2011 Lexus IS-F Drive Review

In the zeal to praise Audi’s S4, BMW’s M3, Cadillac’s CTS-V, and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the Lexus IS-F often gets overlooked. This is a mistake. Possessing a competitive degree of speed, handling, and cachet wholly in line with the “fire-breathing four”, the IS-F easily runs with those cars.

Motive force is provided by a 5.0-liter version of the Lexus V8 tuned to deliver 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque.  An eight-speed automatic transmission, shifted by paddles on the steering wheel, sends the engine’s output to the rear wheels. For 2011, Lexus engineers have specified a limited-slip torque sensing rear differential to better harness the vortex of thrust generated by the V-8. Other mechanical tweaks for 2011 include revisions to the power steering system to improve feel and accuracy, and suspension revisions to improve ride quality.

On the cosmetics front, (no pun intended) two strings of LED daytime running lights turn heads now as the IS-F cruises down the street. Inside, the driver is treated to a revised instrument cluster flaunting a huge tachometer placed front and center. Our test car featured the new orange and black interior treatment for the sport seats, laced with blue French stitching.

With the introduction of the LF-A last year, the IS-F is no longer the top performing Lexus, but is still highly potent nonetheless. In our 0-to-60-mph runs, the 2011 IS-F consistently hit 60 mph before five seconds elapsed on our stopwatch. Switch off the traction control, pin the throttle and you can easily convert the back tires into billowing clouds of blue smoke.

Despite this, the IS-F is more than just a hot rod. It is a highly competent sports sedan with exceptional balance, sharp (but accurate) turn-in, an amazing degree of roadholding, and outstanding braking ability. The robust bark of that 5.0-liter when the transmission blips the throttle on downshifts sends waves of excitement through everyone in the car. The sound of the engine under full throttle has an equally stimulating quality all its own. At speed, the IS-F demonstrates a degree of stability that enables it to be driven comfortably at triple-digit speeds for hours on end. Dynamically, there are very few cars that rival the experience provided by the Lexus IS-F.

Still, there are a couple of things we’d change. The traction control system is a bit too aggressive, often bogging the IS-F in mid-corner—even though the car is more than capable of negotiating the turn. Happily, holding the traction control button for three seconds switches it off completely. Running the car in sport mode also broadens the threshold before it kicks in. Also, while the eight-speed transmission is great for fuel economy and smoothness, it often causes downshift delays because it has to go through so many gears to get down to the optimal one. Of course, over time you can adapt to those quirks, and when you do, the IS-F delivers—big time.

While the Lexus IS-F has only one stablemate that goes better than it does, when it comes to comfort and convenience, it is 100-percent Lexus. Everything you expect to find in a contemporary luxury car is available, including a hard-drive-based navigation system with a back-up camera, real-time traffic and weather updates. Nav-equipped vehicles also come with a one-year subscription to Lexus' Enform, which provides on-call travel adviser.

The one thing typical Lexus drivers might miss is the brand’s notable cloud-like ride. But in exchange for that isolation, the IS-F offers a degree of engagement typical of the most elite sporting automobiles.

2011 Lexus IS-F pricing starts at $59,760.

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