2008 Lexus IS F Preview

FAST FACTS
  • Lexus entry-level sedan gets a 416-hp, high-performance version

  • First Lexus production model with "F" performance designation

  • First IS with a V-8 engine

  • Eight-speed direct sports-shift, paddle-controlled transmission

  • Fastest Lexus model: Zero-to-60 mph in less than 5.0 seconds

  • North American sales of 2008 model to begin by March

Introduction

Lexus has become well known as Toyota's luxury vehicle division. But before it was publicly unveiled, the development of the new division was a closely guarded secret. Even within Toyota, the working group was known simply as "Circle-F," the F representing flagship.

Fast forward nearly two decades and the F designation continues, though now it signifies Lexus special vehicle programs that fall outside the usual engineering and development production process. Think "hot rod": BMW's M cars or Mercedes-Benz' AMG. Think about development driving done at Fuji Speedway as well as on the usual Toyota test tracks.

Lexus moves into the serious, and seriously stimulating, world of high-performance vehicles with the launch of the 2008 Lexus IS F, a compact and entry-luxury category sedan that draws its power from a 5.0-liter V-8 engine that pumps out 416 hp and 371 lb.-ft. of torque. The IS F also benefits from an 8-speed transmission controlled by racing-style paddle shifters and stops with the power of Brembo-brand brakes.

Lexus also is getting ready to unleash the LF-A, an ultra-high-performance, Italian-designed exotic sports car powered by a Formula One grand prix-style V-10 powerplant.

Model lineup

Lexus expanded its lineup into the entry level of the luxury category in 2000 with the introduction of the IS 300, a compact and sporty sedan powered by a 3.0-liter V-6 engine. A few months later, it added a wagon-like SportCross version.

For 2006, the IS entered its second generation with the IS250 and IS350, a pair of sedans, both inspired by the athletic Lexus GS sports sedan, both powered by V-6 engines: a 2.5-liter offering 204 hp and a 3.5-liter with 306 hp, more than the V-8-powered Ford Mustang GT.

Now, with the IS F, the entry-level Lexus gets serious horsepower. The car could have been labeled IS 500, but Lexus decided that the car had been so extensively reworked that it was a fitting vehicle to launch the new F performance group.

Design

Visually, the IS F features dual exhaust that flows through four tailpipes, widened front fenders, a larger grille, and a rear spoiler. The IS F gets a larger hood to accommodate the larger engine and a larger front air intake to help keep that engine cooler. The IS F is the first model with "Lexus" proclaimed on its brake calipers. The IS F is available in six colors, including Ultrasonic Blue Mica, a color exclusive to this model.

Inside, the IS F has what Lexus calls "aluminized composite" trim and "special" surface treatments. The instrument panel has blue LED illumination and includes an oil-temperature gauge and shift indicator-lights. The F logo is showcased on the steering wheel and rear-center console. Specially trimmed front seats were designed with aggressive driving in mind, and special sport seats are available in what Lexus calls "high-contrast" black and white trim.

Hardware

The 2008 IS F is based on the same rear-wheel-drive platform as the IS 350. Power comes from a new-generation and performance-tuned 5.0-liter V-8 engine with specially engineered cylinder heads fed by a two-stage intake system and with engine oil and transmission fluid coolers and a cylinder head scavenging oil pump, all designed to deal with the higher temperatures and high g forces generated by high-performance driving.

The engine is mated to Lexus' first 8-speed direct sport-shift transmission, which includes a new torque converter lock-up control designed to provide crisp gear changes, as well as standing start-to-60 mph acceleration in a mere 4.9 seconds, says Lexus, which adds that this makes the IS F the fastest Lexus, with a top speed on the racetrack of 170 mph.

Nonetheless, the engine earns ULEV-II emission ratings and the IS F is rated at 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway.

The transmission also offers a manual mode with the driver using a pair of paddles on the steering wheel to manually change gears up or down. Downshifts come with the same sort of rev-matching throttle blips achieved by racecar drivers.

Nineteen-inch wheels are standard, and again a familiar performance car brand is used, with forged-alloy BBS wheels with a custom-designed 10-spoke pattern for the IS F. The front wheels are 8 inches wide and are wrapped by 225/40-aspect high-performance tires. The rear wheels are 9 inches wide with 255/35 rubber. Even with this wider performance rubber-either Bridgestone Potenza or Michelin Pilot Sport PS2-the car has a turning circle diameter of only 33.5 feet.

Like a Ferrari or other high-end performance car, the IS F is equipped with Brembo brakes, with 14.2-inch perforated discs and 6-piston aluminum calipers on the front wheels, 13.6-inch perforated discs and 2-piston calipers at the rear, and high-friction brake pads at all four corners.

While the IS F shares the basic double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension geometry as the other IS models, the shocks, springs, bushings, roll bars and even steering tuning were modified to deal with the car's performance potential. The IS F sits a full inch closer to the ground than an IS 350 riding on 18-inch wheels.

Factory options for the IS F include a Mark Levinson premium surround-sound system, DVD-based navigation system, park assist, pre-collision with dynamic radar cruise control, and headlamp cleaners. Additionally, although a moonroof is included as standard equipment, the IS F can be ordered without it.

Technology

In addition to the technology contained within the 8-speed transmission, the IS F features a new, 3-mode version of the Lexus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system. In addition to the Normal mode, this new version offers a Sport mode that allows the driver more freedom before the computer-controlled braking, throttle and steering assists kick in. The third VDIM system mode is "Off," which allows the skilled driver to push the IS F to the limit on a racetrack.

Ratings for the 2008 Lexus IS Sedan
Ratings and details for all Lexus models