Dear Lexus: We get it. We know you hear the snickers of people who think your sedans are bland and favored by men of a certain age. Those buyers value easy-chair comfort and cachet over performance and style. Well, as an answer to those critics, your IS F should elicit but one response: "Wow."
Appearance: The IS F is based on the regular Lexus IS sport sedan. The most notable differences are its exterior styling touches: a black-mesh grille, side air scoops, sculpted fenders and hood, and a more aggressive front fascia. There also are 19-inch BBS forged-aluminum wheels, which set off our tester's Liquid Platinum paint and further announce: This isn't grandpa's Lexus. We like how the stainless steel quad exhaust tips tuck neatly in the rear fascia.
Performance: The Lexus engages all of our senses by offering a throaty, 416-horsepower V-8. For those who like numbers, it's a 5.0-liter DOHC 32-valve engine. Just step on it. The big V-8 comes to life with a roar and 100 mph comes before you even think to check your speed. (Lexus limits the top speed to 168 mph.) The 8-speed, direct-shift automatic smoothly clicks off upshifts. In manual mode using the paddle shifters, the downshifts bring a satisfying rev-matching throttle blip. We liked how the IS F hugs the road even in sharp curves. For that you can credit the sport-tuned suspension. The downside of the suspension is that the ride can be a bit harsh; gramps would not approve. (Thankfully, the seats make it more comfortable.) The electronic power steering isn't light and provides the right amount of feedback. The stout Brembo brakes quickly bring the sedan to a stop even from the highest speeds.
Interior: It's the usual Lexus quality in materials and finish. The cabin is trimmed with aluminum and carbon fiber-like accents. The front sport seats are well-bolstered and feature a 10-way power adjustment. Our tester had ivory leather, which seemed perfect for our Florida heat. Peter found himself tilting down his head while driving to improve his view because the windshield's rake and the sunroof both compromise headroom. In the rear, the seats are comfortable but cramped, including the entryway where Lyra's son bumped his head. But let's face it: This sedan really isn't about hauling passengers. We really liked the instrumentation, which has crisp, electroluminescent gauges and glowing blue needles. A few nits: The USB and 12-volt power plugs sit toward the back of the armrest bin, so you have to contort yourself to reach it. There is no "gadgets tray" for a smartphone and no side-by-side cupholders. The LCD screen doesn't have a hood and can be difficult to read in bright sunlight. The glare from the screen also can be blinding.
Our 3 favorites
Wheels: Sharp enough to sell on their own.
Audio: If you must crank it up, this Mark Levinson 14-speaker surround-sound system delivers.
Style: It screams sports sedan.
Performance: Exhilarating acceleration, nimble handling, strong brakes.
Sport seats: Some of the most comfortable and well-bolstered we've tested.
It's a Lexus: Shhh! It's still a sedan. Just don't tell your significant other that it's a performance car.
The bottom line: Is your idea of the perfect driving soundtrack a low exhaust rumble wafting into the cabin? Do you want Lexus quality and comfort and don't mind spending more to get it? Then you'll love the IS F.