New car reviews

2008 Lexus IS-F

F is for Fast!

Steve Schaefer, Sun, 8 Feb 2009 08:00:00 PDT

Everybody knows that a Lexus is a luxury Toyota, bigger, finer, and more expensive. The Lexus F brand means more that that,though.

Engineers at Lexus, led and inspired by fellow engineer and enthusiast Yukihiko Yaguchi, developed this super Lexus internally. It was a vision to take luxury beyond the smooth, silken power and comfort of the renowned Lexus line. The team hopped up the IS, which is already directed at BMW, in a variety of ways.

Real power begins with a potent engine, so the Lexus folks brought in Yamaha, with whom they had worked before, to design a mighty 5.0-liter V8. As it sits in the IS-F, this new engine generates a breathtaking 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft. of torque. That moves the 3,800-pound IS-F from zero to sixty in just 4.6-seconds, putting the car in some very elite company.

Power surges to the rear wheels through the world's first eight-speed direct-shift automatic transmission. It's specially beefed up to handle the power generated by the V8, and will go about its business quietly. Or, you can shift it yourself with steering-wheel-mounted paddles and it will snap from gear to gear faster than you can do it with a standard manual.

The dedicated engineering team took this rocket to racetracks around the world to be sure it was a real contender. These included Germany's legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife and Japan's Fuji Speedway. The latter is the IS-F's home track, apparently the shape of turn one was inspirational for the "F" logo on the car.

Of course, there are many more changes to affect the metamorphosis from a sporty IS to a racecar IS-F. The quad diffusers in back reduce exhaust backpressure. Things you and I might not think about, like making the cooling fan 30 percent lighter and using a high-output fuel pump are two more upgrades.

How do you stop a car that's rated at 170 mph? The IS-F gets heavy-duty Brembo brakes, which are celebrated by enthusiasts everywhere. The name "LEXUS" appears on them through the 19-inch alloy wheels, the first time this has been done by Lexus.

Drivers of the IS-F get some help controlling it with a specially calibrated version of Lexus' Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system. VDIM uses sensors to anticipate a skid or slide and help correct it, using braking, steering and the throttle control all without the driver having to do anything (besides saying a grateful prayer afterwards).

Many other electric and electronic systems are coordinated by VDIM too, including the Electric Power Steering and the antilock braking system and its attendant helpers. If somehow you manage to overwhelm this system, a full helping of airbags are ready to protect you and your passengers.

The V8 is rated at 16 City, 23 Highway by the EPA. I averaged 17.5 mpg, and I promise I never went over 80 mph the whole week. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide rates the IS-F at 7 on the Air Pollution score and a mid-pack 5 on Greenhouse Gas.

Ironically, the IS-F is classified along with cars like the Kia Rio as a subcompact for the coziness of its cockpit. Although it's stocked with pretty much everything you could want, from 10-way heated leather seats to a 13-speaker Lexus Premium Audio system to numerous "F" themed design cues, it still was a tight fit, especially climbing in and out of those heavily bolstered sport seats. However, considering it's as fast as a two-seat sports car like a Porsche, it's actually roomy by that standard, and the BMW M3, a direct competitor, is similarly sized, so it's really nothing to worry about. You'll have to leave your string bass home, however.

The IS-F stands out from just any old IS. The trapezoidal front bumper fascia is bolder and the upper and lower grilles use a unique mesh pattern. The lower grille is flanked by cooling ducts for the Brembos. The hood flaunts a raised center section to make room for the mighty contents below it.

The front fenders are widened to hold the 19-inch smoky-gray BBS alloys with their fat, low-profile tires and have jaunty, functional air outlets. The LED stop and tail lamps behind clear lenses add a little extra interest out back, along with the quad exhausts. Definitely macho.

It may be hard to accept that the same company that makes the fuel-sipping, planet-saving Prius can offer such a totally different vehicle. But this is not meant for everyone. With a base price of $56,000, the IS-F will cause many to dream of sitting behind the wheel, but few will get the chance. It certainly brings new excitement to the Lexus showroom, and every car dealership could use some of that these days.



2008 Lexus IS-F

F is for Fast!

a tricked out IS-F

super fast!

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