2008 Lexus IS F Reviews and Ratings

Sedan 4D IS-F

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2008 Lexus IS F
John Stewart

Introduction
Lexus, the company known primarily for reliable, nearly silent, flawlessly efficient passenger cars, has tossed the formula out the window with the IS F.

The 2008 Lexus IS F is a captivating performance sedan is built for the involved driver. It's a car that encourages and rewards spirited driving, and with a top speed of 168 mph, the IS F is by far the fastest car Lexus has ever made.

To describe the Lexus LS F as fun to drive would be bland understatement. This is an authentic performance car that brings smiles to professional driving instructors and racers on the world's fastest racetracks. For the average driver, this is a car so able, so secure, it changes the way you see the road.

Lexus test drivers have logged 0-60 times in 4.6 seconds, but straight-ahead acceleration is only one aspect of the IS F's performance envelope. It's a car built for high G-forces and quick stopping.

Combining an eight-speed transmission and a 5.0-liter V8 that puts out 416 horsepower, the IS F readily attains higher speeds than the IS 250 or IS 350. Better grip comes from a wider stance, heftier suspension components with less unsprung weight, outstanding brakes, and the most advanced electronic traction enhancements.

Unlike some performance sedans, the IS F is not particularly tiring to drive in ordinary day-to-day situations. There is no heavy clutch, the seats can be comfy for hours at a time, and the ride is not overly firm at low speeds. An outstanding audio system is available. Because the IS F is EPA-rated to deliver 16 mpg City, 23 Highway, it will not be subject to the hefty federal Gas Guzzler Tax.

From a business point of view, the IS F is more than just the third model in the IS lineup. This is the first of perhaps several cars that will be launched with the F designation, which Lexus hopes to build into an icon.

A detailed pricing list will be released a few weeks before the IS F goes on sale March 1. Lexus marketing officials have said that they intend to be competitive with comparable cars, such as the BMW M3. The Neiman Marcus edition, which includes a number of unique features, goes into the company's Christmas catalog at $68,000.

The Lexus IS F is the third model in the IS lineup, following the IS 250 and is 350. While the IS 250 and IS 350 are certainly fun-to-drive, sporty cars, the F is intended to be a no-compromise performance sedan. As such, it's a flagship capable of extending the brand, and a conspicuous showpiece of Lexus capability and intentions. Model Lineup
The 2008 Lexus IS F is well equipped and there are very few options. Among them: the Mark Levinson Premium surround-sound system, the Lexus DVD Navigation system, Intuitive Park Assist, and the Pre-collision System (PCS) with dynamic radar cruise control. With the Navigation system, voice activation and Bluetooth are included, as is a rear back-up camera. A headlamp cleaning system is available, and the moonroof can be deleted for increased headroom.

A limited edition of 50 Neiman Marcus IS F models ($68,000), which will have a black exterior, polished alloy wheels, perforated black leather trimmed seats with white stitching and a unique leather steering wheel. The Neiman Marcus IS F includes the moonroof, navigation with Bluetooth, and the Mark Levinson surround sound system as standard equipment. Walkaround
The Lexus IS F looks like a cat ready to pounce, with expressive styling that suggests a balance between lithe fluidity and the tensile strength of steel and forged aluminum.

The IS F rides on the same wheelbase as the IS 250/350, but it's bigger overall, and looks it.

The stance is visibly more aggressive, especially when viewed from the front. Compared to the IS 350, the track is wider in the front, due to new wheels and tires, and the overall width is increased by nearly two inches. It's also longer by 3.35 inches, and 1 inch lower than the standard IS. Most of the growth is due to a larger engine bay for the V8 engine.

Functional vents located below the front headlamps help direct cooling airflow. This airflow passes through wider fender wells and exits behind the wheels. The vents blend smoothly into rocker panels, sculpted to a slight taper that leads the eye rearward. At the rear, four oval exhaust tips are stacked and integrated with the bumper.

Lexus engineers spent considerable time smoothing the body lines to achieve a coefficient of drag of 0.30 Cd, including the design of underbody covers for the engine, transmission, gas tank, rear suspension control arms, and trunk area. These covers and others were studied and shaped so that they would balance airflow, reduce high-speed lift, and help improve heat dissipation.

The IS F is available in six colors, including four variations of pearlescent and metallic tones. Among them: Obsidian Black, Starfire Pearl, and a bright red called Matador Red Mica. Unique to the IS F is the color Ultrasonic Blue Mica, a strong, deep blue. Interior
Just sitting in the Lexus IS F evokes an emotional response. Four bucket seats are provided, rather than a rear bench, perfectly stitched in compliance with Lexus standards. The two front seats are deeply dished but not rock-hard, and can be adjusted to an appropriate level of snugness.

The seats are very tight, but very comfortable. While strongly bolstered against lateral forces, they are well cushioned for long hauls of ordinary driving. The seat design suggests that the IS F may be a performance machine, but it is not strictly one-dimensional. In the cockpit at normal speeds, the IS F does not force the driver to fight cornering forces.

The rear seats also are supportive, side to side, but to a lesser extent. A brief console tray separates the rear-seat passengers, although rear legroom is at a premium. Even if it's a little tight in the back, all four passengers, once strapped in, become involved in the performance orientation of the car.

A rear-seat trunk pass-through is provided, designed with skis in mind.

The interior design plays on contrasts of light and dark, with a black roof liner and two choices of seat colors, white or black with contrasting blue stitching. There is a sophisticated, technical feeling to the layout.

The center stack frames the navigation system, executed in hand-finished aluminized composite surrounding the console and door panel switches. The bright metallic composite material struck us as well executed use of plastic, and probably very expensive to produce, but at the same time, we could see that it is not actually metal.

The center console houses the shifter, which offers both manual and automatic modes. There is no manual transmission available. Purists might suggest that a manual transmission would be a must. However, the Lexus eight-speed automatic offers performance characteristics even a race car driver could appreciate. As with a Formula 1 car, the Lexus IS F can be quickly shifted using a paddle shift arrangement on the steering wheel. The paddle shift method is designed to provide very rapid gear changes up and down, faster than any driver could shift with clutch and lever.

While there is a suitably competent audio system in the LS F, and an option to add the hypnotically superb Mark Levenson Surround Sound system, this is not really that kind of car. Instead, most drivers will prefer to listen to the sounds the car generates.

Visibility is about average for this type of car, with fully adjustable power mirrors. The view through the rear window is not expansive, but remains uncompromised by a wing or other clutter. The HVAC system runs through the navigation screen, a seven-inch touch-screen within easy reach. The navigation screen, an option, supports the audio system, climate control, and backup camera functions.

The instrument panel is compact with two large gauges, speedometer and tachometer, brightly illuminated with neon blue needles sweeping the faces. The tachometer dominates with large numbers and a 7000 rpm redline, tracking to 9000 rpm. There is a small temperature gauge at the bottom of the tachometer.

The speedometer is of equal size but with small numbers, separated at 20-mph increments, progressing up to 180 mph. Top speed is electronically limited to 168 mph. Under the speedometer is a small gas gauge. Between the two large dials is an information display. Using a steering wheel-mounted control, the driver can scroll between outside temperature, fuel consumption, average speed. A lower screen displays gear selection and mode, (D for Drive, M for Manual), plus a voltage meter and oil temp gauge.

Just to the right of the steering wheel, nearly blocked from view, is a small rocker switch that controls the VDIM, or Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system. This switch is the key to three different handling personalities from this sophisticated electronic stability control system.

Upon startup, the VDIM system defaults to Normal mode with the switch in the middle. In this mode, the vehicle dynamics provides cooperative control based on feedback from throttle, steering, and transmission, among other sources. With VDIM in control, there will be no wheelspin on launches and the driver will experience an uncanny ability to steer through hot corners without losing speed.

Pressing the rocker to the Sport mode permits shifting at higher rpm, makes the throttle more sensitive, adds weight to the steering, and expands the permissible range of lateral acceleration. For a professional driver on a closed course, this mode might yield the fastest lap times.

By holding the switch down for three seconds, it is also possible to completely disable the electronic traction and vehicle stability control. In this mode, only ABS remains active. At this point, the driver is in full command with no safety net, only his own sense of timing and balance to control the car. Now the car can readily be drifted or fishtailed around corners without interference from electronic traction systems. When the VDIM is altered or defeated, an icon is illuminated on the dash. Driving Impressions
We had time to drive the IS F on winding two-lane roads in the foothills outside Monterey, California. We followed that with track time and a battery of specific tests at the legendary Laguna Seca road racing circuit. To test performance in the wet, we drove the IS F through a wet slalom, wet acceleration and braking, and on a wet 100-foot skid pad circle.

On the road, the Lexus IS F is pleasingly quick, precise and responsive. The car emits a low growl and feels good on winding roads that invite bursts of throttle, a brief tap of the brake and a smooth glide through the next apex. The transmission, left in full Auto mode, always seemed to know what our intentions were, holding on to gears longer when we stayed into the throttle. It's an easy car to drive at seven-tenths, with a satisfying degree of control.

Around town, the exhaust offers a unique burble. While it can be heard in the cabin, it is not tiresome. But then at full throttle, the sound builds quickly. At about 3600 rpm, a secondary intake opens and an unbridled performance scream begins to intensify, sharpening further and further as rpm increase. It's a sound we associate more with high-performance motorcycles or open-wheel race cars, and the last thing we ever expected from a Lexus. This staged range of tuned sounds provides a good part of the visceral appeal of the IS F. It's as if Lexus turned its expertise at sound reduction upside down, toward sound engineering, with the goal of generating the right sounds to connect with a driver's hidden, compulsive moods.

Pushed hard on a racing circuit, the IS F lives up to the ideals of a professional driver. It's a car with enormous grip, a car capable of connecting on an emotional level with the most demanding driver.

We were given ample opportunity to get in over our head, hitting speeds over 100 mph on twisty Laguna Seca tarmac. Driving instructors from Skip Barber were on hand to make sure we saw what the limits of the car really were, and demonstrated the advantages of the paddle shift system. The paddle shift setup makes lightning-quick, crisp shifts, enabled by throttle blips to automatically match engine rpm when downshifting. The sound is so intoxicating, and the shifting so quick, that we sometimes got lost in the eight-gear sequence, one or two gears away from where we wanted to be. So it might take more than one afternoon of spirited driving to master the paddle shifter, but we can vouch that the potential is there.

We're not experts on that particular course, and only average high-performance drivers, but as the day wore on we noticed our straightaway times getting faster and faster, finally topping 105 mph. We worked on ever-shorter braking distances, but never got to the limit of adhesion, or even close. Bottom line, we could see that there was more handling, more braking, and more power in the car than some of us would have the nerve to use.

The car's weight shifts are subtle under hard braking or full throttle. A double A-arm suspension is used to maintain a stable contact patch, and materials such as high strength steel and forged aluminum are used to keep unsprung weight to an absolute minimum. Even the thicker, stiffer stabilizer bars are hollow to save weight. Combined with a spring rate 90-percent stiffer than that of the IS 350, and anti nose-dive geometry, the F shows remarkably little nose-dive or body roll when subjected to higher G-forces.

We drove mostly with the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system on. VDIM is packaged as a safety system, but also functions as a performance-enhancing system; on the race track it corrects mistakes entering corners without slowing the car more than absolutely necessary. VDIM combines traction control with braking control, using input from the steering, transmission position, and throttle. In many cases, intervention by VDIM is nearly imperceptible to the driver except for a warning beep from the dash. The system adds a forgiving layer of protection, and flatters the average driver.

Tipping the hat to hard-core performance enthusiasts, Lexus design engineers arranged for VDIM to be switchable. A driver can select a Sport setting that tells VDIM to permit faster steering, higher shift points and quicker throttle response. This might be considered the drift setting, because it permits a fair degree of wheelspin. And finally, if a driver really wants a pure, tossable, rear-wheel-drive experience, the system can be switched off entirely. So if big, smoky burnouts are your thing, or if fishtailing around the parking lot is your idea of fun, have at it. In our case, the VDIM system helped us smooth out our braking and throttle inputs and kept us glued to the ground. We're sure we entered corners harder, and left faster, with it on. So if it were up to us, we'd never turn it off.

Y-rated tires, developed specifically for the IS F, roll reasonably quietly, but are clearly designed with cornering in mind as part of a stiff wheel/tire combination. They are staggered, of two different sizes, front and rear, mounted on 10-spoke forged aluminum wheels. The front tires are 40-series, and the rear tires 35-series, so a flat or damaged tire will require a specific replacement. Two different tire brands, Bridgestone Potenza and Michelin Pilot Sport PS2, are in use on the IS F (though not on the same car), but both will have been manufactured to the same specification. The spare is a temporary tire suitable only for short distances.

The IS F is both straight-line fast, and around-corners fast and its brakes are a big part of both types of performance. At Laguna Seca, bleeding off speed coming into tight turns began at the top of the brake pedal, where there is a progressive feeling and a sense that there is always more stopping power available. When very hard stops are called for, the pedal becomes very firm well before the ABS kicks in.

The brakes themselves are drilled Brembo rotors on all four corners, with three pairs of pistons at the front, each set having a different piston diameter. Front discs are over 14 inches in diameter. The rear discs, only slightly smaller, use two piston calipers.

One revealing moment came when we tested handling on a tight series of cones. The slalom course was 50 yards long with seven cones, dripping wet with puddles. With VDIM totally disabled, we ran the course in about 4 seconds; with VDIM engaged, we were nearly a full second faster with no sliding around.

We also made some aggressive 0-60-0 acceleration-and-braking runs, on wet pavement, where we deliberately invoked the ABS. With the VDIM traction control on, the car does not spin or even wobble much upon braking, but the launch is smoother and the car attains speed quicker. With VDIM switched off, the ABS still keeps the car straight during slippery panic stops. We can attest to the fact that, at full brake, the reverse-G effect is intense enough to leave the average driver light-headed. Summary
The Lexus IS F is a fascinating car, inspiring and habit-forming. It's the kind of car that can make a driver forget about everything else. From the moment you sit in it, there is anticipation of the feelings, the sounds, and the sensations that it will soon deliver. The IS F would be a hard car to leave in the garage, especially on a weekend.

John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Monterey, California.

Model as tested
Lexus IS F
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Tahara, Japan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Mark Levinson premium surround-sound system with 300-watt advanced discrete amplifer; DVD Navigation system includes seven-inch LCD VGA touch screen, voice activation, rear back-up camera, Bluetooth

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Lexus IS F
Safety equipment (standard)
front and rear side curtain airbags; front seat-mounted side airbag; driver and front passenger knee airbags; dual-stage driver's and front passenger's airbag; child restraint seat top tether anchor brackets; direct tire pressure monitoring system; Automatic Locking Retractor (ALR) and Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR) function for all positions except driver; three-point belts for all seating positions; height adjustable front shoulder belt anchors; anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist; traction control; vehicle stability control (VSC); vehicle dynamics integrated management (VDIM)
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
5.0-liter DOHC 32-valve V8
Transmissions
8-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
10-way power leather-trimmed sport seats; heated front seats; rear seat trunk pass through; keyless entry with push-button start; rear-seat center console power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with memory; front center armrest; dust/pollen interior air filter; power windows with one-touch up/down and jam protection; power door locks with anti lock-out; retained accessory power for operation of power windows and moonroof; auto-dimming electrochromic rearview mirror with compass; cruise control; HomeLink programmable garage door opener; electronic remote trunk and fuel-filler door releases; two front, two rear cup holders; covered center console storage box; cigarette lighter; first aid and tool kits; Lexus Personalized Settings to allow settings to be tailored to owner preference; aluminum scuff plates; sound absorbing sun visors with vanity mirrors; coin holder; AM/FM/6CD with 13 speakers, high-power amplifier, MP3/iPod auxiliary audio input plug, electronic crossover network, rear glass-imprinted radio antenna and theft-deterrent design; vehicle theft-deterrent system with engine immobilizer; remote-activated illuminated entry; headlight-off delay feature; 19-inch, 10-spoke forged aluminum wheels by BBS; bi-xenon HID auto-leveling headlamps; adaptive front lighting system; fog lights; puddle lamps; electrochromic rear view mirrors with memory; top shaded/tinted glass on front windshield; ultraviolet and infrared ray reducing glass on all windows; shark fin antenna for XM satellite radio; heated outside rear view mirrors; variable intermittent rain-sensing wipers with mist cycle

Engine & Transmission
Engine
5.0-liter DOHC 32-valve V8
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
416 @ 6600
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
16/23
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist
Suspension, front
double wishbone w/coil springs, stabilizer bar
Tires
225/40R19 front; 255/35R19 rear
Suspension, rear
multi-link w/coil springs, stabilizer bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
4
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
39/54.1/43.9
Head/hip/leg room, rear
36.9/53.7/30.6

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
13.3
Wheelbase
107.5
Length/width/height
183.5/71.5/55.7
Turning circle
33.5
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
61.4/59.6
Ground clearance
4.7
Curb weight
3780


J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality 3 / 5
Overall Quality - Mechanical
5 / 5
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
3 / 5
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
5 / 5
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
5 / 5
Overall Quality - Design
3 / 5
Powertrain Quality - Design
3 / 5
Body & Interior Quality - Design
3 / 5
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
3 / 5

Overall Dependability 3 / 5
Powertrain Dependability
3 / 5
Body & Interior Dependability
3 / 5
Feature & Accessory Dependability
4 / 5

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

* The J.D. Power Ratings are calculated based on the range between the car manufacturer or car model with the highest score and the car manufacturer or car model with the lowest score. J.D. Power generates a rating of a five, four, three, or two. If there is insufficient data to calculate a rating, “Not Available” is used in its place.

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