The specification sheet for the Lexus IS-F looks promising enough. With 417bhp from its 5.0-litre V8, it pips the BMW M3 and the old Audi RS4 by 3bhp but has to give best in the power stakes to the mighty Mercedes C63 AMG. The engine is a development of the unit found under the bonnet of the LS460 limousine. Titanium intake valves, lightweight hollow camshafts, and an extra oil pump to keep the moving parts slippery during extreme cornering manoeuvres improve what was already a very impressive motor. The headline figures are par for the class, the IS-F stomping to 60mph in 4.3 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 170mph.
The Lexus’ automatic gearbox is something quite intriguing. With eight forward speeds and a manual mode that offers quicker upshifts than the Ferrari F1 automated manual ‘box, the ‘Sport Direct Shift’ is no lazy lugger. Yes, there is a fully automatic mode for when you’re noodling through traffic but otherwise it’s that rarest of things – a genuinely purposeful sporting auto. Suspension spring rates have been stiffened by 100% compared to cooking IS models and the IS-F features a two stage stability control system with a Sport mode that allows adventurous drivers a little more leeway before the electronic cavalry comes over the hill.
The IS-F isn’t the most overt styling job, but the exterior changes made over the standard IS are well judged. The IS remains a very smart piece of design and the dynamic makeover of gently bulging wheel arches, four tail pipes, anthracite alloy wheels and air vents in the trailing edge of the front wings gives it just the muscle it needed without lapsing into cliché or caricature.
At 1716kg, the Lexus IS-F is quite a hefty piece of kit but you’ll feel reassured every time you feel the doors thunk shut. It feels a good deal more substantial than an M3 and, if the company’s JD power customer satisfaction scores aren’t to take a sudden and unexpected lunge southwards, that impression of quality is far from superficial. In terms of space, those in the front are well catered for but the rear seating area and boot are less amply proportioned.
At £51,000 on the road, the IS-F is more expensive than the BMW M3 coupe and comes within a few thousand pounds of the awe inspiring Nissan GT-R, a car that targets even mightier fare such as the Porsche 911 Turbo. Had Lexus been able to offer the IS-F for around £45,000, it would have been a bolt-on success but it’s hard to see many people being swayed to the Japanese ingénue against the formidable competition histories of BMW and Mercedes.