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Lexus IS-F Review

Rafay Ansar


Pending the decision on the production of the beautiful Lexus LF-A, we'll have to make do with the IS-F, which to my mind is not much of a hardship. Labelled, 'the first Lexus performance thoroughbred', the IS-F lives up to its promise, with outstanding performance and dynamics.

Although it was launched at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, the IS-F didn't go on sale in the UK until April 2008, and even then sales were limited to only 150 cars. You might be one of the lucky ones who have paid the £50,076 asking price, for this embodiment of luxurious performance; in which case I'm preaching to the converted and I offer my congratulations on a very good choice. But, if it wasn't for the persistence of two Lexus engineers, it would never have happened.

Lexus was happy to stay with the IS range but these two wanted to develop it into a high performance, hi-tech sports saloon. Project F, as it was known, gained momentum within the company and after its showing at Frankfurt, both the public and the media interest made sure that it would be built.

While BMW has the 'M', Lexus has the 'F', which stands for Fuji, as in Fuji Speedway, home to the Toyota and Lexus testing facility and host to the Japanese Grand Prix in 2007. The 'F' badge is even shaped to represent some of the circuit's bends. But enough of the background.

Taking the IS sports saloon as a basis, the IS-F has slightly different distinguishing features. Apart from the somewhat restrained but purposeful stance, the first thing I noticed when it arrived, were the wheels; exclusive, 19-inch forged alloys with ten chunky, sculpted spokes finished in smoked metal. These are made all the more impressive by the broad, low-profile tyres and the way that they fit the muscular wheelarches perfectly.

At the front, the wide, imposing bonnet is raised; almost to the point of becoming bulbous and ugly. Fortunately, it is balanced by the sleek wings that flow from the shoulder line to the headlight clusters, either side of the large upper grille. Below these are deep, trapezoidal, front bumpers that flare upwards and outwards at the sides and form a lip at the base. They also house the front fog-lights on the outer edges of the cooling ducts, which themselves, flank the lower grille.

The large engine needs a lot of cooling. It also takes up a fair bit of room, which is why the IS-F has a longer front overhang and bonnet than the IS 250, on which it based.

This car is all about poise and balance - visual and physical - and so the rear overhang has also been extended. The shoulders continue rearward to form a wedge shape, culminating in a discreet spoiler on the lid of the square-ish, 378-litre boot. The wraparound LED, taillights are quite distinguished but the most impressive features of the rear end are the four oval tailpipes, diagonally stacked, in pairs. Overall, the IS-F declares its intentions and capabilities without resorting to brashness.

Inside, you get the same impression - although the large, silver, carbon-fibre-effect surround to the gearshift and most of the high, central tunnel, is a little overstated. But, if that is your only complaint - and it will be - then it's not much to be bothered about. Besides, its effect is subdued by the metallic-effect, centre console and the whole forms the cabin's focal point. The rest is a mix of perforated and smooth black leather in typical Lexus style.

As befits a performance car, the front seats of the Lexus IS-F have larger bolsters compared to the rest of the range. Both have 8-way, powered adjustment, including lumbar support and memory settings. To compliment this, the steering column also has powered rake and reach-adjustment. It seems as if everything is made as easy as possible so you can just enjoy the drive, beginning with the keyless-entry and start.

Luxurious comfort is assured and even the rear passengers are afforded plenty of support and more than enough legroom, while the drop-down, centre armrest can be pushed up for extra shoulder room.

The general feel and ambiance of the IS-F alone warrants the price tag. But when you factor in all the technology that works away, unseen, the car is nothing less than a bargain and more worthy of a £60-70,000 asking price.

And then there's the engine; a performance-tuned, 5.0-litre, V8 - hence all the cooling ducts and domed bonnet. The engine and component specifics are too technical and intense to go into here, but I will skim some highlights off the top. For instance, although it is a large engine, it is all aluminium and therefore lighter; the camshafts are hollow and carry oil to the cylinder heads and, we are told, that the crankshaft journals are polished to a 'mirror-finish'. All we need to know is that the end result is a reduction in friction between the moving parts and a quiet engine, unless your foot on the drive-by-wire accelerator deems otherwise. Justifiably proud, Lexus claims that it is one of the most sophisticated V8 engines in the world.

A proposition one is bound to agree with, when you realise that the 0-62mph time of just 4.8 seconds is not hypothetical and the top speed, which is limited to 168mph, is easily achievable, given the right circumstances.

And the right circumstances for us lesser mortals, who don't have unfettered access to a test track, is any road heading out of town. For sure you have to play by the rules but even within these constraints, the Lexus IS-F shows its colours.

It invites you to come and play with 423PS, which peaks at 6,600rpm, just before the red line at 6,800rpm, and share in the fun of 505Nm of torque at 5,200rpm. Ninety percent of that is available at 3,500rpm, and that's without the aid of a super- or turbocharger, although it does have a fancy, dual-air intake system to help with the breathing.
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