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Toyota's Answer to The German Sports Sedan: Lexus IS-F

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

F is the letter Toyota designated to a special project in the late 80s which would become the Lexus LS400; Toyota's foray into the luxury auto market. Some 20 years later that letter "F" would mean something else as it denoted performance vehicles sold under the Lexus marque for the first time ever.

Enter the mid-2000s, BMW and Mercedes Benz along with Audi were having success with souped-up versions of their entry-level sedans. The M3 is at the forefront and defining the category, Lexus engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi and a small team decided to focus on their new IS platform to create something special. Having worked on the Toyota Supra, Yaguchi, and his team used a test mule with a 1UR-FE out of other V8 Lexus products and later tuned the suspension on the world-renowned Fuji International Speedway.

Debuting alongside the Lexus LFA concept, the team at Lexus was able to shoehorn the 2UR-GSE 5-liter V8 that made 420 HP under its bulging hood. As with most of Toyota's best products, Yamaha had its hand at tuning the engine and designing special parts like the intake that added power to the otherwise smooth-running UR-series engine. The naturally aspirated power plant was able to also muster up 371 lb-ft of torque and send it through one of the first 8-speed automatic transmissions on the market. The transmission featured steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, fast shift times, and Toyota durability; the combination of this drivetrain was good enough for a 0-60 of 4.5 seconds, a quarter mile time of 12.9, and a top speed of 170 MPH.

Beneath the new sheet metal cues that featured a bulging hood to accommodate the V8, air ducts to cool down the go-fast bits, and faux-exhaust tips to denote the sporty nature; the IS-F is a fairly astute handling car for a 3800 lb luxury sedan. Having a 0.5-inch drop in ride height, Brembo brakes, and a sport version of the Lexus stability control suite; this 4-door rocket was able to handle the curves too. Later models from 2010 and on featured a Torsen limited-slip differential which is a shame for earlier adopters of this car, but nonetheless, it made quite an impression with enough buyers that it will most likely be a cult icon later down the road.

I have such a great attraction to this car, it is the first purposely built sport sedan by Toyota period! We can go back and look at some 2JZ-equipped 4-door models that were accidentally quick, but not one that can turn numbers around a track or a back road from the factory showroom floor. As an underdog, the naturally aspirated V8 made up for its power deficits with character; a notable growl at any RPM, and fairly high-revving tendencies. It is a shame that V8-equipped MB and BMW cars were more popular but the IS-F will be known for the sporty vehicles Lexus has churned out ever since, with the GS-F, RC-F, and LC 500 all being as fun to drive as they are comfortable on a highway cruise.

This example I found at the DuPont Registry's Cars and Coffee at Davis Island was the perfect introduction to the IS-F. It's a white clean slate, it seems to be completely stock, and the owner's participation leads me to believe they really love their car. Understated by today's standards, it would be fairly easy to overlook this car on your morning commute; it might be your answer if you're looking for a gentleman's sport sedan under $40k used... from my recent track day they also seem to handle that line of work easily as well.


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