The original IS sedan was Lexus' answer to the tuner car, embracing millennial styling, with performance to match. Succeeding models were more upscale and slightly less youthful, appealing to customers who want something sportier than a GS, and competing against the likes of the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, and Audi S4.
The IS F takes the concept further upscale, with enhanced performance to match. The "F" in the model designation stands for Fuji Speedway: the car's home circuit.
As the first production model to wear Lexus' F marque, the IS F is a poster child for Formula 1-inspired technology. Power comes from a 416-horsepower eight cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission.
The IS F sits an inch lower than other IS models to enhance its high-speed performance. It rides on nineteen-inch wheels with extremely low-profile tires and stops on a dime, courtesy of fourteen-inch drilled Brembo rotors.
It also employs the manufacturer's cutting-edge safety technology, including adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning system and park assist.
All of this technology comes at a price: $56,000 for the base model, $3,300 for the enhanced safety features, and a $765 delivery charge.
Designed for Driving Enthusiasts
The IS F is an active lifestyle vehicle if the activity is driving for sport, or a sport which requires little to no gear. The smallish trunk has a pass-through to load in golf bags, but it won't hold a bicycle. To mount a bike up top would mean destroying the aerodynamics that engineers took such pains to perfect.
On the other hand, the IS F works well as a weekend race car with civilized enough manners to make it practical for everyday use. It has enough room in the back seat for two small adults.
It also gets pretty good fuel economy for a car with a five liter engine. I averaged twenty-one miles per gallon in city and highway driving.
The ride is rather harsh due to the big wheels and stiff suspension. But the interior is remarkably devoid of road noise, and the front two seating positions are quite comfortable on extended trips.
Though it seats four, the IS F works best as a two-passenger car. The instrument panel wraps around the driver and front passenger similar to an airplane cockpit, with an attractive gauge cluster and intuitive comfort and convenience controls.
Front seats have ten-way power adjustments with seat heaters for the cold weather. Side bolsters hold the driver and front passenger in place without restricting access and egress. Three memory settings allow several drivers to share the car.
A tilt and telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag, and position the wheel low enough to stay below their line of vision. Backlit gauges are easy to read, displaying oil temperature and voltmeter settings, as well as speed and tachometer.
Standard keyless ignition allows the driver to enter and start the car without removing the ignition fob from his pocket. A start button on the instrument panel brings the engine to life. Paddles on the steering wheel let the driver shift manually, or he can opt for automatic mode, and let shift logic do the job for him.
A large screen in the center stack displays a wide-angle view to the rear when the driver shifts into reverse: part of the park assist technology. The system also sounds audible warnings when the driver moves too close to an obstacle in one of the car's blind spots.
The rear backup camera is part of a navigation option package ($3990) that also includes an upgraded Mark Levinson audio system. Mark Levinson established its reputation for high-end home audio systems: the company has been a supplier to Lexus for many years.
A screen in the center stack displays navigation system maps, audio and climate control settings. Separate knobs in the center stack allow the driver to adjust the temperature and fan settings without modifying the display.
Bottle holders in the front doors and cup holders in the floor console hold enough beverage containers to keep front-row passengers happy.
I had the IS F for a week of driving in and around Phoenix. Since I hadn't scheduled any track time, I headed south out of town to a deserted stretch of road where I could push the sedan's performance envelope.
The only way to truly appreciate what the IS F is capable of is to take some long sweeping turns at speed. Only then can the driver feel the wheels glued to the pavement, and the chassis hunker down as it moves through corners.
The suspension which feels harsh in stop and go traffic keeps the car completely flat in the turns. Steering response is excellent: the driver can feel all four corners of the car.
The brakes stop the car hard without being grabby. Jounce bumpers on the front and rear suspension keep the nose of the car from diving when the driver brakes hard.
The IS F has an electric steering pump in place of a mechanical booster: a similar setup to the Toyota Prius. Engineers used the same vehicle dynamics management system that they do on their hybrids, integrating steering, vehicle stability control, traction control and antilock brakes. Together, these features help the driver maintain directional control on wet and uneven surfaces.
Laser dynamic cruise control uses a laser sensor to determine the position of the vehicle ahead, and maintain a preset following distance. It's a great technology whose only drawback is cost: I hope to see it trickle down to more affordable vehicles.
A pre-collision system uses the same sensors to determine if a collision is imminent. After signaling the driver, it automatically applies the seatbelt pre-tensioners and primes the brakes to minimize the impact and the potential for injury.
The IS F also comes standard with front, side, side curtain, and knee airbags for both front passengers. Standard bi-xenon headlamps emit a longer light beam that is brighter and closer in color to daylight than conventional beams.
The sporty IS F is available for test drives at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
2008 Lexus IS F
Likes: Outstanding high-speed performance from a car that can double as a daily commuter. Innovative safety features such as dynamic cruise control and collision warning make the IS F as safe as it is fun to drive.
Dislike: The stiff suspension and low-profile tires produce a ride that may be too harsh for some customers.
Nina Russin has been reporting on the auto industry for twenty years. She received her ASE certification as an automotive technician in 1991. Her writing and photography have appeared in numerous automotive enthusiast publications: she was also a weekly automotive columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for ten years. An avid distance runner, she has completed ten marathons, including a Boston qualifier. Nina lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and two cats.