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2022 Lexus IS 500 first drive review: Rethinking expectations

The Lexus IS 500 is a competent performance car, but don't expect an IS F revival.

The IS 500 definitely flies under the radar.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

"Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance" might not roll off the tongue quite as nicely as "Lexus IS F," but there's a lot to be said for truth in advertising. Despite a number of similarities in design and execution, the new IS 500 is not a direct successor to the beloved IS F sold from 2007 to 2014. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends on your priorities.

Like the IS F, the new IS 500 F Sport Performance is the result of Lexus shoehorning its 5.0-liter V8 under the hood of its compact IS sedan. This engine is indeed the same 2UR-GSE V8 from the original IS F, as well as the subsequent GS F sedan and RC F coupe. In this application, the engine is tuned to produce 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque, sending that power exclusively to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The V8's behavior is very familiar. Peak horsepower and torque arrive at 7,100 rpm and 4,800 rpm, respectively, meaning you really have to dig into the throttle to keep this engine on boil. And you'll know when you're in the heart of the powerband because the V8's aural quality changes drastically. Send that tachometer needle up above 3,500 rpm and that big 5.0-liter lets you know it's ready to party. Launching the IS 500 from a stop, 60 mph should arrive in 4.4 seconds.

The big 5.0-liter V8 makes 472 horsepower.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

At lower revs, the IS 500's V8 is pretty sedate, which makes it a peach for driving around town or cruising on the highway. The tail doesn't wag the dog here; the 5.0-liter engine never feels like it needs to be reined in. Similarly, the eight-speed automatic transmission is nicely behaved, never jumping around or downshifting inappropriately in an attempt to eke out unnecessary rowdiness. You can enjoy the confident V8 power without looking like a chotch if you decide to pull away from a stoplight with gusto.

Problem is, when you do want to loosen up the IS 500's collar and have some fun, it kind of falls apart. As smooth as the transmission is in normal driving, it's way too slow and sloppy during spirited runs, even when switching to the Sport S or Sport S Plus driving modes. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters help a little, letting you choose your own adventure, but upshift and downshift commands take a while to register. Overall, this powertrain genuinely doesn't feel like it wants to be hustled.

The rest of the IS 500 is a similar story. The suspension's adaptive dampers keep this sedan beautifully composed over bumps and highway expansion joints, but the IS 500 leans and rolls when cornering hard. The steering has nice heft to its action, yet it's totally devoid of feedback. The large 14.0-inch front and 12.7-inch rear brakes are easy to modulate but quickly fade after a brief run up my favorite canyon road. The only thing about the IS 500 that really stands out is its limited-slip rear differential, which quickly and accurately moves power laterally between the back wheels, keeping that playful rear-drive feeling alive while culling oversteer through fast turns.

A new touchscreen makes the IS' infotainment system easier to use.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Like any good Lexus, the IS 500 is rock solid on the road -- smooth and comfortable, like it could eat up miles for hours. The seats are plush and the cabin is super quiet, and this sedan comes with a whole bunch of standard driver-assistance tech, including lane-departure warning, full-speed adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, parking assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

A 10.3-inch touchscreen handles infotainment duties, so you don't have to rely on Lexus' horrific touchpad anymore. However, the Enform multimedia system still leaves a lot to be desired, with a confusing menu structure and low-res graphics, and like a lot of Toyota/Lexus products, the IS' low-res backup camera is one of the worst you can buy today. Happily, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are included (though not wirelessly), as is a Wi-Fi hotspot. The IS 500 Premium comes standard with Lexus' awesome 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, too, so feel free to crank out those jams.

Overall, the IS 500's interior isn't really any different than what you'll find in a less-powerful IS 300 or IS 350, save for the standard F Sport logos and some more heavily bolstered seats. The IS 500 doesn't look all that different on the outside, either, with the only dead giveaways being the unique set of 19-inch wheels, small black decklid spoiler and those super cool quad exhausts -- another IS F throwback touch.

Those quad exhaust pipes are a throwback IS F touch.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

All of this goes back to my original point: The IS 500 is not a full-fledged sport sedan like the IS F, nor is it a proper rival to performance cars like the Audi RS5 Sportback, BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C63. It's simply an IS with a bigger engine, though the 500's discounted pricing appropriately reflects this. Lexus is asking $57,575 (including $1,075 for destination) for a 2022 IS 500, which drastically undercuts those German competitors, especially considering all the aforementioned multimedia and driver-assistance tech comes standard on the reasonably priced $62,075 Premium model. The IS 500 also has the great fit and finish and proven reliability that are Lexus hallmarks, and there's a lot to be said for the increasingly rare allure of a V8-powered compact sedan.

On its own, the IS 500 isn't a bad car. It just can't match the performance of its key rivals and doesn't hold a candle to its forebear, either. But then again, Lexus deliberately made the choice to forgo the IS F nomenclature, as if to admit the IS 500 isn't quite there. Of course, that also theoretically leaves the door open for a proper, full-fledged IS F in the future. Here's hoping Lexus pushes this car's performance envelope a little more.