Lexus' bid for the mid-life crisis market is finally coming to fruition in the form of the new IS F, a sport performance vehicle with a 416-horsepower V8 engine that's due to hit the market next spring. We had the opportunity to be some of the first to experience the prototypes when Lexus brought us out to California last week to test the vehicle on the Laguna Seca raceway.
With the body's "muscular" design (we could do without the sculpted fenders) and the pleasing low rumble of the engine while idling, it's clear this is a car meant to appeal to would-be racecar drivers—much like BMW's M series with which the IS F is obviously in competition.
On the drive to the track, the car was butter-smooth around sharp curves and accelerated forcefully with all the aggressive confidence that you'd expect from a luxury sportscar. The set up at Laguna Seca provided several opportunities to see what else this car can do.
Four operational modes, full assists, sport mode, no assists and snow, provide a driving experience for everyone from the casual enthusiast to the driving aficionado. We tested it in all modes and overall were impressed by the ability of the assists to provide the utmost stability during tight cornering and in wet conditions. A few other journalists in attendance weren't quite convinced by the zero-to-60 mph in 4.6 seconds claim, but we weren't counting.
While the transmission, the first "eight-speed Sport Direct-Shift," seemed to perform well in automatic mode, we found the paddle shifters mounted on the steering column for manual use to be awkward to use at high speeds.
Other than those minor details, with IS F Lexus has met its goal of making a car that's "everything you thought we weren't." The first car to earn its internal esteemed "F" (for Flagship) marking, the story behind it shows some real passion and dedication on the part of Lexus engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi who, in 2004, set out to build the kind of car he wanted to drive. With help from Toyota Technocraft, the team that usually develops police vehicles, race cars and the like, Yaguchi developed the impressive engine. After extensive testing on top racetracks around the world, four years later the IS F is the kind of car "that drivers will not want to stop driving after 10 laps on a circuit course"—which I think I did.