The new Lexus IS-F impresses as a top performance luxury car in our Road Test this week.
Road Test: 2013 Lexus IS-F
I have to love the guys and girls at Lexus for their determination. No matter how rude I am about the cars they represent, they simply keep on giving, possibly hoping I'll find the right one: a Lexus I can say actually appeals to me; one that I can recommend readers try out for themselves because it offers something over rivals from Europe. And do you know what? I think I've finally found it.
The IS-F is not a new car. Rather, it's been given a bit of a mid-life refresh and it's still something of an enigma in the land of Japanese luxury automobiles. While the Middle East and the USA has fallen hook, line and sinker for the brand, the IS-F is still a rare sight and that's possibly because it goes against what the company's products are normally all about. Perhaps that's why I like it so much.
I tested the original in Spain in 2007, on a technical, challenging racetrack, and I can recall being extremely impressed by its turn of speed and its willingness to oversteer with the slightest provocation. I remember it sounding great and feeling genuinely well built. But I also recall feeling that, while Lexus had tried its best to build a BMW M3-beater, it had failed. Because the IS-F still felt a bit agricultural - its brakes squealed, its ride was unreasonably harsh and there was a propensity for understeer when you really got going on track. As an overall package it was all a bit confused.
What a difference five years of fiddling around can make, though. For here I am, dissecting the differences between this new model and the one I drove on a blustery day in Spain, and while you'd need to be a forensic scientist to spot most of them, they're there alright, and they come together to make the IS-F what is always thought it was: a genuine M3 or AMG alternative.
Let's skip the looks - they don't offend but, when I picked up a work colleague this morning, she said she thought it was a Hyundai. Not that there's anything wrong with that these days, but it doesn't have the cache of its German rivals when it comes to appearances. Inside, however, the evolution is clear, and there's no mistaking this for anything built in South Korea.
The trim does a good job of imitating lacquered, silvery carbon fibre and the leather upholstery feels wonderfully supple. Nothing looks cheap, but the fingertip controls still feel a bit nasty - apart, that is, from the excellent steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles. An enormous rev counter dominated the central gauges, with a comparatively tiny speedo to its right, showing the IS-F's intention of being a drivers' car above all else.
Fire it up and there's a delicious woofle from the twin-stacked exhaust pipes and this gruff sound never lets up. Even at a gentle cruise of 120kph the revs are barely touching 2,000rpm and that deep bass thrum is still present. It doesn't dominate, it's simply there in the background; a reassurance that, should you need them, there are 417 horses ready to break free at any moment. And, when you do set them loose, that distant rumble becomes a full-on roar that makes anyone in the car grin like an idiot.
As that nape-tingling noise reaches a crescendo, the IS-F is practically flying. The gathering of speed is instantaneous, the feeling of stability palpable. It weighs a frankly staggering 2,120kg, yet it doesn't feel it for a second. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is so good it seems like a DSG, and the entire car manages to feel sprightly, muscular and communicative at all times - in fact, just like an M3.
That previous harshness from the chassis has vanished - even riding on 19-inch rims, this is a seriously comfortable sports saloon that remains entirely composed on all but the very roughest surfaces. The Brembo brakes are superb, wiping off huge dollops of speed with sure-footedness and, at last, silence in operation, while the previous tendency to understeer has been replaced with an exemplary composure that leaves me deeply impressed.
This, at the end of the day, is a serious performance car that happens to have four doors, a spacious boot and manages to seat four adults in luxurious comfort. It won't be to everyone's taste, granted, but with a 0-to-100kph sprint time of just 4.8 seconds, a top speed in excess of 270kph and all the bomb-proof feel of Munich's finest, it definitely warrants our attention. That it costs just Dh280,000 is possibly the icing on the cake. Germany, over to you - this is way, way more than just a posh Toyota.