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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.
Old tech, but not outdated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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Model||2014 Lexus IS F|
|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|
|Price as tested||$67,419|