Driven

The Founding F: 2013 Lexus IS-F

Something very good happened at Lexus in 2008. They found the letter F. Gone is the soft and uninteresting Lexus of old; now we have a sleeker, sharper, and sportier Lexus. There is no better evidence of that change than the IS-F. The introduction of a sports sedan to compete with the BMW M3 and Mercedes Benz C63 AMG had everyone puzzled. Was Lexus crazy? They couldn’t build a sports car! But after spending a week with the IS-F, you realize how great this “new” Lexus has turned out.

Lexus ISF 4

In 2011, Lexus updated the IS-F with new suspension, changing the car’s dynamics completely. The front springs were softened while the rear springs were made stiffer. Other changes came as well, such as new anti-roll bars, stiffer bushings, and the addition of a limited slip differential. All these changes make a car developed in 2008 still relevant, and highly competitive, today.

Fun is on the menu when you sit behind the wheel of the IS-F. It is the primary and sole objective of the car, and it impressively delivers that along with Lexus levels of comfort. This is a car you can commute with in the morning and track in the afternoon. One of the most exciting parts of the drive happens at 3600RPM when the secondary intake opens. You are greeted with a crescendo of induction noise that no other V8 in the segment can offer. Part of the reason for this sound, besides the bespoke 5.0L V8, is the induction tuning by Yamaha. Its fair to say they did so well that they got called back to perfect the LFA’s spine-tingling exhaust note.

Lexus ISF 6

That brings us to one of the more disappointing point of the car. The IS-F was the beginning of this “new” Lexus, the sport-oriented Lexus. It was the predecessor to the LFA, and that turned out pretty well. With the new IS platform now available, this generation IS-F is, sadly, no more. For the diehard Lexus fans, it remains a limited-production, special-order vehicle for 2014. If you want one, best make it quick.

The exterior design is a bit bloated with a somewhat fat looking front end. This is necessary to fit in the noticeable brake cooling ducts and larger opening for the engine intake. A bumped up hood was also needed to accommodate the big V8. The sides sport flared wheel arches with heat extractors up front and beefier side sills. In the back you’ll find the customary trunk spoiler and strangely stacked exhaust tips. Our tester was the curiously in-your-face combination of Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint and red leather interior. Inside, the red seats are accented with the IS-F’s special blue stitching and metallic trim. The seats were comfortable and supportive, and the steering wheel fit perfectly in the hands. The metal wheel-mounted paddle shifters sit perfectly behind the wheel, only a finger reach away. It also uses Lexus’ older IS gauges with a fantastic center-mounted, blue-accented tachometer. The start-up sequence will never get old. The IS-F also retains the older touch screen navigation and media head unit. We actually prefer this system to the newer Lexus Remote Touch-based systems in the GS350, CT200h, and LS460 that we’ve tested. It is much simpler to use and more intuitive to navigate.

Lexus ISF 8

Driving the IS-F is as simple as climbing in, pushing a button and putting it in drive. The eight-speed auto makes quick work of the seemingly relentless 416 horsepower and 371 pound feet of torque. When you’re working the paddles, its hard to believe that it isn’t a more complex double-clutch unit. Once you get going, you realize how well all the suspension tweaks work. Turn-in is immediate and you always have a feel for what the front wheels are doing. The suspension absorbs bumps, and does not cause anything to become unsettling. It hides the car’s weight well, with only a hint of the true mass as you pass through the apex. In summation, a truly fun car for fun people. That fun doesn’t come at too much of a cost, either. Over our week of driving, we averaged a respectable 20.5 mpg.

The “new” Lexus owes a lot to the IS-F. The slew of new F-Sport designations pay homage to the IS-F’s success, as does the LFA in some respects. Since fun and excitement is now on the menu for Lexus, the letter “F” has given hope to the future of Japanese sportscars. Thankfully, this should continue with the next generation IS-F and all new GS-F. If they stay true to the formula that they’ve perfected since this car’s inception, greatness won’t be far behind.

-Scott Villeneuve

2013 Lexus IS-F
$61,600
Full leather seats w/ Contrast Stitching N/C
Navigation System $2,490
Sunroof delete N/C
Park assist $500
Destination Charges $895
As Tested MSRP $65,485

Related:
2013 Lexus LS460 FSport: A Vicar in a Sportcoat
2013 Lexus CT200h F Sport: The 6th Man
2013 Lexus GS350 AWD: Identity Crisis
Lexus Tech: Lexus GS350

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