BMW M3, Meet The Lexus IS-F
The new 2010 Lexus IS-F is the brand’s first attempt at creating a performance machine to rival the German juggernaut. The car started life as an IS350, so we didn’t have high hopes for it right off the bat. The normal IS is a reliable and capable sports sedan; boring and plain in mostly every way. Then, it found the steroid cabinet.
The IS-F is very interesting to say the least. It’s got bulging front fenders, a 416 horsepower mountain of power, an eight-speed transmission, and a hard ride that would scare away most Lexus owners.
A useful car to Lexus? No, not even close. As pointless things go, the IS-F is on top of the pile. But, it makes a little sense when you remember that the one major flaw with the company was that it could never rival the Germans and their high-performance sedans. The sort of cars that sell in small numbers, but help automakers land big spots on automotive magazines and websites, like this one for example.
Hit the jump to read on.
Lexus hopes to sell around 3,000 models a year, making this a very rare machine. In fact, we haven’t seen one on the road yet, besides of course, our red example.
The most important part of the IS-F has to be the motor that lives under the bulging hood. An interesting fact you can use on your next date - which will probably be the last date - is that the massive V8 actually started life in the boat-like LS460h. Don’t let that hybrid touch fool you though, the motor has been worked on extensively by Lexus’s engineering boys, with help from Yamaha’s Formula One team. The 5.0-liter motor now has an all-aluminum crankshaft, new cylinder heads, and titanium intake valves. Additionally, the engine features a forged crankshaft, connecting rods, and cam lobes. Are you bored of reading yet?
That monster V8 is connected to an eight-speed transmission, in which the gear ratios are very evenly spaced. The reason for all these gears is down to fuel economy that is good enough to avoid the U.S gas guzzle tax. Yet, as good as is, there are downsides.
There seems to be a bit too many gears. Some will say otherwise, but driving the car takes a whole new approach. Usually, in order to do an aggressive highway pass, it’s a simple sixth to third. Three downshifts and the car takes off, but not in the IS-F. One must go from eighth to third, quite a task if you’re not familiar with the car. It takes a few days to get used to it.
That being said, the transmission is a brilliant piece of automotive engineering. For those of you who find this sort of thing boring, skip to the next paragraph. The transmission has two very different modes about it. In drive, it’s a normal automatic, but push the level to the left and all hell breaks loose. The car becomes what feels like a clutch-less manual. At full throttle, the gear changes require less than a 10th of a second and are heard from miles away as IS250 owners cry about buying the wrong car. The changes aren’t smooth either; push the needle past 5000 rpm and the gear changes are ferocious.
This unique transmission helps the IS-F be tame and lame in normal mode. The engine is quite, the cabin built to the highest standards, and the 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is incredible. Then, place your fingers on the left paddle and tap it four times, while smashing the throttle into the ground. Every living thing in the car is thrown back into the leather seats, as the car takes off into the horizon.
The redline is around 6800, which is shockingly low when compared to the BMW M3. In fact, a very annoying warning tone sounds when the revs go over about 6,300 rpm. We don’t know about you, but we don’t need to be told when to change up. On top of that, the traction control system can’t be shut off at speeds of 30 miles per hour. Why not? That just doesn’t make any sense to us.
The ride in the IS-F is one of the car’s biggest downsides and the reason why many will choose the M3 for the horsepower needs. It’s as if Lexus sculpted the suspension out of rock. The front and rear spring and shock packages are super-stiff, meaning that traveling over bumpy roads - or brick roads as we found out- can be quite painful. Add on a low ride height and it can be tough to even talk to the person next to you, let alone change the station. So, if Britney Spears comes on the radio and you’re traveling over a bumpy highway, consider yourself screwed.
Smooth roads are a whole different ball game. The car offers up spectacular amounts of lateral grip on its 19-inch, low-profile Michelin tires. The steering is heavy - very heavy in fact - but tight and precise. Switch the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management to sport mode and you can do power sliders around cul-de-sacs like a champ, though we wouldn’t advise you to.
The real issue with this car is the badge. Lexus making a performance sedan is like Mr. Rogers machine gunning the world of make believe. Normally, Toyota’s high-end brand has been sedate and dull, but this new model is hard and fast. However, no matter how good it is, the Lexus badge doesn’t carry the same weight as the BMW M badge.
Is it better than the M3? That’s a question that will be answered later on.