2009 Lexus IS-F Review & Road Test

$35,800 $42,570 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    11.4L
  • Engine Power
    311kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    270g
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A

2009 Lexus IS-F Review & Road Test

Lexus is getting there...

Model Tested:


  • 2009 Lexus IS-F, 5.0-litre V8, eight-speed automatic - $129,900

Options:


  • None fitted

CarAdvice Rating:

- by Karl Peskett and Alborz Fallah

Photography by www.ozcarsightings.com and Tristan Schoonens


Alborz and I are going to have an argument and it's going to be big. That's the beauty of having differing personalities I guess, you each get to think what you want.

But Alborz's opinion on things is a little different. He thinks that Lexus's IS-F is the best car he's driven, and that is where our opinions diverge.

Read the rest of Karl's Review

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Here is the thing with the IS-F, it’s so far my favourite car under $150,000 for 2009. There are a lot of mixed reviews about Lexus’ first attempt at the luxury performance market. Most like the car but consistently say that the BMW M3 is the better choice and you know what, I agree, but I’d still buy the Lexus, so let me tell you why.

Read the rest of Alborz's Review.

Alborz and I are going to have an argument and it's going to be big. That's the beauty of having differing personalities I guess, you each get to think what you want.

But Alborz's opinion on things is a little different. He thinks that Lexus's IS-F is the best car he's driven, and that is where our opinions diverge.

So, it was in with the baby seat, shopping in the boot, wife in the passenger's seat (actually, she booted me out of the driver's seat more often than not), and ready for a proper road test.

The only problem is that below that magic mark of 3800rpm, there's little, if anything, happening. You have to wait for an eternity for the revs to climb, and if you're stuck in the wrong gear, you've been passed by the M3 driver who has his torque on tap all the time.

Zero to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds. Make sure that you do it in manual mode, too, because left in automatic, there's a brief pause between each gear, facilitating smooth changes. Shifting with the paddles, it's almost DSG-like with a shift time in milliseconds, and you can feel it, too.

Left in drive, under normal driving conditions, the eight-speed auto gearbox is smooth as silk, and there's a muted V8 rumble to accompany the Mark Levinson stereo. It's beautifully quiet, and solidly built, too, meaning no rattles, squeaks, or shaking from anywhere in the cabin. The integrity of the bodywork means it just feels tight and free of any chassis wobble.

That means when you throw it into bends, it's very stable, and confidence inspiring. The hard ride pays off with supreme grip, and if you want, you can explore the limits quite safely. With the VDC off, the diff is not a limited slip, so it only slides out so far before it comes back. If you're pushing it, then the M3 is a better bet due to its better more absorbent damping and proper LSD.

So here's the problem. To get the best result, you need to get it above 4000rpm and if you're doing that, you are going to be speeding. Because it only really sounds good at more than legal speeds, you need a track, but then it doesn't have the grip levels to match up to its speed potential.

So, you're either going too fast with no way to exploit it, or you're going too slow with an overly firm ride and muted soundtrack.


The other problem is the interior. It's so well appointed, and so well built, there's little to fault it. The touchscreen display works perfectly, too. So why are there duplicate buttons everywhere? For example, there's an audio button where you can choose your radio station from the touch screen, but there are also AM and FM buttons below the screen. Why?

The other problem is the clock. The time should be displayed on the touchscreen, or the instrument cluster. Instead, there's a green on black LCD clock taken straight out of a 1988 Toyota Tarago. It ruins the ambience of what could be a near perfect cabin. Penny pinching at its best.

There's a more than few disappointments, which you just don't get with the IS-F's main rival, the M3 Sedan. You get a better ride. You get a better sound. You get a more instant throttle response. You get better handling. You get a more controllable rear end, and you don't get a crappy clock.

I know Alborz will disagree, but for me, the M3 Sedan is it.

Here is the thing with the IS-F, it’s so far my favourite car under $150,000 for 2009. There are a lot of mixed reviews about Lexus’ first attempt at the luxury performance market. Most like the car but consistently say that the BMW M3 is the better choice and you know what, I agree, but I’d still buy the Lexus, so let me tell you why.

Monday morning, I still hadn’t got out of bed and Anthony called me up all excited. Normally this doesn’t faze me because Anthony is generally always excited about something, either it’s about some completely random and stupidly fast car he has booked for us in Europe or it’s something as simple as having just beaten a GSXR-1000 in a diesel Peugeot around some bends. Either way, he has to tell us all, at 8am in the morning.

“Aston Martin is giving us the first Australian drive of the DBS auto in Brisbane” - okay, so now I was excited too. Not often I get a supercar car up my way.

“We’ve got the car for three days, but we need a fast chase car to head up the sunshine coast with, what have you got booked that week?” I looked at my calendar and the words biopower SAAB 9-3 convertible stood out like a sore thumb.

“@#$^ that, we need something really quick,” Anthony said.

A few emails to Lexus and they kindly gave me the IS-F for two weeks. I’ll admit, I wanted the M3 originally, but that was unavailable and up until the point where I stepped on the throttle in the IS-F, I still wanted the M3.

Before you rush to the comments section and argue for the BMW, let me explain a few things about Lexus.

The Toyota jokes are really starting to wear thin, I spent two weeks with the IS-F and it took all those two weeks to get to fall in love with the car, had I spent one week with it, I would probably be writing a different review.

I can recall the moment that I realised the IS-F was a car worthy of its claims. It was raining rather heavily up through the Glasshouse Mountains and in front of me was former racing driver Kevin Bartlett in a Aston Martin DBS, my task? Keep up with him at full pace, ah I love my job!

I could see the back of the Aston sliding out slightly as he pushed harder and harder around the corners. I suppose seeing a blue Lexus consistently behind you must have been a rather annoying sight.

Our photographer, who was sitting next to me at the time, was starting to get worried as the battle up the mountain intensified. He had just bought a house and still intended to live at least another 60 years, so sitting next to a guy chasing a racing driver in a superior car up a mountain in the wet wasn’t his idea of a risk-free afternoon.

Needless to say, KB couldn’t lose me. We finally pulled over and he slowly climbed out of the Aston and looked over at the Lexus. He didn’t say much at first but finally he broke his silence: “that thing is pretty quick”.

I’d love to take all the credit here, after all mountain driving is my speciality, but it wasn’t me, all I was doing was following his line and the IS-F did the rest.

So there it was, a sub $150,000 car keeping up with James Bond’s car. Could the M3 do the same? Probably, so why buy the IS-F you ask?

Well, for once, I can say the Lexus is more unique. How many IS-Fs have you seen? Not many, and how many new M3s have you seen? It’s quicker from 0-100km/h than all its rivals and the sound, well, you just have to hear it.

I don’t know what I liked better, the V12 note from the Aston or the V8 in the Lexus, or both of them put together in a symphony.

After our mission with the Aston had finished, I still had the IS-F for another week and as the return date got closer I was starting to feel anxious about giving it back.

Every car that comes through the Brisbane offices goes up Mounts Nebo and Glorious and the IS-F had its turn. My own car has always kept the record for a Mount Nebo run and the IS-F didn’t beat it, nor did it beat the Evo X, but then again it’s not made for that. What is amazing about the IS-F is the level of grip for a relatively large car.

If you turn the rather annoying nanny controls off, you actually get to experience what it feels like to drive a proper, raw, well powered, well engineered, modern V8 muscle car. You can argue about the electronic differential but it does the job.

The back comes out ever so slightly as you push it past its limits around tight corners, but if there was ever a car you could easily control around bends, this would be it.

Originally I was going to give the IS-F 4.5 stars but there are a few issues. Firstly, the internal clock. I have no idea how the idea got passed final inspection because to include a stand alone, green LED digital clock taken out of a 1987 Toyota Camry in the company’s first serious performance car is, frankly, embarrassing.

Even on the IS250 it’s a bad idea, but on the IS-F? Please, remove the clock! It will increase the appeal of the interior ten fold.

Then there is the eight-speed gearbox, do you really need eight gears in a performance car? Not unless you can do it right. What happens is the IS-F will spend half its time trying to work out which gear is appropriate and by the time it has done that you’ve lost the momentum. Also it fails to drop down rapidly when you plant it.

The gearbox does eventually learn your driving style but it never feels like it agrees with you.

The other problem is the power delivery and the noise. I love the noise, but why does it have to come on at 4500rpm plus? I’d like it to start at around 3500rpm. Same with the power, in-gear acceleration isn’t as linear as the M3.

From the outside, I’d also like to see the IS-F show a bit more aggression, I know Lexus are going for a subtle performance car, similar to the Germans, but flared guards and a rear diffuser is needed to give it that extra bit of anger.

Many have complained about the IS-F’s harsh ride and this is very evident in the rear seats. The front seats are rather comfortable and you’re not going to hear many complaints. Sit in one of the two rear seats and you’ll start to realise that the suspension is made for better roads.

There are some notable advantages in picking the Lexus. Being Japanese you can be assured it will be running for another 20 years without hassles. Servicing is significantly cheaper than the German brands as well but resale value is still a question for the IS-F.

So here is how it works. If you have got about $150,000 to spend on a luxury performance car you’ve got a few choices.

Of course if you don’t want luxury you can always attempt to get one of the few Nissan GT-Rs available in Australia and it will slaughter any of the aforementioned cars.

If you want a mixture of power, brand value and performance, you can either pick the Audi RS4, which at the moment is still waiting to be updated with the new model, or the Mercedes-Benz AMG C63, which is an awesome machine but lacks the finesse of the M3 and the IS-F.

The BMW M3 is the obvious choice, but it’s everyone’s favourite, which gives it a common feel, or you can pick the IS-F.

If you want a two door coupe, you have to buy the M3 and as a two-door, the BMW works and looks magnificent. However as a four door, the competition really steps up.

It my opinion the M3 doesn’t work as a four-door, it just looks awkward. It pretty much comes down to the C63 and the IS-F. Many can’t go past the Mercedes badge and given the similar price and performance of the two cars, it’s a hard choice.

My Advice? Drive them both, get to know the IS-F before you rule it out because it’s one of those cars that takes a while to fall in love with, but those are the ones you want to keep.

Read Karl's Review.

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