2011 Lexus IS-F Review

Docile yet ferocious, the IS-F does it all

2011 Lexus IS-F Review

The IS-F is the first bone fide attempt by Lexus to enter the intensely competitive arena of small high performance sedans. With ample doses of their hallmark precision and refinement in craft and performance, Lexus has produced a sedan that is a viable competitor to such über marques as Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

FAST FACTS

1. The IS-F is powered by a 5.0L V8 with 416-hp and 371 lb-ft of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that allows for manual shifting with paddles.

2. While based on the IS sedan, the IS-F only has room for four.

3. Since 2010 the IS-F has included a torsen limited slip differential and new 19-inch BBS wheels.

4. For 2011 all IS-F models get an updated suspension, improved power steering and LED daytime running lights.

While the casual observer may described the IS-F as a second generation IS on steroids, after driving a new 2011 model for several hundred miles, it is clear that there was a comprehensive high performance engineering philosophy that went into building the car. It is that very engineering that sets it apart from its siblings.  

The IS-F debuted at several major autoshows in 2007 and the first cars were available for sale as 2008 models. Although it was not originally slated to be the debut of Lexus’ F-Line machines (that was supposed to have been the LF-A), the IS-F has taken on that mantle with success, and wears the ‘F’ badge on its widened front fenders proudly for good reason.

The IS-F was designed to be a performance machine first and foremost. To that end, there is room in the sleek rear wheel drive four-door for only four, as the rear seating area has shunned the bench seat in favor of two very comfortable and supportive buckets. The front buckets are equally backside-friendly, and the driving position is as close to perfect as any car that we’ve ever driven. 

COMFORTABLE CABIN

The ergonomics are simply excellent and well thought out in the IS-F, as everything that needs to be is within easy sight and reach. The brightly illuminated gauges and digital displays provide all the information required, while the feel of textured surfaces and the action of buttons is satisfying and proper.

The paddle-actuated shifter is a model of precise movement and feel with flicks of the right paddle resulting in lightening quick upshifts and left paddle pulls produce rev matched downshifts of almost perfect accuracy. Attention to detail, ergonomic efficiency and overall feel of precision in the cabin combine to give every occupant the sense that they are sitting in a fine Swiss watch rather than a 4 door automobile.  It just so happens that this watch might run a little fast.

POWER, SOUND AND THE LOOKS TO MATCH

With a 5.0-liter V8 that grunts out 416-hp and a stump pulling 371 lb-ft of torque, the F is by far the most powerful street IS ever produced, and matched with the absolutely exceptional 8-speed automatic, acceleration is there exactly when you want it. STIs and Evos become mere dots in the IS-F’s rearview mirrors in very short order. Throttle response is linear and smooth, and once the tach moves past 4k, all hell breaks loose with a menacing bark from under the hood and out the dual exhaust.

Sound is not the only menacing quality to the machine, however, as almost every angle of the IS-F gives those on the outside an idea of the car’s capabilities. Sure, the garish stacked exhaust tips are a little over the top and too boy-racer for our tastes, but the muscular fenders, bulging hood, and smattering of scoops and vents all suggest serious business.

Add to the stunning red sheet metal art of our test car the newly styled 19-inch BBS wheels in a smoked finish and what you have folks is the Intimidator. To say that the IS-F sits low and wide is like saying that Mike Tyson looks like a tough dude.

THE FULL PACKAGE

The ‘F” goes good and looks good. Those facts we can glean from looking at the machine and examining the performance figures. A pretty car that is fast isn’t necessarily the whole package though, and it is the rest of the engineering that gives us that all-important visceral feel.

After a few quick laps on a short circuit, some of those immeasurable (unless a big ole grin is a measurement tool) performance qualities in the IS-F came to life. The double wishbone front and multi link rear suspension system, all comprised of ‘F’ spec components, worked in perfect concert with the torsen limited-slip diff and the beefy 225/40/19 front and 255/35/19 rear Michelin meat. It all felt really good.

There is still more though, as perhaps the best engineering quality of the car is the response to the Brembo six-piston front and two-piston rear aluminum calipers that clamp down on 14.2-inch and 13.6-inch rotors respectively. To throw a set of big brakes at a car is one thing, but to truly engineer a car that can capably shed energy is something next level. From the driver’s seat, any competent pilot can feel the difference, and it is obvious from the first time that you ask the binders to do their work in the IS-F with any urgency at all that you know that this a properly engineered machine. Braking is confidence inspiring, minimally destabilizing to the solid feeling chassis and shockingly effective at slowing the car.       

When the entire combination comes together; seating, ergonomics, power, gearbox, suspension, and exhaust, it is something that simply must be felt and experienced to truly appreciate. And appreciate it we did, again and again and again.

A 400-HP DAY-TO-DAY CAR?

Amidst of all the great performance attributes of the IS-F, perhaps the best quality of the Lexus is its docile nature and practicality. While brutal performance can be unleashed at the driver’s whim, it is its compliance and comfort that make it such a viable and downright enjoyable everyday use car. Running typical daily chores in the car based on these performance numbers seems almost obscene, but sitting behind the wheel, it’s entirely practical. It even returns 16-mpg city, 23-mpg highway, and has been certified as an ultra low emissions vehicle. Fast, comfortable, practical and potentially green. Sounds like another great combination to us.

THE COMPETITION

Compared to other offerings in the highly competitive class of smaller high performance sedans, the IS-F looks like a mighty fine buy and a solid alternative to the class standard, the six speed 414-hp BMW M3 sedan. The IS-F’s 58k MSRP (our test car with options weighed in at 64k) is a bit more than the Bimmer’s 55k tag, but at this level, seriously, who’s counting a 10 percent increase in base prices? The IS-F also looks good, in more ways than one, sitting next to Audi’s less expensive but less powerful S4, and is a good match for the Mercedes C63 AMG.

THE VERDICT

We dig this car and the fact that it represents everything that is good about Toyota and Lexus at a time when, frankly, they could use a little good PR. There will always be a bigger and better, it is after all the nature of the automotive world, but the way we see it, the IS-F gets it done, gets it done right, and bears the weight of being the first true Lexus ‘F’ badged car for sale with capable confidence.

RELATED READING

2009 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG 2011 BMW M3 Competition Package Review 2010 Audi S4: First Drive

2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution SE Review 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Review – First Drive

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