One of those firsts was that this was the first time Lexus had really played the same game as BMW M and Mercedes AMG. It was a bold step and one that could have come undone fairly spectacularly and made a mess of Lexus’ reputation.
Seven years on, the IS F faces replacement with two cars, the RC F and a rumoured new-generation IS F while its nemesis, the M3, has just got an all-new model.
Right off the bat, the Lexus starts out as the cheapest of the rear-wheel drive V8 machines. Kicking off at $125,945, the Japanese sedan undercuts the M3 by nearly $30,000 and the C63 AMG by $25,000.
The interior is bristling with electronics, including an ageing but good-sized touch screen with sat-nav and stereo controls. The front seats are electric every-which-way seats, very comfortable and very grippy. They’re also both heated and ventilated and you and your passenger each get a zone on the climate control.
The weighty key fob need never leave your pocket and with everything automatic switched on, you need never switch on headlights or wipers. Front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera are also along for the ride.
The IS F is the last of the previous generation IS sedans still on sale. It’s a beefy, Popeye version of that car which, while sleek, wasn’t ever going to win any awards. To give the impression that the V8 has been crammed in, the guards and bonnet have been inflated while bumpers and skirts have added depth for a sportier look.
It looks better than the F Sport equipped ISes because the bits look like they belong. From the front, though, it does look like a chipmunk with its cheeks stuffed full of (in this case) an engine and a set of 19-inch wheels. The black honeycomb grille is a bit evil, but in the right way.
Inside is old but it’s dating well for the most part. It’s typical Lexus – faultless quality, but with that nagging feeling that a few bucks were saved by including some Toyota switchgear. At least the key isn’t shared with a Yaris …
It really feels its age when you use the infotainment system. The graphics are very old and clunky and it’s not that easy to use. Japanese cars do seem to be afflicted with baffling user interfaces.
The IS F only seats four as the mildly sculpted outboard seats are split by a storage cubby.
The IS F’s 5 ANCAP stars come courtesy of eight airbags (including knee airbags for driver and passenger) ABS, brake assists, traction and stability control, active cruise control and reversing camera.
The Mark Levinson stereo comes with 14 speakers, a retro six-disc stacker, DVD player, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The infotainment system is old and Nintendo-ey and features voice control but it is pretty hard on the eye.
The control method, a weird mouse-pointer on the central console has never really worked well and is being quietly phased out in new Lexuses.
The sat-nav is also a bit old-school with jagged graphics and a slightly baffling procedure for adding addresses. It takes some getting used to.
The Yamaha-developed V8 is a glorious thing. High-revving and flexible, it’s an impressive unit – smooth, powerful and refined. Producing 311 kW and 505 Nm from 5.0 litres, it’s a genuine heavy hitter.
Its quad-cam, 64-valve head gear feels absolutely unburstable. Some highly strung engines can feel a little fragile, but the Lexus feels granite-strong. Even when given plenty, the engine will return around 16 litres per 100km, which isn’t bad for an engine design that predates the iPhone. Lexus claims 11.4 L/100km on the combined cycle.
In 2007, the IS F was big news because it was the first production car fitted with an eight-speed automatic. Like the engine, it feels indomitable, shrugging off the power and torque loads without shunting or hunting. In Sport mode if shifts very quickly indeed but without shaking your bones.
The cruise control is active, meaning you can set the distance from the car in front and allow the car to look after keeping a safe distance on the freeway.
Puddling around in Normal mode, the IS F could be any IS. If anything, it’s probably a little too relaxed but it does mean that the less-interested driver won’t find it intimidating.
The V8 is quiet and composed, throttle response a little woolly but it’s a fine thing for getting around. The steering is perhaps the first indicator of the F being something a bit different. It’s light but the nose goes where you point it without hesitation.
It rides better than the outgoing M3 and is a good compromise, meaning you won’t break out in a cold sweat at the sight of a speed bump or dip in the road.
Hit the Sport button and, predictably, the car wakes up. Throttle response gains a lot more focus, the transmission is less interested in reducing thirst and more in harnessing thrust. Flatten it and the engine roars as the exhaust opens up and lets out a throaty V8 snarl.
Through the curves, the nose does feel a little heavier than its competition but it digs into the corners and hangs on. Keep the engine revving above 5500 rpm and you can launch out of the slow stuff at a surprisingly un-Lexus-like pace.
You can get a good wriggle out of the rear end when you are unsympathetic with the right foot, but the F hunkers down and resists the torquey urge to flick sideways. Track days should deliver as much fun as the bonkers Ford FPV GT-P but in a smaller, more wieldy package.
Braking is epic, with six-pot calipers at the front and twin pot at the rear.
It’s still no M3 or C63 AMG, but it’s mighty close and in the real world, probably just as much fun.
The F is always up for a bit of fun, be it a cheeky heavy boot out of a roundabout or in a warp speed overtaking maneouvre.
One thing it is lacking, though, is drama. While it sounds wonderful on-throttle, snap it closed and where a BMW or an AMG will crackle and bark (some say childishly) the Lexus just kills the volume. It’s sort of eerie, actually, the way the sound just switches off, as though that roar was a computer fabrication.
This is a brilliant machine, more so when you realise it’s approaching its eighth year on sale. It’s an unusually character-filled car from Lexus, owing more to the LF-A than anything else. As a competitor to the M3 and C63 it valiantly takes the fight to them but ultimately falls just short of beating them outright.
But it is tens of thousands of dollars cheaper.
As a preview to its successor – which keeps the high-revving V8 – it’s a good one. Lexus is moving on from aping its competition and forging its own way and could be the car of choice for those who denounce forced induction.
The IS F is showing its age but growing old gracefully – it certainly hasn’t grown up. While it may be refined and quiet, poke it and it’ll do something hugely amusing.
IS F 5.0-litre four-door sedan: $125,475 (automatic)
Note: This price does not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Lexus dealer for a driveaway price.
ABS Brakes: Standard
Automatic Transmission: Standard
Cruise Control: Standard
Dual Front Airbags: Standard
Front Side Airbags: Standard
Electronic Stability Program: Standard
Rear Parking Sensors: Standard
Reversing Camera: Standard
USB/Auxiliary Audio Inputs: Standard
Steering Wheel Mounted Controls: Standard
SPECIFICATIONS (Lexus IS F 5.0-litre V8 four-door sedan)
Engine Capacity: 4.969 litres
Head Design: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Compression Ratio: 11.8:1
Bore/Stroke: 94.0 x 89.5 mm
Maximum Power: 311 kW @ 6600 rpm
Maximum Torque: 505 Nm @ 5200 rpm
Driven Wheels: Rear
Manual Transmission: Not offered
Automatic Transmission: Eight-speed
Final Drive Ratio: 2.937:1
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES
Length: 4660 mm
Wheelbase: 2730 mm
Width: 1815 mm
Height: 1415 mm
Turning Circle: 10.2 metres
Kerb Mass: 1700 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 64 litres
Towing Ability: Not supplied
SUSPENSION AND BRAKES
Front Suspension: Independent, double wishbone, upper A-arm, lower L-arms, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension: Independent, multi-link, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar
Front Brakes: Ventilated disc
Rear Brakes: Ventilated disc
0-100 km/h: 4.8 seconds
FUEL CONSUMPTION/EMISSION RATINGS:
Fuel Type: Petrol 95RON
Fuel Consumption – Combined Cycle (ADR 81/02): 11.4 L/100 km
GREEN VEHICLE GUIDE RATINGS:
Greenhouse Rating: 4.5/10
Air Pollution Rating: 8.5/10
Four years/100,000 km