleration is quite unique.
I drove the IS-F and, its chief rival, the BMW M3 within days of each other, making it easy to compare the two. In many respects, the Lexus comes close to matching the BMW's excellence; in others, it falls short. The IS-F's steering and brakes are superb and the powerful V-8 sounds great and mates well with the super-smooth automatic transmission. Where the IS-F falters is in its suspension tuning. On broken pavement, where the BMW M3 is a bit harsh, the IS-F is downright brutal. The BMW also does a better job of minimizing undulations.
It's been about a year or so since our Four Seasons Lexus IS-F (model year 2008) left our parking garage for the last time. The 2010 model that we tested here is almost identical to that car, and my impressions after driving it for two nights are pretty similar. For one, it's fast -- 417 horsepower makes it 0-to-60-mph-in-4.7-seconds fast. The steering is precise and well weighted, the brakes are responsive, and the suspension is too taut for the broken roads in the Mitten State. I'm sure it performs well on the smoother pavement found in southern states and in California, and it's likely a star on the track, but for the roads I encounter in my everyday driving, I'd prefer a suspension that was a little more forgiving. Still, the too-stiff suspension isn't that unusual for a high-end sport sedan (the BMW M3 suffers from the same malady) and detracts only a little from the driving experience.