2014 Lexus IS F sedan review: Say bye-bye to the brutally quick IS F

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.1
  • Cabin tech: 5.0
  • Performance tech: 6.0
  • Design: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The 2014 Lexus IS F's V-8 is a total hoot and pairs nicely with the eight-speed, close ratio automatic transmission. The dated tech holds up surprisingly well to modern standards.

The Bad Despite its advanced transmission, the engine is pretty old tech. Fuel economy will dip into the single digits, if you're not careful.

The Bottom Line The terrifically impractical 2014 Lexus IS F is the most un-Lexus model in the lineup, but it's an absolute thriller.

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Largely unchanged since its 2008 debut, the IS F is sort of the black sheep of Lexus' lineup. With its big, inefficient V-8 and boisterous character, it's the most un-Lexus model the automaker builds. So, I was equal parts surprised and pleased to see that the automaker was still producing it this late into the generation transition.

You see, the IS F sedan and the IS C convertible are the last of the second-generation IS models, the sedans that make up the bulk of sales have already moved on to the third-generation's awkwardly styled sheet metal. But this will be the last year that Lexus builds this beastly brute. So, as the 2014 IS F sedan left the Car Tech garage this week, I was bidding farewell to the Mighty F in more ways than one.

The IS F will be only be produced through the end of the 2014 model year. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Old tech, but not outdated
I won't spend a lot of time nitpicking the Lexus tech, because a) the tech is pretty old -- I half expected to see a cassette slot below the IS F's CD player -- and b) you no doubt want me to skip ahead to the matter of the V-8 audio system beneath the hood. Still, despite being dated, I was surprised by how serviceable, simple, and user-friendly I found the IS F's tech package, though I still wouldn't call it a "great" tech package.

The Navigation and Technology package (a $2,490 option) includes nearly every option available for the '14 IS F, starting with the HDD-based navigation. Displayed on a 7-inch color touch screen mounted low and central in the dashboard, the navigation system features traffic reporting with flow and incident data displayed on its crisp maps. The system also features voice command, allowing drivers to input destinations, but it's far from the best system that we've tested.

IS F Enform apps
Lexus' Enform app suite works surprisingly well on the IS F's simplified touch screen interface. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

You can feed the navigation system addresses, search the onboard POI database, or make use of the included Enform app suite's connection to an app running on your Bluetooth-paired smartphone to search the Web for destinations using Facebook Places, Yelp, or Bing search. Other smartphone apps integrated using Enform are Pandora and iHeartRadio streaming, and OpenTable and MovieTickets.com reservation services. The app interface is a bit sluggish, but still very easy to understand and use. Despite being integrated into an interface that's years old, it's still better than what Mercedes-Benz is doing with its newest app integration system.

Other audio sources for the Nav and Tech package include Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, HD Radio, satellite radio, and a physical bank of USB and 3.5mm analog auxiliary inputs with iPod connectivity. The system also features a CD slot for those who prefer physical media.

The standard 13-speaker audio system sounds quite good. So good, that I question why anyone would upgrade to the optional Mark Levinson 14-speaker, 300-watt Premium 7.1 Surround Sound Audio System for the additional $950. I know for a fact that the Levinson system sounds amazing, but it's going to end up competing with the high level of road and engine noise produced by this car, so I'd speculate that it's a largely wasted upgrade.

According to the specs, this system should audibly read aloud incoming SMS texts with its text-to-speech engine and auto reply with canned responses, but I never got a prompt during my week of testing.

The IS F's simple touch screen controls may look dated, but when combined with the vehicle's limited feature set, the experience ends up feeling faster and more intuitive than the confusing and inaccurate Lexus Remote Touch controller used on the newest Lexus models. The system is also quite responsive to inputs and I was able to rapidly tap addresses without slowing much.

The rest of the cabin is a sporty presentation of IS F sport seats, leather, suede, carbon-kevlar, and Alcantara as far as the eye can see. The dashboard is largely composed of the rubbery Godzilla-skin material that's pleasing enough to the eye, and there are more "F" badges than you can shake a stick at scattered around the cabin and exterior. I counted 12 without really trying.

Enform apps running on phone
The apps, hands-free calling, and audio streaming are powered by a Bluetooth-connected smartphone. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Safety tech for our example begins with the rear camera and ends with the optional front and rear audible proximity sensors (the latter is a $500 option). The rear camera overlays no trajectory lines and no visual distance markers, but casts a surprisingly sharp picture on the 7-inch dashboard screen with a good, smooth frame rate both day and night. You'd be surprised by how dim many modern rear camera systems can get at night and in the rain, but like most elements of this older IS F infotainment system, the Lexus gets the basics right and doesn't bother with the fluff.

Also available, but not equipped, is an optional forward Pre-Collision Warning System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

It's nobody's underdog
Though Lexus' top-tier sport sedan is often overlooked in favor of the German competition, the 2014 Lexus IS F is no underdog to be pitied.

Lift the bulging hood to reveal a 5.0-liter V-8 powerhouse that uses Toyota's trick of combining both port and direct fuel injection. Output here is a boastful 416 horsepower, 371 pound-feet of torque, and an unforgettable sound at full bore.

IS F engine bay
Beneath the hood is an engine cover. Beneath the cover is a simple, effective 5.0-liter V-8 engine. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

That engine is mated to an eight-speed Sport Direct-Shift transmission, essentially a traditional automatic that features a clutch that locks the torque converter in gears two through eight under hard acceleration. The driver can manually select gears with the console shift lever, or more efficiently with standard paddle shifters. As the power heads toward the rear wheels, it's split left-to-right by a standard Torsen limited-slip differential. Lamentably, no manual transmission is available, but you shouldn't look down your nose at IS F's automatic. This is no mere slushbox.

There's no ECO mode to be found, but there is a Sport button conveniently located right on the steering wheel. Pressing this button sharpens the throttle response, enlivening the engine.

The eight-speed automatic transmission is the only one available, but it is well matched to the V-8 engine. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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