2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance First Drive Review: Worth the Ticket

I have done a lot of press launches.

I mean a lot, and since 95 percent of them were for motorcycles, I bent, bruised or violated the law at pretty much every single one because how can you not? Triple-digit speeds (km/h and mph), wheelies, burnouts, and all manner of Very Bad Things were done by this small and hirsute moto-journalist and yet, somehow, after 15 years of idiocy, not a single interaction with Johnny Law.

And then this happened. And by this, I mean the 2022 Lexus IS500, a blazing street-legal bundle of fun that will probably lead to the loss of many safe-driver discounts and more than a few weekends in jail. Lexus clearly wanted to give its most hardcore, nerdy fanbois the ultimate sport-sedan experience. Is this it?

What’s new?

We tested the IS 350 last year, and our own Kyle Patrick, in kind and polite Canadian fashion, didn’t say he didn’t like it, but he didn’t think it was an “industry leader,” either. Even though he liked the updates to the car’s basic platform (which dates to 2013), increasing body rigidity and suspension performance, he—like the rest of the motor press—was pretty underwhelmed by the naturally aspirated six’s 311 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. If only Lexus could (once again) get a huge, powerful engine in there.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Lexus IS 350 Review: First Drive

Well, it’s done it. Apparently there are… Lex-isti… clamoring for such a thing, at least according to Lexus Marketing VP Vinay Shahani, so jamming the venerable 4,969 cc naturally aspirated V8 (that Lexus used the last time the company did the exact same thing with the 2007 IS-F, just in a milder state of tune) into the 2022 IS 500 seemed like a natural thing to do. Modern tuning now gives us 472 hp and 395 ft-lbs of torque, and if you need a reason to do such a thing, Vinay told us it’s “what true enthusiasts are truly craving.” This is likely what some ne’er-do-well product planner said to the marketing people so they’d approve what probably won’t be a car sold in huge numbers, but still more interesting to work on than the usual beige-on-beige Yenta-mobiles Lexus cranks out.

The changes from the 2021 IS 350 are mostly cosmetic–except for one really big one. To get the motor in the IS’s compact engine bay the engineers gave the car a new muscle car-styled “race” hood and modified the front end and fenders. A quad exhaust pokes its four snouts out from a redesigned rear fascia. Wheels are now 19-inch cast-alloy Enkeis, and there’s plenty of “F-Sport” and IS 500 badging. To add some additional motorsports cred, there’s a Launch Edition, only available in the USA, with an exclusive “Incognito” all-black Ultrasuede interior, matte-black wheels and serialized badging—only 500 will be sold.

Interior monologue

500 Launch Edition IS500s will be sold. The first five buyers had to race for the chance to purchase one.

Maybe because my grandma Rose had a white ’71 Caddy with red leather interior, I’m a sucker for red interiors. It just makes the car seem special, and I wish more manufacturers offered it—how much extra can red dye be, anyway? But it’s not just the red (or black) leather that makes the IS feel special. There’s the way the driver’s seat and wheel are perfectly adjustable, the pleasant touch of the interior materials, switches and controls, and the plethora of high-tech luxury features. There’s no androgynous Tesla vibe here—this car is old-school and masculine, like a bottle of Ralph Lauren cologne or Ron Burgundy’s richly appointed library. I appreciated the leather-like trim on the doors, armrest and console as well.

Rear-seat passengers, though ensconced in the same leathery environment, won’t be as thrilled, as it’s not a huge space back there. At just a bit more than 32 inches (812 mm), rear-seat legroom is lacking, but at least getting in and out of the car is easy for both the front and back seats. There’s okay trunk space (10.8 cubic feet) and even a spare tire.

SEE ALSO: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Review: Baby Grand (Tourer)

On the road

If you want my impressions of this car’s power and performance, just find one of those old 1960s recordings of a guy laughing for 20 minutes. It was a memorable experience, one filled with highly illegal and irresponsible speeds, crazy sounds from the quad exhaust, wide eyes and sweaty palms, all attained with a gentle press of the accelerator.

I’ve driven a dual-motor Tesla Model 3, which boasts more torque, but it didn’t feel this fast, probably because of the instant way the IS 500’s turbo-less VVT-iE eight-cylinder makes its power and the eight-speed transmission (with lockup torque converter) gets that power to the back wheels. Turn the engine-mode knob to “Sport S+” (the dash display switches to an angry-looking red-and-white tachometer and speedometer) and mash the gas to the floor and the car whooshes off to felonious speeds in a few eye blinks. According to a very kind and handsome Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy I inadvertently met, this is not a good thing to do on public roads. He printed me a written warning, suitable for framing, for future use.

Fast is easy—just cram a giant pickup truck motor into a small-ish car—but the handling and braking are good too. The steering is balanced, properly weighted and responsive, and it’s got a tidy turning radius of 34.2 feet. The electronically variable suspension, re-tuned for the forward-heavy (56/44 front-to-rear) IS 500, gives a smooth and planted ride over all kinds of surfaces, the kind of ride that starts to feel bumpy and then you look at the speedo and realize you’re going way faster than you thought you were. That’s when you mash the brakes, and they’re as good as they should be (with upgraded rotors and calipers, by the way), though a dozen miles each direction on a twisty road probably doesn’t come close to really testing their capabilities.

SEE ALSO: 2022 Lexus NX 450h+ First Drive Review: Plugged-In Progress

When you’re done being a miscreant, the IS 500 would be a perfectly suitable commuter car, because Lexus. It’s just as smooth and comfy at normal-people speeds as at never-invited-to-another-Lexus-event-again speeds, with none of the heavy steering, low seating position or other discomforts of sporty cars. Fuel economy (EPA 17 city, 25 highway, 20 mpg combined) isn’t great, but if you’re in the market for a car like this do you GAF? No, you don’t, and 25 on the highway is the US fleet average so what’s the problem?

Tech and features

A little fly in the ointment here. Though the NX line has updated the infotainment to give us a much larger touchscreen, the IS still has the dreaded touchpad, because apparently it’s still 2008 in Nagoya. Ample criticism for the touchpad abounds, so I won’t bore you with more, but at least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both wired) is on tap, and at least the 8.0-inch screen is touch sensitive, which improves the experience somewhat.

Other tech includes the updated for 2021 Lexus Safety System+ 2.5, which includes dynamic cruise control, front collision warning, automatic braking, lane-keeping assist and all the other things that are good to have even if you don’t need them.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Lexus RC F Fuji Speedway Edition Review: What’s in a Name?

Pricing

All this sporty luxury will set you back $57,575 with destination. The Premium runs $62,075 (it includes upgraded sound, nav and other goodies) and you’ll pay $68,475 to be in the Launch Edition club—if there are any of them left.

Final Thoughts: 2022 Lexus IS 500 First Drive Review

Almost 60 big ‘uns is a lot of money, but to swim in this end of the luxury-performance pool that’s the price you’ll pay. In fact, the Lexus is a lot less than the competing European models, and the competing (and similarly priced) Asian models don’t seem to be in the same class motor-wise. Also, if the IS-F is any indicator, this car will hold its value—clean low-mileage IS-Fs, even over 10 years old, are in the mid to high $30,0000 range.

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