2009 Lexus IS-F Review & Road Test
The first Lexus in which accountants had no involvement!
- 2009 Lexus IS-F eight-speed automatic - $129,000; $126,500 as tested.
- Moonroof deleted -$2500
Amazing noise; styling; acceleration; fuel consumption; features Overly firm ride; no manual option
- by Paul Maric
So I drew the short straw, I had to road test the new Lexus IS-F.
Another car built by the accountants was my initial thought. Despite having a horde of powerful V8s in their arsenal, Lexus has always been conservative; opting for the smallest amount of engine noise, coupled with good fuel economy and smoothness.
They say first impressions last and I must say, the first impression I had of the Lexus IS-F was a good one. The engine note when turning over the 5.0-litre V8 from cold is enough to have any autophile fostering some serious arousal. It’s a deep, throbbing V8 note, which is totally uncharacteristic of any Lexus known to man.
The entire concept behind the IS-F started in 2002 with Yukihiko Yaguchi, chief engineer of the IS-F project. He began to visualise a Lexus unlike any other, a Lexus that would challenge the best on offer from the Germans. He received approval for the project in 2004, but worked informally with a small group of colleagues, essentially in their spare time, to bring the dream to fruition.
With the project gathering momentum, the IS-F became a real life object, not just a vision.
From the outside, it’s not easy to mistake the IS-F for a regular IS250.
A bonnet shaped like a Beluga Whale houses the 2UR-GSE engine unique to the IS-F while two air dams in the front splitter lead to the cross-drilled front brake rotors.
Gills on the side skirts, along with a unique body kit continue the IS-F’s design standards. Lightweight, 19-inch alloy wheels complete the side profile, while a subtle boot-lid spoiler and quad, dual-stack exhaust pipes define the rear end.
The aerodynamics of the IS-F allow its speed to peak at 270km/h – an impressive feat for a brand built on conservatism. A drag co-efficiency of .30Cd brings the IS-F into the 21st century. Six colours are available across the IS-F range, including Onyx (Black); Vermillion (Red); Platinum Silver; Graphite; Pearl White and Flame Blue (fitted to our test vehicle and also unique to the IS-F).
A unique IS-F key simply needs to be kept on the body to unlock and operate the car. Grip the driver’s door handle and the doors unlock. Our test vehicle was fitted with the white/beige leather-clad interior, which looked very impressive against the black tones surrounding the cabin.
The driving position is superb. The low-slung driver’s seat features plenty of side and bottom bolster to keep things in check during hard cornering. A modified steering wheel is also unique to the IS-F. A chunky girth at a quarter to three gives the driver the perfect opportunity to wrestle the IS-F.
Mark Levinson has trademarked the 14-speaker sound system – and it’s a killer unit. It pumps out plenty of bass and offers very crisp treble for higher frequencies.
Rear headroom seems to have improved from my last experience in an IS. This is probably due to the rear seats being slung lower to improve the centre of gravity. Rear legroom remains a bit tight though. It’s strictly a two seat affair along the second row of seats with the centre being reserved for a large chunk of plastic, which would have worked well as a cubby hole.
Let’s forget about the legroom and headroom for a moment and concentrate on how this thing drives.
The first thing to mention is the gearbox. Forget about a manual, there’s only an eight-speed automatic available, but, don’t worry, it’s nothing like any other Lexus gearbox. This eight-speed unit shifts up through gears in 100-milliseconds and goes back down through gears in around 300-milliseconds.
Around town while the gearbox is in ‘D’ mode, shifts are subtle and mellow, mimicking a run of the mill IS250. It’s only when you shift into the manual mode (which is controlled either via steering wheel paddle shifters or an up/down motion on the gear lever) that things start to become manic.
The engine note sounds brilliant both inside and outside the cabin. Below 3850rpm there is a muted V8 burble that hints of things to come. Nail the right pedal and almost instantly as the revs pass 3850rpm, all hell breaks loose. A supercar-like thumping noise fills the cabin and anyone within cooee shakes at the knees.
The torque this engine produces is just astounding, it pulls hard all the way from 3000rpm and reaches the 6800rpm rev limiter before you even get a chance to consider another gear. Give the + lever a quick pull and a near-instant gearshift brings on the next gear, keeping the revs above 4000rpm, maintaining that ear glazing Godly engine note.
Suffice to say, this thing hauls arse in pretty much any gear. The gearshifts in manual mode are pure bliss. Downshifts are accompanied with blips, while up-shifts feel just as quick as dual-clutch gearboxes. By 60km/h the car is already in seventh gear, reaching eighth gear soon after.
Lightweight 19-inch BBS alloy wheels are clad with Bridgestone Potenza treads, 225/40R19 at the front and 255/35R19 at the rear. It often scrabbles for grip under full-throttle acceleration if the road surface is even remotely damp. High rev shifts from first gear to second gear chirp the rears, an impressive effect, but one that is cumbersome when up-shifting while turning.
Although the engine and power delivery are superb, the ride and handling are almost completely the direct opposite.
The suspension is so firm that it won’t be long before you start clocking frequent flyer points at your dentist and chiropractor. If you enter a corner at speed, heaven forbid hitting a series of bumps. The firmness of the suspension causing the car to leap across the road, it becomes an absolute handful if you’re not on your best behaviour.
So, it was interesting to see how the IS-F would fare along out two-part test circuit. The first section contains B-grade roads with large sweeping bends, along with uphill and downhill stretches.
Throughout the first section of the test circuit, it wasn’t possible to drive the IS-F like you would drive an M3 or RS4. The quality of the road means that entering any corner at speed makes the car somewhat uncontrollable. It literally leaps over to the wrong side of the road due to the rock solid suspension.
Powering out of corners on uphill stretches causes the back end to bounce around, limiting the amount of traction available with the road.
The second stretch of road contains smooth road and tighter bends, designed to test the car’s cornering ability. Thankfully, the IS-F really shone through this section.
The tightness of the chassis and suspension means no body roll – literally none! This, coupled with a smooth surface really means that the car can perform at its best and it well and truly did.
Snapping back through the gears, with blips on each downshift, prepares the car for the turn-in to the corner. The steering offers superb feedback through the wheel, while the turning ratio means only slight turns of the wheel are required to get through a corner.
Once in the corner, putting the power down is effortless. The idea is to keep the engine above 4000rpm where it sings like nothing else, although the rear treads are just 255mm wide, they manage to keep the 311kW of power and 505Nm of torque in check on smooth surfaces.
Sudden changes in direction don’t unsettle car, likewise with hard braking. A set of cross-drilled six-piston 360mm Brembo brakes up front and twin-piston 345mm cross-drilled brakes at the rear pull the 1700kg Lexus up in tremendous fashion.
Despite a torturous downhill stretch, the brakes survived, biting with great urge and accuracy each time. The only downside is that the brakes are very ‘grabby’ when driving around town. It’s just something that takes a bit of time to get used to.
The new Lexus IS-F is worth $129,000 and comes with no options (aside from deleting the sunroof). With that in mind, it out does the German opposition in terms of standard features.
Standout features include: Radar cruise control; 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system; DVD player; keyless start; heated front seats; directional bi-xenon headlights; satellite navigation and pre-crash sensing system.
Standard safety features include: electronic stability control; traction control with ABS and EBD; pre-collision bracing system; engine immobiliser; eight airbags, including driver and front passenger knee airbags, dual-stage front airbags; driver and front passenger side airbags and full length side curtain-shield airbags.
The 2UR-GSE uses direct injection and dual intelligent variable valve timing with electric timing actuation on the inlet camshafts and a purpose-designed dual intake system. Official fuel consumption sits at 11.4-litres/100km. After our 10-day stretch in the car, it was returned sitting on 12.2-litres/100km, which included plenty of 4000+rpm driving, very impressive fuel efficiency for such a vehicle.
Lexus claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.7-seconds. Now, consider this. That figure is easily achievable with a full throttle standing start from idle revs. BMW on the other hand claims a time of 4.7-seconds for the M3 with the dual-clutch Drivelogic transmission, which uses a launch control program.
If Lexus were to implement a launch control system of the IS-F, I am absolutely confident it would hit the 0-100km/h sprint in under 4.5-seconds. The engine feels far more torquey across the entire rev band compared to the M3 and RS4. These two Germans require revs before they start dancing, but, they both rev beyond 8000rpm, a tremendous feat for a V8.
What’s the verdict then?
This effort from Lexus is superb. It transforms the already sporty IS from a sedate executive tourer, into a ball-tearing brutal V8 sports sedan. The engine note is totally uncharacteristic of a Lexus, as is the way this thing drives.
The only point that lets the entire thing down is the suspension. It would become painfully annoying to live with day in and day out. It also makes driving hard on low-quality roads difficult at the best of times.
In a straight line, it has the goods over its competitors, but in my opinion, the M3 and RS 4 outgun the IS-F through the corners.
With styling to turn most heads, it’s hard to refute the IS-F as an up and coming contender against the Germans. I believe it needs a bit of refinement, but certainly wouldn’t displease any purchasers.
I’d like to see Lexus work on the suspension a bit more and add some extra width to the rear treads. Once these two things are sorted, it would seriously have the ability to dethrone the M3 as performance king.
It’s not often I say this, but I love this car – despite the rock-hard suspension, it’s a wicked drive and it’s impossible to ever get sick of that engine note.
Well done Lexus, the accountants were left as far away from this car as humanly possible, and boy was it worth it!
Click to check out the the video of the IS-F doing a 0-100km/h run
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go:
- Engine: 4969cc V8
- Power: 311kW @ 6600rpm
- Torque: 505Nm @5200rpm
- Induction:Naturally aspirated
- Transmission: eight-speed automatic
- Differential/Driven Wheels: Limited slip differential, rear wheel drive
- Brakes: six-piston 350mm Brembo (front) / two-piston 345mm Brembo (rear)
- Top Speed: 270km/h
- 0-100km/h: 4.7-seconds
- 0-400m: N/A
- CO2 Emissions: 270g/km
- Fuel Consumption: 11.4-litres/100km
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 64-litres
- Fuel Type: 95RON petrol
- ANCAP Rating: five star EuroNCAP
- Airbags: Eight airbags
- Safety: ABS brakes with TC, EBD and BA; Electronic Stability Control; pre-collision preparation
- Spare Wheel: Space saver
- Tow Capacity: N/A
- Turning Circle: 10.2m
- Warranty: 4-years/100,000km
- Weight: 1700kg
- Wheels: 19 x 8J forged aluminium (front) 225/40R19, 19 x 9J forged aluminium (rear) 255/35R19