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

From a standing start to 60 mph happens in about 4.6 seconds before the IS F continues to its 170 mph top speed. The sedan is perfectly sedate at sane speeds, but it seems happiest in the upper reaches of its speedo. On more than a few occasions, I glanced down at the speedometer only to be surprised by the triple-digit velocity that greeted me.

While it's doing this, the IS F chugs its fuel tank like a keg at a frat party. The EPA reckons a 23 mpg rating on the highway, 16 in the city and 18 combined, but my trip computer hovered at about 10 mpg for most of the week. With more restraint than I've had to exercise in a long time and more than a few highway miles, I was able to raise the average to 16.5 mpg by week's end. You could do better, but its so much more fun not to.

Widebody styling

Surrounding that engine is a second-generation IS body that has been visibly widened. Not only is the sheet metal wider, the IS F's track is also 1 inch wider on the front axle when compared to the second-generation IS and new 2014 IS 350 F-Sport. The rear track is, curiously, 0.8 inch narrower than the standard IS, but I've a feeling that the F's much wider rear tires and wheels make up the difference in the already pretty wide rear stance.

Speaking of wheels, the IS F rides on 19-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels manufactured by BBS with a staggered fit. The fronts are 8.5 inches wide and shod in 225-width sticky summer tires; the rears are 9.5 inches wide and wrapped with 255s.

The Lexus' fenders have been flared to fit the wider wheels and wider track. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Brembo-sourced brakes fill the wheels with 14.2-inch drilled and ventilated discs gripped by six-piston aluminum calipers and high-friction brake pads up front, and a similar setup with 13.6-inch discs at the rear.

The suspension is fixed, non-adaptive or adjustable, and quite firm. However, the ride isn't punishing. This may be a hardcore sport sedan, but it's still got a Lexus badge on its nose. Though I was bounced around the cabin quite a bit by the roughest, most cracked roads and highways of Oakland, Calif., the vehicle didn't seem to mind the bumps. Rattles and creaks were basically a non-issue.

Helping to keep me in place over the bumps and, more importantly, around fast turns are the deeply bolstered IS F sport seats. They're supportive and not exactly uncomfortable for long hauls, but the stiff ride and the firm grip of the seats around my 5'9", broad-shouldered frame were definitely added incentive to get where I was going as quickly as possible. I'm not complaining -- a firm ride is welcome for a sport special edition like this.

Heated surfaces for both front buckets, and three-position motorized memory for the driver's seat add a touch of Lex-luxe. Push button start and keyless entry are also nice touches.

Japanese V-8 muscle
At one end of the Toyota Motor Corporation's sports car spectrum stands the Toyota FT-86, better known as the Scion FR-S. It's lightweight, a bit underpowered, but is almost universally loved by auto-journos for its laser accurate handling and neutral, tossable chassis.

The Lexus IS F is the anti-FR-S. It's a big, heavy sedan. It's just a hair overpowered and embarrassingly loud. And while I wouldn't go so far as to call the double-wishbone and independent-multilink suspension "imprecise," the IS F is a car that you steer as much with the throttle as you do with the wheel.

I'll catch flak for calling the IS F a 'muscle car' but those are the first words that spring to mind when the V-8 roars. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Though civil when treated to legal speeds with a light foot, the IS F's V-8 comes alive with a noticeable increase in its growl when I laid into the accelerator and let the tachometer needle swing above about 3,500 rpm. Keeping the pedal pressed, I noticed a series of amber segments light up behind the tach as the needle continues toward the upper reaches of the engine's range before flashing a bright red shift light near the redline.

Grab the paddle shifter marked with the plus-sign to fire off an upshift as quick and as sharp as any dual-clutch transmission I've ever tested. With eight speeds to choose from, there's a lot of shifting that happens during a quick 0 to 100 run, so it's a good thing that they're all lightning quick. Downshifts, though not always as smooth, are met with a quick blip of the electronic throttle.

The meaty tires and sorted suspension afford the IS F plenty of grip around most bends and when launching in a straight line, but not so much that you can't light up the rears from a standing start, or slide the rear end around with a heavy right foot. There are three levels of traction control: Default On will keep you from spinning your new IS F off of that on-ramp you've taken way to quickly, TRAC Off lets the rear end get a bit loose before stepping in and saving you from a total spin, and Full Off lets you take your life into your own hands.

Shifts called upon by the steering wheel's paddles are quick and sharp. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The IS F's ability to break its rear end loose adds a slightly imprecise nature to driving the Lexus fast. Combined with all of the noise from the engine, the speed pouring on so effortlessly, and all of the tiny corrections you'll need to make as the sedan tries to get away from you, the IS F is a bit scary. Not a "fear for your life" kind of scary, but a "haunted house" scary that leaves your heart pumping and puts your senses on edge.

It's terrifically impractical, but the IS F is an absolute thriller.

Oft-overlooked, but never outgunned
When explaining the IS F to friends, it's often easier to call it the automaker's M3 fighter, but a more compelling analogy is the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG or, better still, the Chrysler SRT-8. These three models are all based on biggish sedans and earn their speed with the tried-and-true muscle car formula: Keep adding power until your face hurts from grinning. Though I'm also guilty of overlooking the IS F during its stay in Lexus' fleet, I'm sad to see it go.

Only, it's not really going, is it? The freshly announced 2015 Lexus RC F is essentially the spiritual successor, but with two fewer doors. Indeed the sports coupe will keep the IS F's 5.0-liter V-8 and eight-speed automatic powertrain intact, but with more power. If you're in love with the second-generation IS sedan chassis, the 2014 IS F is your last shot at it. Otherwise, perhaps you'd do better to wait a while for the RC.

2014 Lexus IS F
Farewell, IS F. You will be missed. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Our 2014 IS F starts at $63,350, adds $2,490 for the navigation and tech package, and $500 more for the audible parking sensors. With destination charges and floor mats, our as-tested price settles at $67,419. For within a few hundred dollars, you could also have a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan or a BMW M3 (provided that you don't get carried away with the options). While I won't try to tell you which of the three is the "better car" -- my inbox is already full of fanboy hatemail, thanks -- I will say that the IS F has certainly earned the right to stand eye-to-eye with these two performance giants. Let's also not forget that for thousands less, a fully loaded Chrysler 300 SRT-8 is also a fantastic value for enthusiasts of big, silly V-8s.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Lexus IS F
Trim n/a
Powertrain 5.0L V-8, eight-speed automatic transmission, limited-slip differential, RWD
EPA fuel economy 16 city, 23 highway, 18 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy 16.5 mpg
Navigation HDD-based with traffic, optional
Bluetooth phone support Yes, with SMS text-to-speech
Disc player single slot CD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection, Bluetooth audio streaming
Other digital audio SiriusXM satellite radio, Entune Internet radio apps
Audio system 13-speaker Lexus audio
Driver aids Optional rear camera, front and rear distance sensors
Base price $63,300
Price as tested $67,419

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