2009 Lexus IS350 F-Sport Review

Lexus Builds a Looker

2009 Lexus IS350 F-Sport Review
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We love red cars. Henry Ford was famous for his black Model T, but can you imagine the scene he would have caused if he’d chosen a color like this Matador Red Mica IS 350? This machine stands out from the crowd, and if you have an eye for Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, a few non-standard items have probably shocked you more than the paint. This femme fatale features the new Lexus F-Sport performance parts.

Are they more than simple window dressing? Let’s take a look.

FAST FACTS

1. F-Sport parts are designed and manufactured by Toyota Racing Development (TRD).

2. The F-Sport spring kit lowers the IS by 25mm in the front and 19mm in the rear.

3. Due to the nature of the upgrades, the F-Sport parts do not provide any serious straight-line performance increase, however, the lighter wheels, better brakes and lowered suspension will most certainly deliver faster track times.

UPGRADED INTAKE AND EXHAUST

These days no performance car seems complete without an upgraded low-restriction intake system or a free-flowing twin-exit exhaust. Fully-polished aluminum with a welded-on F-Sport logo marks the intake tubing immediately as “something special.” A reusable dry polyester filter works with a specially-shaped airbox “bottom” to increase airflow to the engine. Downstream, polished 304 stainless steel piping meets with two beautifully welded and polished mufflers, terminating in attractive chrome tips. Beauty meets functionality.

Lexus claims 3 percent and 15 percent horsepower gains, respectively, which just isn’t enough to be noticeable from the driver’s seat. We did note the sexy new timbre to the motor’s voice, however. Tipping the throttle produces an aggressive, deep bellow from the V6, as opposed to the sanitary silence of the stocker. Conversations inside the car became slightly more difficult and we wondered how well the voice-activated Bluetooth/Navigation system might react to the additional decibels.

POWERFUL SIX-PISTON, 14-INCH FRONT BRAKES

Do bright blue brake calipers look outrageous on a Lexus? You bet! With six differentially-sized pistons clamping 355mm (14-inch) front two-piece, cross-drilled rotors, these look like they were swiped from an SCCA street touring class racecar. Combined with the 328mm (13-inch) four-piston rear set, they produce a significant increase in brake torque while still remaining fully compatible with the OEM rubber brake lines and ABS system. Pedal effort is a tad more firm than stock. Special low-dust pads provide strong initial brake bite and boat-anchor stopping force when pushed hard. The F-Sport brochure notes the OEM spare tire will not work with the front or rear calipers. We’re glad we didn’t have a flat tire!

19-INCH WHEELS AND TIRES

The graphite gray forged aluminum 19-inch F-Sport wheels offer 8- and 9-inch widths, to perfectly fill each wheel arch, while saving 5.5 lbs of rotational mass per front wheel, and 4 lbs per rear over the stock 18-inch IS350 wheels. This translates into a difference in acceleration you can feel from the driver’s seat. The reduction in unsprung weight from the combination of lighter wheels and brakes also makes the suspension more responsive to the road, enhancing grip.

The Michelin Pilot Sport tires stick to the ground like glue, but the tradeoff is dramatically increased tire “hum” and a tendency to grab longitudinal grooves in the road surface. Los Angeles, a major Lexus market, has an unlimited supply of such freeways. They make the car feel “twitchy,” an unfortunate side effect of the three wide water evacuation grooves on each tire. Also, where the 18-inch wheels and “summer” tires which come as a part of the $5100 Navigation/DVD package will generate true speed of only 78 miles per hour when the speedometer needle points to 80, the 19-inch F-Sport wheels and tires register 81 miles per hour due to their greater circumference, as verified with a Garmin Nuvi GPS unit. At least you’ll be able to honestly say, “No, officer, I don’t know how fast I was going.”

LOWERED SUSPENSON, PLUS BILSTEIN SHOCKS

Where the stock suspension leaves you thinking “Camry,” the F-Sport upgrades, which include Bilstein shocks, and F-Sport springs and anti-roll bars, will entice you into Carrera-level moves. The springs lower the factory ride height by 25mm up front and 19mm in the rear. The front struts are beautifully engineered, handling the worst freeway jolts with nary a harsh motion.

The rears, on the other hand, are set up to carry more weight, we suppose. They are very firm in both compression and rebound. A little rear traction was sacrificed in order to gain grip at the nose, thus improving the cornering composure of a nose-heavy chassis. Ordinarily this would be accomplished with a touch of negative camber in the front tires. There’s also a tubular steel rear under chassis brace, which helps to capture lateral loads induced by the better tires. The F-Sport suspension works well for performance driving, but doesn’t cure the IS350’s lack of on-center steering feel.

THE VERDICT

These modifications from F-Sport do work as advertised, offering both distinction and increased handling and braking performance, but they fail to alleviate the issues we have noted with the IS350; in other words, the slow-to-shift transmission and non-centering steering.

The bigger question is, who will be willing to pay for performance parts without a true racing pedigree? Mercedes has AMG, BMW has their M Sport division, and Porsche is, well, Porsche. All three sell performance upgrades from the standpoint of “been there, won that.” Lexus is betting on garnering a large piece of the aftermarket modification pie, and judging by the observed interest in the F-Sport equipped IS350 while we were at Lexus of Westminster, where they helped us snap the underside photos, they’re going to get it.

PLUS

6-piston front and 4-piston rear disc brakes are the real deal 19-inch graphite grey wheels are distinctive and attractive Exhaust note brings a performance sound into the cabin with throaty clarity.

MINUS

Hefty “pay to play” pricing penalty (as tested $42,525 including delivery fee of $825, plus $13,218 for the F-Sport goodies) Intake and exhaust add little extra power, with no engine tuning software available Add-ons do make the IS350 better but don’t solve many of the stock car’s problems

Lexus F-Sport Price Guide*

Brake Upgrades
Front Axle Set $3,025
Rear Axle Set $2,550
Clutch $599
Carbon Fiber Engine Cover $865
Exhaust $1,470
Performance Air Intake $455
Quick Shifter (IS250 only) $185
Shock Set (4) $740
Lowering Springs Set $299
Chassis Brace $375
Sway Bar Set $495
Rear Sway Bar (AWD only) $225
19” Forged Wheel, set of 4 with hardware $2,345
18” Forged Wheels, set of 4 with hardware $1,921
The above pricing for F-Sport parts is a manufacturer suggested retail price. Individual dealerships will set their own prices. (Lexus has said that often the F-Sport parts are available for less than MSRP and many dealerships offer discounted rates when purchased with a vehicle). http://www.f-sport.com/ for more info

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