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2022 Lexus IS Test Drive Review

Nearly all rivals of the new 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance are less expensive, and some include all-wheel drive, but not one of them offers the sonorous sound and ferocious fury of a V8 engine.

8.2 /10
Overall Score

After a substantial refresh for the 2021 model year, the 2022 Lexus IS lineup returns with a handful of minor updates and a significant improvement in performance. The new 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance also debuts this year, packing a normally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 and laugh-riot driving dynamics. We sampled the new 2022 IS 500 in the suburbs and outskirts of Phoenix, and if you’re among the driving enthusiasts who miss the discontinued Lexus GS F, this is a credible substitute.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

Nearly 15 years ago, the original 2008 Lexus IS F debuted. It had a normally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 engine good for 417 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque, fed to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The sticker price was $56,000 (not including destination charges).

Now, the 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance arrives with essentially the same recipe. Its normally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 engine cranks out 472 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, which also flows to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic. The base price is $56,500 (plus a $1,075 destination charge).

As they say, the more things change…

We have fond memories of that original Lexus IS F on a long, lonely stretch of Mojave Desert road. Similarly, a day spent hot-lapping Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in the Lexus GS F forever reserved a place for that grossly under-appreciated car in our driving enthusiast hearts. Now, a rowdy and raucous run on Arizona’s North Seven Springs Road demonstrates that the IS 500 F Sport Performance is cut from the exact same cloth, even if its comparatively modest mechanical upgrades don’t qualify it for full “F” status.

No matter, because this fantastic new version of the already impressive IS satisfies both the left and right hemispheres of your brain. An emotional thrill ride when driven hard and with enthusiasm, yet docile and obedient in daily driving situations, the IS 500 F Sport Performance delivers fun when you want it and, the rest of the time, the comfort, quality, and dependability you’ve come to expect from a Lexus.

But it doesn’t come cheaply, commanding a $13,450 premium over the Lexus IS 350 F Sport, which is a satisfying sports sedan in its own right thanks to a robust 311-hp 3.5-liter V6. And, compared to the IS 300 and its standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the IS 500 is a whopping $17,875 more expensive.

Our IS 500 F Sport Performance test car came with Premium trim and a single option: Iridium (silver) paint for $500. Including the destination charge, the price as tested was $62,575. Premium trim equips the car with triple-beam headlights, a navigation system, a surround-view monitoring system, an impressive 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system, and a power rear window shade.

The IS 500 F Sport Performance doesn’t look all that different from lesser IS models. Like the original IS F, the hood is raised to clear the V8 engine, and angled quad exhaust outlets are tucked under the back bumper. The car rides on exclusive 19-inch lighter-weight wheels and features minor trim modifications for a more stealthy and toned-down look. If you need more to draw attention to yourself than its distinctive V8 tenor and subtle styling tweaks can supply, this isn’t the right ride for you. The IS 500 is all about speaking softly but carrying a big stick.

Inside, the IS 500 F Sport Performance is identical to the IS 350 F Sport, aside from a different animation within the instrumentation when you push the engine start button. This means you benefit from an intimately sized but comfortable interior for four people, constructed of quality materials. And because Lexus added a wide touchscreen display for the infotainment system for 2021, the controls are easy to find and use. Unfortunately, the Remote Touch Interface touchpad remains on the center console, taking up valuable real estate that could be used for additional storage.

Performance

9/ 10

Lexus says the IS 500 “ushers in a new era of F Sport Performance models.” The way the automaker explains it (and we paraphrase here) the formula for F Sport Performance is F Sport plus more power.

Undoubtedly, the rear-wheel drive (RWD) IS 500 meets that standard by a long shot. The 5.0-liter V8 engine Lexus bolts into the new IS 500 F Sport Performance is the same one it used in the gone-but-not-forgotten GS F (and currently employs in both the RC F and LC 500). The 472 hp arrives at a lofty 7,100 rpm while the 395 lb-ft of torque is available starting at 4,800 rpm.

The IS 500 weighs 11 pounds less than the RC F coupe, 143 pounds less than the dearly departed GS F sedan, and 143 pounds more than an IS 350 F Sport. The added curb weight compared to the IS 350 is nearly all engine, and it does alter the weight distribution a bit, with 56% over the front wheels and 44% over the rear wheels compared to a 55:45 distribution for the IS 350.

The RC F also donates its eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission, and a limited-slip differential is standard. Driving modes include Eco, Normal, Sport S, and Sport+, each producing expected powertrain, steering, and suspension damping results. Additionally, drivers can program a Custom mode to mix and match preferred settings. Set the car up for maximum acceleration, and Lexus claims it will hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

In addition to its standard adaptive variable suspension, the IS 500 F Sport Performance comes with a Yamaha rear performance damper that “reduces dynamic structural distortion” for a more comfortable ride at lower speeds and greater stability at higher speeds. Bump isolation is remarkably good, the suspension providing a deft blend of compliance and communication without feeling too soft or firm. Lexus also upgrades the car’s brakes and improves brake cooling, and they withstood abuse in triple-digit heat.

Driving from central Scottsdale north to Carefree, Arizona, the IS 500 growled its way down city streets, wide boulevards, fast-moving freeways, and desert highways. Comfortable and easy to drive, it feels just like the IS 350 F Sport except for the plateau of the hood bulge just beyond the windshield and a throaty, seductive engine note rumbling within your eardrums. On the freeway, though, the amount of road noise is unexpected (and unbecoming) of the car.

The 5.0-liter V8 is a terrific engine, and you won’t find an eight-cylinder engine in most competitors at all, let alone at this price. But in the Normal driving mode you’ll need to wait for a moment or two for revs to build before the IS 500 begins its relentless rush to speed. Switching to Sport S or Sport S+ quickens response, but not to the expected degree.

Put the IS 500 F Sport Performance on a writhing road with either of its Sport driving modes engaged, switch to manual mode, use the paddle shifters, and prepare to fall in love.

Despite the extra heft over the front axle, this Lexus feels every bit as capable on public roads as its German-bred counterparts. Beyond that, it is just as much of a thrill ride as the GS F, but without that bigger car’s subtle loosey-goosey sensation accompanying power out of corners. And the soundtrack when you’re exploring the IS 500 F Sport Performance’s dynamic talents is utterly intoxicating. You won’t be able to get enough of it.

Our experience, brief though it was, leaves us thinking the new 2022 Lexus IS 500 is an absolute bargain. And for free thinkers willing to try something different for a change, it’s a refreshing departure from the same Audi S/RS, BMW M Sport/M, and Mercedes-AMG that everyone else either wants or already drives.

But there is something to be said for the early and broad plateaus of torque supplied by turbocharged and supercharged engines. And the IS 500 isn’t particularly fuel-efficient, averaging just 17.7 mpg during our evaluation. That figure fell short of the official EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg in combined driving.

Form and Function

7/ 10

When it comes to comfort, especially in a place like Phoenix, ice-cold air conditioning is a must, and the Lexus IS 500 delivers. Despite soaring temperatures outside, this car’s climate control system kept the cabin mighty chilly and the seat ventilation system proved effective. If you live where it’s often cold, the IS 500 also comes with seat heaters and a heated steering wheel.

The front seats are snug but quite comfortable. Equipped with bolstering that cradles your body without pinching you, the seats supply excellent thigh support and a driving position that fosters intimacy with the controls and immediacy to the task at hand. The rear seats are just accommodating enough for adults of average height. Lexus included rear air conditioning vents, but this car lacks smartphone charging for rear passengers.

Storage is good, but it could be better. The center console still has a touchpad controller taking up a bunch of space. Now that the IS has a touchscreen infotainment system, this feature is wholly unnecessary. Trunk space is small, even among compact cars. It measures just 10.8 cubic feet.

It's worth noting here that the IS has an excellent control layout. With its redesigned NX SUV, Lexus is minimizing controls and using sometimes-unclear markings for them. The IS has buttons, knobs, and clear lettering identifying their purposes. This approach, combined with the touchscreen infotainment system, is preferable.

Tech Level

10/ 10

Lexus switched to a touchscreen infotainment display for the 2021 model year, solving a serious ergonomic flaw with the IS. With separate climate and stereo controls reducing the need to interact with the system, and a home infotainment screen displaying two different kinds of content, the new arrangement makes perfect sense and also makes driving this Lexus far more satisfying.

Not only are the controls and touchscreen logical and intuitive to use, but the IS 500 Premium’s dynamic voice command system is also outstanding. It quickly and accurately handled voice queries and commands without a problem, and when we asked where the nearest hospital was, it filtered out unwanted results such as those related to veterinary facilities and general practitioners.

Standard features include an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and SiriusXM satellite radio. The car also includes connected services related to safety, a WiFi hotspot connection, and more.

In addition to the impressive voice recognition technology, which is free for 10 years, the IS 500 Premium adds a 10.3-inch touchscreen, a navigation system, and a 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system. With all settings centered, it delivers impressive sound quality.

Safety

8/ 10

Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 (LSS+ 2.5) is standard on all 2022 IS models. It is a comprehensive package of safety features including a wide range of driving assistance, collision warning, and collision-prevention technologies. As is common, some of them are helpful, some of them are irritating, and some of them are waiting in the wings to avert catastrophe.

For the most part, LSS+ 2.5 is an agreeable collection of technologies. On this particular drive, we liked the lane-departure warning system’s subtle steering wheel vibration, and the adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assistance worked well on Phoenix freeways. When you change lanes to pass slower traffic, the IS 500 responds quickly to accelerate back up to speed.

Prior to our IS 500 drive, we spent some time evaluating a Lexus IS 350 F Sport in Southern California (seen in some of the accompanying photos). This experience with LSS+ 2.5 revealed that the Curve Speed Reduction function is not predictive and can react too aggressively on the tighter S-curves of the Pacific Coast Highway. On a stretch of rural freeway without much traffic, exit ramps and on ramps confused the lane-centering system.

We also discovered that the low-speed automatic braking technology is aggravating in heavy city traffic, and specifically in situations such as when creeping forward closer to a vehicle ahead in preparation to turn left as the traffic light changes and oncoming traffic stops. On a couple of occasions, in this exact situation, the IS slammed on its own brakes surprising not only its driver but also motorists behind the car engaged in the same behavior.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Lexus IS earns the highest overall rating of “Top Safety Pick+.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the car an overall rating of five stars. And while it earns a high five-star rating for rollover resistance, the IS receives a four-star frontal-impact collision rating for the driver and front passenger.

Cost-Effectiveness

6/ 10

With the IS 500 F Sport Performance, Lexus can compete with rivals that offer more power and additional tuning yet are not outright performance cars. Essentially, F Sport Performance equates to Audi S, BMW M Sport, and the first layer of Mercedes-AMG models.

As such, the IS 500 F Sport Performance competes against the Audi S4, BMW M340i, and Mercedes-AMG C43. You can throw the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing onto this list, too, as well as the Acura TLX Type S and Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. Nearly all of them are less expensive than the Lexus, and some include all-wheel drive, but not one of them offers the sonorous sound and ferocious fury of a V8 engine.

“It is so capable that it’s a little scary,” read our post-drive notes. Of course, that’s true of a few of the IS 500 F Sport Performance’s rivals, too. And, transcribed, it means this new version of Lexus’s compact sports sedan is a fantastic driver’s car.

So crank up the Vanilla Ice and let this Lexus 5.0 roll… and roar.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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