2011 Lexus IS-F

The Good:
– Aggressive styling
– Superb engine
– Perfect handling
The Bad:
– Average rear legroom
– Somewhat firm ride
– Foot-pedal parking brake

Japan is the land of some amazing sports cars. The Asian country can be proud of creations as spectacular as the Honda NSX, the Nissan GT-R and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. However, one segment they never conquered was that of the high-performance luxury-sports sedan, dominated by the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. That is, until the Lexus IS-F came along.

Who would’ve thought the company that made its fortune peddling crossovers to soccer moms could come up with something so brash and flamboyant? Our black test car looked menacing in metallic black, with a bulging bonnet, sharp fender vents, huge smoked wheels, slammed suspension, silent rear lip spoiler and stacked exhaust tips.

Inside, the IS-F still looks a lot like the regular IS 300. The upscale soft-touch dash and door surfaces are still there. So is the central touchscreen, as well as the automatic gear shifter. The ‘F’ bits include the sporting thickly-bolstered front seats, the black leather with blue stitching, the patch of blue leather on a section of the steering wheel, the metal pedals, the metallic faux “carbon-fibre” console trim, and the gauge cluster that consists of just one big tachometer with a smaller speedo alongside. Those, and maybe a hundred ‘F’ logos throughout the car.

While front space is good, we were surprised to find decent rear legroom too, considering how cramped the IS 300 used to be. Apparently in 2008, Lexus reshaped the front seatbacks on all IS models to improve knee room, and it definitely worked. Of course, those approaching six feet tall will still feel cramped. Also, the ‘F’ only seats two in the back. The boot volume is okay for a car of this size, but the floor isn’t flat, thanks to a tyre-shaped bulge due to the full-size spare underneath. Other storage options include a central console cubby, pop-out front door pockets and four covered cup-holders.

Tech features are standard Lexus fare, including an easy-to-use touchscreen for the navigation, Bluetooth phone, stereo and dual-zone a/c settings. There are also direct basic controls for the strong automatic a/c, which has rear vents, as well as the kicking CD/MP3 stereo, which has USB/AUX ports. Other bits include a sunroof, HID headlights with LED markers, keyless entry with starter button, front and side-curtain airbags, cruise control and the usual power accessories. There are no fancy gimmicks here, so if you want a panoramic glass roof, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor or even LED tail lamps, look elsewhere.

What you should look forward to is the bespoke 5.0-litre V8 under that bulging hood. With 417 hp at 6600 rpm and 502 Nm of torque at 5200 rpm, this motor revved its way to a 0-100 kph time of 5.6 seconds in our December tests. With 102 Nm of torque more than a BMW M3, take-off still occurs at once thanks to the grippy rear tyres, then hit 4000 rpm and all hell breaks loose, as the intake manifold opens up further and the exhaust lets out a sonic boom that pops your ears! Never have we heard such a booming exhaust since we sold our tuned Toyota Supra Twin-Turbo, but this luxurious descendent of that sports car does so while still sounding docile at lower revs. Add to that an 8-speed automatic gearbox with quick paddle-shift responses, and you start wondering how a car like this can be badged as a Lexus. But then its economical Toyota roots are exposed, as our overall fuel consumption averaged only 14.4 litres/100 km, no worse than a V6-powered midsize crossover.

As for handling, damn does it go around corners. Shod with 225/40 front and 255/35 rear rubbers on its 19-inch alloys, it’s obvious why the IS-F corners like a cheetah. The IS sedan has always been the only Lexus that could hang in the turns with a BMW, and the ‘F’ just makes it that much more potent. There is no discernible body roll from within the car, and no perceptible understeer in aggressive city driving. The electric power steering doesn’t offer the best feedback, but it is very sharp, and responds to inputs quicker than a sneeze. But the highlight of the package has to be the set of massive Brembo brakes with drilled rotors peeking through the wheels. We fully stepped on the brake pedal a couple of times from 120 kph, and the car came to a halt so damn hard that our eyes felt like they’d literally pop out, and our necks were strained enough that we didn’t try it too many times.

If you’re buying this car while expecting a pillowy Lexus ride, you’ll be severely disappointed. This is a sports car with a few luxury features, and not the other way round. Of course, it isn’t uncomfortable by any means. It rides firmly, but is compliant over most road surfaces. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that it is quieter and smoother than that other four-door monster, the Cadillac CTS-V. Wind noise is limited, while shifts are barely perceptible in most gears, even if there are eight to go through. The exhaust wails out like an animal, but that’s only if you floor it. In any case, we didn’t like the foot-operated parking brake, and that too in a compact sports sedan.

The Lexus IS-F is a huge departure from anything Toyota has ever created, combining extreme sporting credentials with a practical luxury interior. It isn’t the most value for your money in this segment, considering it’s only marginally cheaper than a BMW M3 while still being more expensive than a Cadillac CTS-V. But among supersedans, it is definitely going to be the one that will last the longest and be sought-after for years to come.

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