Lexus IS F

Japanese hope to take some big scalps with first offering in this class

  • A manic sound is matched by amazing acceleration.
  • Greater attention to damping and steering wouldn’t go amiss.

Legendary service, faultless reliability and polished build. Lexus is famed for many things – but not aggressive styling. Yet with its stacked exhausts, raised bonnet, bulging arches and prominent vents, the IS F changes that. Black paint and dark alloys make the car look even meaner.

This doesn’t continue inside: it’s no stripped-out racer, but the best equipped car here, with 10 airbags, sat-nav and electric everything. On a more fundamental level, the driving position is the least adaptable. The plush seats don’t hug you enough and you sit too high, so headroom is tight, while the chunky windscreen pillars leave you feeling hemmed in. And it’s not that spacious in the back, either.

But it’s pace, not practicality, that’s crucial here – and first impressions suggest the IS F is lacking. It was the quietest at idle inside and out, and its 5.0-litre seems like any other Lexus unit; effortlessly smooth, docile and calm. Don’t be fooled, though, because once the needle sweeps past 3,700rpm the 417bhp V8 takes on a whole new persona – there’s an instant hit of acceleration and the engine note, previously almost silent, becomes purposeful and loud.

It’s at that moment you realise this Lexus is every bit a super-saloon. This ability to be a cosseting cruiser low in the revs and yet run its German rivals close on performance will appeal to many. On our deserted runway it matched the M3 in every acceleration test and, thanks to a slippery 0.27Cd drag factor, we actually managed to beat the claimed maximum, hitting 170mph.

The only downside is that, unlike in the Merc, the engine needs to be worked quite hard to deliver – torque peaks at a high 5,200rpm, and the unit won’t rev beyond 6,800rpm (both the BMW and Audi will top 8,000rpm). Still, there are plenty of gears, so staying in the powerband is easy.

In manual mode, the eight-speed box doesn’t kick down or change up at the red line, so you have plenty of control, and the shifts are fast and more obedient than the Merc’s. Nevertheless, if you are in eighth on the motorway, it takes a while for the set-up to shift down through so many ratios.

There are frustrations with the chassis, too. The IS F’s damping isn’t as well controlled as its rivals’ – there’s a fraction more vertical movement, and as a result it lurches over imperfections and doesn’t feel as anchored to the tarmac as the M3 or C63. This slight motion clips your confidence in corners, as does the electric steering, which lacks the required feel and response – turn-in isn’t accurate or sharp enough in this company.

We have fewer criticisms of its rear-wheel-drive manners. If you do turn the traction control off, the F will slide under power and you’ll need to be quick with the steering to catch it. But the electronic rear differential does a great job of maximising traction and apportioning torque – you can really feel it working when exiting roundabouts.

Overall, while the Lexus is fast, composed and technically very capable in corners, it doesn’t quite have the handling of the M3, the fierce power, control and charisma of the C63 or the surefootedness of the RS4. Still, for a company with no previous experience in this segment, it’s a great achievement.

Details

Price: £51,105Model tested: Lexus IS FChart position: 4WHY: It doesn’t have the pedigree of German rivals, but the IS F could well upset the establishment.

Economy

The IS F was even thirstier. As high revs are needed to get the best from it, we achieved 15.0mpg – way short of Lexus’s wildly optimistic 24.8mpg claims. Despite the long gearing and great aerodynamics, we struggled to top 20mpg on the motorway.

Residuals

FIGURES have yet to be calculated for the Lexus, but with only 150 cars available this year, it will be highly sought after. While the badge doesn’t have the kudos of the AMG or M3, we still anticipate residuals over 50 per cent.

Servicing

LEXUS has yet to reveal servicing prices for the IS F, but buyers are guaranteed to be well looked after at their local garage. The brand came 1st out of 32 in our 2007 dealer survey – as it has for the past five years.

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