Lexus makes excellent cars but only a select few have been truly memorable. Is the Lexus IS-F one of them?
There's an elderly gentleman that comes to my local gym regularly... I would say he's probably there every day, judging by the way he's regarded as a "local" by the gym staff.
One day I arrived in the car park at the same moment as him and his choice of car made me go "Oh but of course of he would have that", as I reversed into my spot next to him. "It makes so much sense..." You see, he got out of a pristine, ice-white Lexus IS-F.
The IS-F dates from an era when Lexus was only starting to become a little more adventurous with its product line-up, and when it was still regarded as a luxury car bought by an older demographic. The sizzling LFA would follow barely a year later to properly smash any perceptions of the brand being one-dimensional - watch a video on that car here.
The IS-F, Lexus said at the time, was the pet project of some inspired engineers which eventually got the green light. We've heard that story before but whether it's true or not, the timing was good... BMW's E90 M3 Sedan and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG (W204) were grabbing headlines. Lexus wanted a slice of the action.
To be fair, I've never been much of a fan of the styling. The standard IS was a handsome car, and the "F", which is supposedly short for "Fuji Raceway" was just pumped up, had big 19-inch wheels and, controversially, a pair of (fake) stacked exhaust outlets on either side of the rear-end.
My test car back in 2010 was dark metallic blue, which perhaps didn't suit it all that well. The elderly gent at the gym has a sparkly white one, which now, a decade later, looks pretty good indeed...
Inside, it was pretty garish if I'm being honest... the blue insert on the steering wheel (of our test unit) and the very fake-looking cabon-fibre on the transmission tunnel were eyesores then and probably still are today.
But most of the above is rendered unimportant by what's underneath the bulging bonnet. The IS-F sported a naturally aspirated 5.0L V8 that wasn't shy to rev (the red line was at 7 000rpm) and it was mated with an 8-speed "Sport Direct Shift" transmission that was almost imperceptible in the way it operated.
From around 4 000rpm the IS-F really got into its stride, and the racecar-like wail from the engine was as surprising as it was entertaining. When shifting down from higher speeds there were nice throttle blips to add further spice. I remember the transmission not being the fastest in the business (certainly not to BMW's M-DCT standards) but the IS-F delivered its brutal performance in such effortless, smooth style that I became quite enamoured with it.
And let's not forget... it was properly fast. The 311kW/505Nm V8 pushed the IS-F to 100kph in a claimed 4.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 270kph (no gentlemanly 250kph restriction in this one...).
So, it certainly had the grunt. Sadly, however, it couldn't match the dynamic sharpness of the period M3, or the sheer musclecar entertainment factor of the C63 AMG. The IS-F was a bit softer, a little "woolly" around the edges, even in Sport mode. It also lacked the overall charisma of the Audi RS4 (B7), which by then was no longer in production.
Now then... a decade later - should you consider one? I do think it's worth a look... for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's rare, even when compared with a E90 M3 Sedan or a C63 AMG. Secondly, it's a Lexus, so it's likely to be near bullet-proof in terms of reliability. And thirdly, it came with all the spec as standard, and makes for a lovely luxury car when you're not exploiting that V8... which is reason number 4.
These days you can expect to pay around R200 000 for an IS-F. For the amount of car you get, that's a steal! Maybe I'll armwrestle that gent at the gym for his...