I am not one of them. I am a guy that likes to shift his own gears and feel the whole experience—the road, the engine sound and the power all wrapped up in a WOW!
While Lexus has “Relentlessly Pursued Perfection” for the past 19 years, they have not exactly built a car for the likes of me. The Lexus line-up of past and present has mixed a lot of luxury with a dash of technology and served it up in a great customer service experience. As JD Power has said year after year: Dependable. Reliable. In other words, the girl next door. Not a bad thing, but also not something that is going to stir your soul.
There is, however, one guy within the hierarchy of Lexus that looks to be my kindred spirit. His name is Yukihiko Yaguchi. And best as I can tell, he is the Japanese version of Santa Claus. He and his elves have come up with the wonderful present that is the Lexus IS F.
The story of the IS F has a very odd beginning. Yaguchi did something very un-Lexus like. He borrowed a trick out of Detroit’s playbook: take your smallest car and drop in your biggest engine. Voila! Instant hotrod and about as expected as Fidel Castro at a Democratic fundraiser. And this is what makes the IS F so fantastic—it is truly the un-Lexus.
But Lexus, being Lexus, didn’t just stop at dropping the LS’ V8 in an IS 250. They brought in BBS for the wheels, Brembo for the brakes and sent the cylinder heads and engine to Yamaha’s stunning finishing school. The result is far more than the sum of its parts. This Lexus is faster than any other Lexus that has come before it. Not in a quick, straight-line kind of way. More in a “controlled chaos” fashion.
Here is where we need to step back a bit. The IS F has two personalities. The first is one of a Lexus you may recognize but have never met. It can be driven around town with all the bells and whistles you have come to expect in the Lexus family, but it does so with a very stiff ride.
The second personality is the black sheep of the family. The one that blows into town once a year and has you out all night salsa dancing with women you would never have the guts to talk to your own. All with power you feel and an exhaust note you want to hear. It actually barks above 4000 RPM!
Let’s quickly cover the first personality. All the usual Lexus traits are there—technology, gizmos and luxury. But two really stand out: the adaptive headlights and the stereo. The former will actually steer with the car on twisty roads—something required in a car that will make you go seek them out. Second is a stereo that will make you give up your home system. The guy driving the ground pounder next to you will be jealous. It’s optional, but you will feel like the guy that sold DOS to Bill Gates for $10,000 if you don’t eagerly say yes at the dealer. Seriously, it’s that good.
The second personality is what makes this car so remarkable. It is Lexus’ first attempt at taking on theOlympians from Bavaria with letters for names. If I were those manufacturers I’d have to say the preferred purveyor of cars to the golf clubs like Del Boca Vista has come far too close for comfort in the serious sports sedan arena. (clarify??)
The IS F is not the same visceral experience as its European rivals. It has that chaotic rush of speed when pushed from a standstill or under hard acceleration on a freeway or passing lane, but it requires you to push it to the edge of its limits to extract the most enjoyment.
A lot of this has to do with its torque converter-equipped automatic 8-speed transmission. Yes, eight forward gears. Left to its own devices, the IS F will spend most of its time in 7 or 8 (hard to get used to, right?) at 1200-1500 RPM, and will change gears faster than Hef changes girlfriends. However, downshift 5 gears and the IS F will bark out a beautiful tailpipe song while you hold on for dear life. The sweet spot for this car is on twisty roads between third and fifth gears. It is above sixth gear that you remember your moronic junior high school teacher explaining the law of diminishing returns by demonstrating the concept of too much ice cream. Well, as much as I hate to admit it, that fool was right. Maybe cogs 7 and 8 are a bit much—but I’m not one to turn down too much of a good thing.