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.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
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.
Yes, the eight-speed transmission is good, but it’s crippled by the same weakness as most other automatic gearboxes; when operated via the wheel-mounted paddle shifters, you can’t get multi-gear downshifts quick enough. If you want a quick eight-to-four downshift — and you often will when on the highway — you can leave it in automatic and jab the throttle, but it’s not quite as fun as choosing your own gears. Still, the IS-F stands out as a breakthrough product for Lexus, showing that the brand is capable of infusing its products with passion and performance. Now the team just needs to infuse that same charisma throughout its entire lineup.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
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.
As Joe mentioned, the cabin of the Lexus feels smaller than its competitors. Its more compact dimensions are especially noticeable in the rear where the wraparound rear buckets constrict hip and shoulder space and limit the maximum number of passengers to four. Trunk space is adequate but is also less than that of its competition.
Regardless, the IS-F is a seriously capable car that is a refreshingly unique offering in the German-dominated luxury-sports car category.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
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.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2010 Lexus IS-F
Base price (with destination): $59,335
Price as tested: $64,897
5.0-liter V-8 engine
8-speed automatic transmission
Limited slip differential
Brembo ventilated disc brakes
19-inch BBS forged alloy wheels
Leather-trimmed F sport seats
Heated front seats
Aluminized composite trim
Power tilt/slide sunroof
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Leather-trimmed F steering wheel
Lexus premium audio with 13 speakers
XM satellite radio
Power tilt/telescoping steering wheel
Carpeted floor mats with F logo
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation/Mark Levinson Package— $3925
Mark Levinson 14-speaker surround sound
Hard disk drive
Intuitive parking assist
Pre-collision system — $1500
Dynamic radar cruise control
Trunk mat — $73
Cargo net — $64
Key options not on vehicle:
16 / 23 / 18 mpg
Size: 5.0L DOHC 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 416 hp @ 6600 rpm
Torque: 371 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Curb weight: 3780 lbs
Wheels/tires: 19 x 8-inch front; 19 x 9-inch rear forged alloy BBS wheels.
225/40R19 front; 255/35R19 rear Bridgestone Potenza RE050A performance tires
Competitors: BMW M3 sedan, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, Cadillac CTS-V