In a car combining luxury and performance, we find a rival for Mercedes-Benz AMG and BMW M class.
2011 Lexus IS F
The Lexus IS F has already been on sale in Japan since 2007 and in Europe and the US since 2008. Finally the UAE can experience the first genuine performance Lexus.
After getting feedback from car enthusiasts who were not typical Lexus buyers, Toyota's premium brand set about creating a car that not only offered awesome performance but offered an emotional connection between driver and car. In other words, the plan is for this to be a Lexus with soul.
In the premium performance sector, Mercedes-Benz's AMG line-up and the BMW M series have turned on consumers in a way that has so far eluded Lexus.
This is the basis for the IS F, several steps above the countless IS models you see on the motorways. The 3.0L V6 in the base model has 228hp, while the V8 in the IS F has 417; the V6 churns out 300Nm of torque while the IS F has 505 - in short, the company is not kidding around. This is a car that loves to go fast.
It is easy to compare it with the quick and slick Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG - both are performance saloons with a sporty exterior style that is not obviously aggressive until you hear the delightful rumble of the engine, and an interior that serves as a constant reminder that this is a car for people who care about power and performance.
Although it is not quite in the same league as the C63 AMG, with its 6.2L V8 engine, 457hp and 600Nm of torque, it is easy to see that Lexus may have got some of its inspiration from the Stuttgart savage. And, at Dh299,000, the IS F is that little bit more affordable than dropping Dh338,274 on the C63.
Both cars are rear-wheel-drive, both cars have brakes that are designed to take punishment and both cars look like a family saloon that has taken a few angry pills, albeit washed down with a glass of subtle.
The angular headlights, gorgeous mesh grille and quad tailpipes of the IS F hint as to what lies beneath without being too in your face.
This sportiness carries through to the interior of the IS F, especially if you go for the orange-and-black interior, which has the potential to be boy racer-awful but is very pleasing. This combination gives much more character than the all-black or bland black-and-grey interior. The much improved interior is made even better by a stunning carbon fibre centre console and door trims, leather seats that are styled on racing seats (without causing lumbago) and the deep-pile carpet that is rapidly becoming standard across all high-end vehicles.
Exterior colours err on the side of sober, although the black's metallic sheen looks great under a sunny Dubai sky. The boldest colour available for the IS F is a stunning lapis lazuli blue.
The performance matches the good looks. The eight-speed transmission has lockup in all but the first gear, giving more direct and crisp shifts and more efficient torque delivery - meaning, better acceleration. There is also the option of changing gear yourself via the stylish metal paddle shifters or using the shifter.
This Lexus has a considerably higher fun factor than others that have come before. It grips the road well - but with just enough of a hint of oversteer on sharp bends to keep you interested, even with the traction control turned on.
When you hit the road, you will find yourself driving with a smile on your face, but with useful stuff like a proper backseat, roomy boot, excellent reversing camera and sat nav, climate control and stereo that are dead simple to use, it's a fairly practical everyday car, too.
There were just two little glitches that I'd like to see fixed up for the 2012 model. The first was the layout of the dials. In the middle is a huge tacho - and while it is fun to watch the blue needle fly up as you put your foot down in low gear - this is at the expense of the visibility of the speedometer. There is a digital speedo in the corner of the tacho but the analogue speedo is really small and, if you have your steering wheel in a certain position, you can't see the needle until you go above 100kph. Granted, I spent a lot of time in this car going faster than 100kph, but in the interests of minimising speeding fines, a clearer speedometer would be handy.
Also, the credit card-style key highlighted a subtle difference between men and women. Neil Vorano, my editor, thought it was pretty cool - a slick card that could slip into a wallet rather than another chunky key to clog up his pocket. But women seldom put keys in pockets (it ruins the line of your jeans) and instead toss them into handbags. This card-style key doesn't have a little loop on the end so it can be attached to a keyring. As a result, I was constantly a little paranoid that the key, which looks a lot like my phone, would vanish in my Tardis-like bag.
But these two glitches are easily fixed and the IS F is easily the most fun I've ever had in a Lexus.
This will do well in the UAE. Lexus has been a tremendous success here and there are still enough people willing to pay for the top-of-the-line performance version of their current IS instead of getting ridiculous - or illegal - modifications.
Lexus is certainly closer towards achieving a car with soul. That is what it wants so badly from its products and the IS F has set a new standard that could draw fresh fans to the brand.
Price base / as tested Dh299,000 / same
Engine 5.0L V8
Gearbox eight-speed automatic
Power 417hp @ 6,600 rpm
Torque 505Nm @ 5,200 rpm
Fuel economy, combined 13L/100km