Quickie Review: Lexus IS-F (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the most commonly used metaphorical devices implemented by the automotive rags to describe a car with polarizing attributes that don’t really mesh together. At the risk of falling into the ruts of “journalism”, I’m going to use it anyways to describe the new Lexus IS-F. The Land of the Rising Sun’s answer to the Teutonic uber-sedan wars brings to the table a 5.0L V8 with a 6800rpm redline and an 8-speed automatic transmission that is complete overkill considering the impressive width of the powerband. The F’s engine and transmission are actually borrowed from the much more composed LS460, but here the engine has been bored out for an extra 400cc of displacement. Compared to the current segment leader, the BMW M3, the IS-F makes more power. This is to be expected when the F has an entire litre more displacement (the M3 has a 4.0L V8). So how many horsepower did Lexus and Yamaha (who helped to tune the engine) extract from the larger sump? Follow the link to find out.

Two horsepower. No more, no less. Doesn’t really make sense to go with the larger engine until you realize that the IS-F has 76 more torques. If I knew what exactly it was that torques did I might suggest that this was a very good thing and was the primary benefit of going with a larger displacement engine (for further proof of the advantage of going big, look no further than the Mercedes C63 AMG with 451hp and 443 torques). But seeing as how no one really knows what torques do, myself included, those couple of horsepower don’t seem to justify the extra weight and displacement in the Lex. That is until you hear the thing wail at over 3600rpm. My God what a sound. The aural (not to be confused the homonym “oral”) drama is almost worth the $65k price of admission alone.

Then there’s the styling. Where do I start? The bulging hood looks like a Beluga whale (and I mean no offense to the Belugas reading this), the exhaust tips are atrocious, and the side cooling vents look like aftermarket bits off eBay. If you aren’t driving an IS-F painted in a very dark colour (does “black hole” count as a colour?), then I would suggest wearing darkly tinted glasses when approaching the car. If you can still make out the fake quad exhaust tips try wearing two eye patches. You’ll still get to hear the Yamaha-orchestrated symphony under the bulging hood.

The interior is standard Lexus fare. The white carbon fibre trim is a unique touch and relieved some of the sombre mood in the cabin. And look, a starter button! One more unnecessary bit of tech just waiting to incur a painful repair bill. I just don’t see the point of technology for the sake of technology. Especially is a vehicle whose purpose it to provide driving pleasure. The IS-F is supposed to be a big departure from the company known for making bulletproof luxobarges, so why couldn’t Lexus have gone a little further and done without the unnecessary technogarbage?

The white leather bucket seats are tacky enough that I actually like them and they do a nice job of hugging my above-average physique. The back seats (only 2 of them) are a little more snug for an over-6-footer like myself so I would recommend sitting up front if possible. The front seats also give the best view of the narrowing horizon and other vehicles slamming on their brakes. Are they all slamming on their brakes? I wonder for a moment if every other car on the road also has fantastic Brembo hardware to keep speed in check. Oh no, that’s right, I have over 400hp under my right foot. That explains it.

Which brings me neatly to the engine. And what an engine it is. While the F has a bass-laden rumble at idle, I can’t believe how quiet it is and how normal the vehicle seems to drive in the parking lot of the dealership. I’m initially confused as to where all those ponies and torques are hiding. Turns out that the answer to my question is 3600rpm (when the car suddenly drinks the magic potion and becomes Mr. Hyde). But you’d never know you were driving anything other than a regular IS while doddling around town like Dr. Jekyll.

So will we look back at the IS-F with the same reverence as the E30 M3? Will the IS-F put a stake in the ground that will last decades and initiate several generations of performance Japanese cars? Who knows.

The real question at the end of the day is: Would I buy one? Mmmm no. I like my cars to be a little (lot) better looking. Maybe the europhile in me has developed a different styling preference than the grown-up STI and Evo owners that Lexus is trying to target here. Personally, I think the that Luc Costermans is more the target audience. I absolutely adore the engine and the brakes, but I just couldn’t see myself plunking down $65k+ if I didn’t like the look of it. But then again, I’m not the target audience. In the video I called the appearance “ricey”, but that’s probably the point. It’s Japanese. It’s just not me.

*Even though the video says the fantastic brakes are 6 pistons up front and 4 in the back, I was ill-informed and they are only 2 pistons are the rear.

Price as tested: $65,000
Summary: In many cases it’s better to be seen than heard. Here it’s just the opposite.

Exterior Design: 3/10. It gets 3 because the standard IS was pretty good to begin with.
Interior Design: 6/10. Nice steering wheel, nice paddle-shifters, white carbon fibre pretty cool, solid seats up front
Engine: 10/10. Brilliant Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation.
Transmission: 7/10. Fantastically quick upshifts, frustrating downshifts.
Audio/Video: 8/10. Very impressive.
Value: 8/10. Very competitive in the segment. Deutschland beware.
Overall (not an average): 7/10

Special thanks to Bruce Kirkland and Lexus of Edmonton.