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2011 Lexus IS F Overview
The 2011 Lexus IS F just looks fast. Even before you find out about its 416-hp, 5.0-liter all-aluminum V8 engine, for instance, you’ll see the raised hood that belies the beast beneath. Its half-inch lowered stance announces a sport-tuned suspension, which allows it to tackle corners with a ferocity unmatched by its IS 250/350 stablemates, and its 19-inch wheels make every attempt to fill out the remaining wheel well space. It’s aggressive, it’s attractive, and it’s very capable.
But it wasn’t enough. Now just four years since its arrival, chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi has decided to make some much-needed changes. Spurred by complaints regarding the suspension and handling, Yaguchi endeavored to finally plant the rear of the IS F, hoping to avoid the high-speed lunacy the car tended to develop in hard cornering. For 2011, that means revised and tweaked spring rates and dampening front and back, new high-performance valves, as well as new rear bushings and adjusted rear camber angle. The change is drastic and impressive, improving both turn-in and braking composure and maintaining level stability through the turn. It manages to achieve exactly what Yaguchi hoped. You absolutely will stay planted in the most serious corners, but you’ll also have your bell rung with every ridge and ripple along the way. An expected sacrifice for purposeful performance, but it’s a compromise that isn’t as evident in competitive offerings like the BMW M3 and Audi RS4.
Brakes are a similar story. It’s hard to argue with six-piston Brembo calipers up front biting down on cross-drilled rotors, with two-piston rears as a complement. On paper, it’s beautiful. In the real world, hard braking can induce a disconcerting pedal vibration that just shouldn’t be tolerated in a car at this level.
Similar attention was paid to the electronic steering, and that at least was an unqualified success. What really needs attention, however, is the gearbox. The world’s first eight-speed automatic is a wonderful achievement, and paddle shifters add a lot to the fun factor, but not enough. With eight gears, the transmission never really seems to settle down, and constant gear changes constantly annoy. And where’s the manual option?
At least the engine is right. With 417 hp at 6,600 rpm coupled with 371 lb-ft of torque, this all-aluminum, DOHC, variable-valve timed, direct-injected V8 is a beautiful thing. That it’s shoehorned into a proper rear-wheel-drive sports car only makes it better.
The interior got some attention as well, with a redesigned cluster that now features a centrally located tach with a new shift indicator for driving in manual mode that will show orange then red as the engine passes 5,000, 5,500 and 6,500 rpm, just 100 rpm short of redline.
In all, Lexus has done a lot to make the 2011 IS F a driver’s car. And it is. The problem is it’s just not refined enough, not precise enough, not perfect enough. These are small complaints to be sure, but complaints that can be made when competitors do so much better.
No, the IS F is not ready to take on the M3, the RS4, or the Mercedes C63 AMG, but it’s getting there. And there’s no question the issues are well within the ability of Lexus to fix. The Germans had better look out: There’s a little Japanese sports car nipping at their heels.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.