Lots of car makers have hot hatches, racing specials and rally teams and it has to be said that there are varying degrees of success in the products. Some are so hard core that they rattle your teeth loose on anything but a billiard table, and others promise so much but like a dud date, deliver much less. It also has to be said that when you think of Lexus, speed and demon are not words that come to mind. However, the ISF is heart thumpingly good. If you’re not excited by this car, then perhaps you should check your pulse in case you died recently and didn’t notice.
I picked up the ISF from Lexus’ head office but the first turn gave me a frightful scare. I kept chirping the tyres as I went round the roundabout at their front gate. As gently pressed my foot down to exit the roundabout like any normal person would do, but must accidentally selected Warp Drive instead of Impulse because in a micro-jiffy I was rocketing towards the 70kph speed camera. It was a scary few seconds and although I didn’t get a nice 100kph portrait courtesy of the money-grubbing NSW government, I gained a big dose of respect for the Lexus. After all who would have thought that a conservative brand like Lexus would stick a slightly mad V8 into a teensy medium sized body? Mind you it’s not exactly a lightweight at nearly 1700k’s, but the 311kw 5L engine will rocket you to 100 in 4.9 seconds. Mind you, you’ll be visiting the fuel bowser fairly frequently if you start that sort of nonsense because careful city driving . The city fuel figures rise to 18 or 19 L/100k if you’re not very careful. The 11 L/100k combined seems a bit hopeful in my opinion.
Note the quad chrome exhaust extensions-for show only
Lexus track demo LED running lights
The kick plate-no LED backlighting This key need never leave your pocket
The IS F really is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. The mild mannered IS is the entry level for Lexus, but as we said in the IS250c review a few months ago, entry level for Lexus means luxury inclusions the likes of BMW and Mercedes Benz only dream of. The list of optional extras in the oppositions’ offerings reads like War and Peace, but it’s the ISF’s bling that really catches your eye. It has wheels the size of the moon and more pipes round back than an old Whurlitzer. It’s low and mean and the sound is utterly magnificent. The clever little Japanese put a valve somewhere deep inside the bowels that’s closed normally but as the V8 gets to 3,000 rpm, it opens and the glorious rumble becomes and angry, loud and slightly evil roar. You can feel it in your inner sanctum as you’re pushed deeply into your seat. It’s magnificent. It has different tail lights to the standard IS’s but frankly you only have to hear the exhaust to know it’s the mega-hot fully-pimped bling-mobile. Some people hate the way the Is looks and others love it. I must confess I wasn’t a lover of the styling when it first came out but I’ve come to really love it.
Inside there are hip hugging sport seats and an “F” dash board with digital speedo. The steering wheel is where you find the “sport” button which makes things a bit hard core, but for my money I’d leave it off. Apart from that it gets all the standard IS gadgets like radar guided cruise control and a fabulous Levinsen audio system. The leather is soft and supple and the ambience, like the other IS’s we’ve driven, is one of luxury and refinement. The Satnav is easy to use but you can’t cancel the navigation. Instead you have to delete the destination which seems bizarre considering the technical expertise in Japan. There are touches of metal, carbon fibre and leather throughout but I just loathed the nasty dollar-store digital clock. It looks like something from a 1970’s swatch watch, and not in a funky kind of way either. Inexplicably Lexus have put these into all the IS’s. You can see it just below the SATNAV screen. Why not put it in any of the other LCD screens as a graphic? The scuff plates on the door sills miss out on the LED backlighting from the other IS models which is a bit of a shame.
One thing I particularly liked was the “3 click” principle behind navigation through the infotainment system. Nothing was hard to find and the main functions are selected directly via buttons either side of the main screen. It’s beautifully laid out and very easy to use.
Great layout. Note the chintzy $2 clock just below the main LCD screen.
The ISF is limited to a stratospheric 270kph but who in their right mind is going to drive a car on Australian roads at that speed regardless of the number of highway patrols. The first pot-hole would break you and the car. Even on a track day you’re unlikely to get there. I suppose the real question is would you really thrash a 130k car the same way as you would a 30k hot hatch? I rather doubt it. Just like “off roaders” that never leave the road, hard core road going track cars never see a track. Having said all this the ISF is still easy to drive around town which is where it will see most of its action. The steering delightfully precise but on rough inner city roads the firm suspension could do with a soft setting.
Like all cars with manual paddles, you get over it after the first few minutes. You’ve paid thousands for an auto transmission so you may as well let it do the work. There is a rather excessive 8 speeds for the car to choose from but this seems to be the trend.
Much is made of the minutiae in car reviews.How often have you heard someone say “but that car is a few seconds faster to 100kph”. If you have everything you want in a car, how much more do you need? You would need to pay Bugatti an extra $1,400,000 if you want an extra 8 cylinders and get to 100kph a few seconds quicker. You would have to pay Rolls Royce an extra $900,000 to get extra space in the back. At some stage excess just seems a bit, well, excessive. It makes sense to me to take your million dollars, buy the ISF and spend the $900,000 change on a place to live.
So to answer the ISF/M3 question is: do you need to spend and extra $30,000 over the ISF for nebulous claims of minute handling differences? Because the truth is you’ll never take it to a track will you?