The speculation and hearsay is finally over. Lexus, having failed to match the basic BMW 3-series with the IS, is going straight for the big dog M3 with its new IS-F. Under the massively bulged hood you see here is a 5.0-liter beast of a V-8 engine putting out over 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. Behind big nineteen-inch BBS front wheels lie six-pot aluminum Brembo calipers–the first ever with “Lexus” written across them–squeezing down on 14.2-inch perforated discs that hope to also clamp down on the lips of Lexus-doubters.
The IS-F borrows its far-beyond-necessity eight-speed transmission from the LS, but unlike in the LS, gearbox can be controlled via wheel-mounted paddles. Lexus claims that upshifts are popped off in a tenth of a second, and downshifts are met with automated blips of the throttle to match engine revs.
The IS-F rides up to an inch lower than other IS models, and is wider overall thanks to flared wheel surrounds and ridiculous brake vents behind the front wheels. At the rear, the IS-F is distinguished by unique, stacked quad exhaust outlets. Aluminum trim and sport seats–finished in black or white leather–define the interior, along with a special button for a new three-mode version of VDIM, Lexus’s stability control system. Like similar systems from BMW and Cadillac, the driver can chose from a full-on stability mode, a sport mode that allows for some hoonery, and a full off mode that opens the flood gate for full drift action.
And full-on drifts won’t be a problem with all that power. Lexus estimates a 0-60 mph time of less than 4.9 seconds for the IS-F, which is the first Lexus “F” cars. “F” will be the designation for sporty Lexus cars, much like “M” is to BMW, “AMG” to Mercedes, and “S” and “RS” are to Audi.
Lexus general manager Bob Carter says that “the intent of creating the IS-F was not to be a competitor to other performance-sport sedans. Rather, the goal was to create a true performance sedan in a uniquely Lexus way-one that is totally authentic with a unique interpretation of raw driving thrill at all speeds and provides a whole new definition of ‘usable power.'” We hope that this unique interpretation is something brand new, because the Lexus experience we think of leans toward the numb, soulless side of the scale. With the debut of the IS-F, the task of creating a real performer appears to be complete for Lexus engineers. But now the real test begins. Can the fusing of the words “Lexus” and “performance” capture the hearts of the enthusiasts who matter? We’ll find out when the IS-F arrives at dealerships in early 2008.