Lexus IS F Model Overview

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Lexus IS F Overview

The Lexus IS series now has a big brother, the IS F. Tighten your seatbelts, friends, for it takes direct aim at the BMW M3. Yukihiko Yaguchi, former head of Lexus brand strategy, and his band of Lexus skunkworks brothers created it working on their own time. These engineers include friends at Yamaha, which has long worked with Toyota in engine development, and friends at Toyota Technocraft (they build Toyota's race cars).

The IS F is powered by an all-aluminum 5.0-liter V8 borrowed from the Lexus LS 600h L – minus the hybrid bits and plus some Yamaha goodies like new high-flow heads set up for both direct and port fuel-injection. Increased performance at the low end is achieved with both sets of injectors working, while high-rev ranges need only direct injection, thereby providing better fuel economy. With four valves per cylinder, the intake valves are titanium with sodium-filled exhaust valves and hollow camshafts. The engine is equipped with electric variable timing on the intake side and hydraulic variable valve timing on the exhaust side.

To keep the oil pump from sucking air when the IS F is pulling 0.9g through the turns, Lexus engineers developed an oil pump that scavenges oil from the cylinder heads down to the pan. A dual-inlet air intake is set up to open the secondary intake above 3,600 RPM, when the Mr. Hyde personality of this beauty takes over, breathing directly through a port opening in the enlarged lower front fascia. All of this and more produce 416 hp at 6,600 RPM, just shy of the engine's 6,800-RPM redline; that's 2 more horsepower than the new BMW M3’s V8. The 0-60 flash, depending on who you read, happens in 4.7 seconds (Motor Trend), 4.6 seconds (Lexus), or 4.2 seconds (Car and Driver).

While a few “purist” reviewers actually bemoaned the lack of a manual transmission, more progressive – read speed-minded – reviewers hailed the souped-up eight-speed automatic offered by Lexus. Picked from the LS parts bin, Lexus and Aisin jointly developed the IS F’s transmission. The standard LS gear ratios were retained, but with the addition of highly modified shifting software, the IS F can bang out shifts as fast as (and some reviewers claim faster than) the Ferrari F430’s sequential gearbox. Switch the transmission into Direct Shift mode, and the torque converter is used for all eight gears, making it like a sporty automatic – you can either paddle shift or let the transmission do it. Switch to Manual mode, and once out of first gear, the torque converter locks up for a direct connection as you work the paddle shifters through the remaining seven gears. So a cruise around town will find the transmission on its best behavior as a luxury sport shifter, but head off to the track, and you have a Formula 1 sequential shifter that can match shifts with a Ferrari.

Starting with the basic IS 350 platform, Mr. Yaguchi and his friends kept the front double control arm layout, but substituted sheet steel for aluminum and made the lower control arm bushings 20% stiffer. The spring rates and gas shocks are 90% stiffer, while the front, hollow stabilizer bar is 10% stiffer and the rear solid stabilizer thicker and stiffer than that of the IS 350. The rear five-link suspension's spring rates and shocks are 50% stiffer, with the IS F an overall 0.8 inches lower to the ground. The car achieves a 54/46 weight balance.

Steering and road feel have always been critical areas of road testing in which BMW’s deserved acclaim has frequently carried the day. Mr. Yaguchi and friends tackled this area of the IS F’s handling performance by developing a new – for Lexus – electronic steering system. The electric power rack and pinion system features speed-sensitive assist with Normal and Sport modes that tie in with the Vehicle Dynamics Integration Management (VDIM) system - the master control linking traction and stability control systems with input from the electronic throttle, transmission, ABS, electronic limited-slip rear end, and steering.

While the IS F shares the same body design with its siblings, its higher performance potential necessitated body alterations. The front track was widened an inch, and the rear track narrowed, but the body measures 0.6 inches wider to fit larger wheels, and 3.3 inches were added to the overall length of the car. The front fascia is more aggressive, with lower vents enlarged to enhance engine breathing and brake cooling. New front fenders sport large air extractor vents to further assist brake cooling. Fiberglass paneling on the underbody cleans up the airflow and reduces high-speed lift. Electronically governed to 168 mph, Mr. Yaguchi claims the IS F is good for 186 mph.

In order to stop this luxury sports rocket, the brakes have to be just as powerful. Equipped with Brembo 14.2-inch cross-drilled discs with six-piston calipers up front and 13.6-inch cross-drilled discs with twin-piston calipers in back, reviewers found it nearly impossible to abuse them into fading at the IS F's unveiling at the famed Laguna Seca race track in California.

Yet when you climb into this rocket ship’s four-seat cabin, you find Lexus luxury and quality. The layout is simple and elegant: four very supportive and comfortable bucket seats with elegant braided-aluminum composite trim on the doors and center console. Leather abounds, with black seat leather and blue stitching or white on black leather, polished and perforated alloy pedals, and a hooded instrument cluster featuring chrome-ringed instruments with white numbers on black backgrounds swept by blue pointers.

Okay, how about a ride? Push the chrome-ringed start button. The quiet burble of the specially tuned exhaust system might alert you that this is no ordinary Lexus – even for an IS. But it is only above 3,400 RPM that you’ll have no doubt that you’ve strapped into a rocket ship with leather seats. Winding Roads Magazine reported that, “The V8 engine pulls like a Union Pacific locomotive from idle to its 6,800-rpm redline.”

Lexus took reviewers to Laguna Seca to show them how the IS F handles. One reviewer pointed out that a race course is the only place where the full potential of the IS F can be safely experienced. For three years, Lexus worked at the IS F’s handling and ride qualities. They did extensive testing at the Fuji Speedway in Japan, in Europe, especially at the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife in Germany, and at race courses in California.

The IS F does not disappoint. Set the VDIM system to Normal and you have a comfortable ride - though a bit firmer than the ordinary plush Lexus ride - in a sports sedan that shifts efficiently for all your normal driving needs and is powered by a quiet Lexus V8.

Select Sports mode, though, and it’s rocket time. The steering becomes more “road engaging” with a heavier feel and more sensitivity to road conditions. The electronic throttle reaction times are faster, but most of all the transmission transforms into a Formula 1 gearbox, banging shifts away at higher revs faster than most humans can flick a gear shift. The stability and traction control systems are more forgiving, allowing you to hang that tail out a little longer than in Normal mode. You can also shut most of the systems – except for the ABS – off and try seat-of-the-pants driving, but Lexus claims that faster lap times are achievable in Sport mode. Grip registers 0.91 g. The brakes are up to whatever you can handle on the track – 60-0 mph comes up in 106 feet. The engine also does a character transformation above 3,400 RPM, bellowing a wicked roar as the revs soar and scenery blurs. There’s a beep at 6,400 RPM, reminding you to hit the paddle shifter for an upshift, while downshifts automatically blip the engine on the way to engaging – try downshifting to a gear that’s too low, and you’ll get a double beep warning.

Reviewers seem unanimous in their praise of the IS F’s handling and differ only in degree as to how successful a challenge to the BMW M3 it presents. They are all salivating at a chance to do a back-to-back comparison test of these uber sports sedans. There is little doubt that the Lexus IS F is a car that needs to be tested against the BMW M3, the Audi RS4, and the Mercedes C63 AMG.