The 2010 Lexus IS F remains a sleeper.
Not because it can't blow the doors off most sport sedans: It can.
But it's a sleeper because it's still very early in its life, and no one associates Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury brand with a true performance brand: They should.
In fact, it's an absolute hoot to drive. The first performance Lexus, introduced in 2008, is surgical in its precision. Every detail feels exact and plush.
For this model year, Lexus has even bumped up its offerings, including things like the first direct shift eight-speed automatic, a Torsen limited slip differential and connectivity for the driver's iPod or other personal music device. The additions improve the car's capabilities and its user friendliness, which make them exactly the kinds of things you want to add. Of course, the new 19-inch tire package is pretty nice too.
My Matador Red test vehicle might as well have come with neon signs that screamed, "Pull me over, officer," as this car looks almost as fast as it goes.
The 5-liter V-8 cranks out 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque at an incredible pace. But this is not a car in which Lexus just threw in a big V-8 and hoped for the best. The engine is refined and very high-tech.
Lexus included direct-to-port fuel injection, an electronic throttle system, dual air intake system that adjusts airflow depending on how hard the engine is running and a scavenge pump that forces oil into the cylinders even if the car is taking corners that surpass 1 G of force. These are serious, high-tech pieces that all play to this car's look and feel.
There's also the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system that can transfer power through the rear axle to one wheel or the other and limit an inside tire from spinning too much through a turn. The VDIM also allows a driver to select the type of performance he or she wants -- normal, sport or snow -- and the vehicle adjusts accordingly.
When you use the manual direct shift to feel all that torque, the car will make you laugh out loud it is so quick. In automatic mode, the car quickly clicks through its gears with hardly a noticeable shift. It even sounds incredibly smooth. Of course, having eight gears at my disposal was even more interesting because if I were in manual mode and on the highway, I often found myself in sixth or seventh gear and never thought to push it to eight -- the transmission equivalent of Nigel Tufnel's speaker that goes to 11.
But maybe this car has an 11 mode, as it always seems to respond faster than you expect. The independent suspension provides a sporty ride, which means you can feel lots of bumps, but there's very little road or wind noise inside the car. The only thing you hear often is the sweet rumble of the engine.
In every way, the car's performance matches its looks, which are aggressive and mean -- and very unLexus-like.
The exterior plays off the trapezoidal-shaped front and rear fascia. The lines all around the car are sharp and well-defined. While most Lexus vehicles tend not to stand out in the parking lot, the IS F begs people to take a closer look. From the rear, double, double-stacked exhaust defusers (there are two on each side) add to the car's muscular looks. The rear spoiler is discreet and adds to the car's mystique, as people in the know will wonder what's under the hood to have a car like this need a spoiler.
The car's interior is just as nice. The racing seats hold you in very snugly, and the space inside feels like a performance cockpit. Lexus uses lots of aluminum trim throughout the cabin instead of silver plastic that only looks like aluminum. The difference is noticeable and appreciated.
Like other luxury carmakers with a performance badge, Lexus decorates the car with lots of F logos.
While this car keys on performance, with everything from big brakes (14.2-inch front rotors) and taut electric power steering, it never skips the luxury side of the equation either. There are the expected features such as push-button start and passive unlocking, which allows you to unlock the car by pulling on the door handle with the key still in your pocket.
There are the other features, such as 10-way power adjustable seats and dual climate zones as well as a 13-speaker stereo system and the USB connectivity for your music player or for keeping your iPhone 4 fully charged. There's also an optional 14-speaker Mark Levinson package that includes a navigation system and the Lexus Enform with Destination Assist, which connects the driver to an agent who can assist him or her.
The one area the IS F lacks is space. While the front two passengers have plenty of room -- there's nearly 44 inches of leg room -- the second row barely has 30 inches of space for your legs. Additionally, the race seats may hold you in nicely during tight corners, but they also tend to squeeze you too much on straightaways.
Really, this car comes down to its driving. It bites through corners and begs you to go faster. Late at night, when no one else is on the road, you say to yourself, I wonder what this car can really do?
But then, after pressing down on the gas and feeling the car instantly respond with throaty acceleration, you lift your foot off the pedal. This car is scary fast and you know it. There's no reason to test any limits tonight; maybe tomorrow.
The IS F may be a sleeper right now. But eventually people will learn. They always do.
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