Lexus IS 200 IS-F
Wider wings and bigger wheels are most obvious changes
- Exterior appearance is aggressive but not obtrusive
- Engine is flexible, powerful and sounds superb
- Transmission works well in all conditions
- Comprehensive specification
- Four-door only
- Too similar to standard IS from the front
- Engine possibly too quiet at low revs
- Rear seat space less than rivals
Now firmly established in the premium sector, Lexus has managed to pull off the difficult trick of creating a new brand to compete against long-established manufacturers with invaluable reputations. The next challenge is to create a performance sub-brand, and the IS-F is the first of several performance cars to come from Lexus.
By creating a performance sub-division, Lexus hopes to invigorate interest in its cars, and also help to change its image. While the general perception of the brand may be positive, it undeniably lacks the associations with performance and motorsport that its rivals currently enjoy. This helps to sell entry-level cars as well as high specification range-toppers, so the success of the IS-F will influence sales of all Lexus cars.
The IS-F has all the ingredients required of a performance saloon. The exterior has been suitably enhanced to distinguish it from lesser IS models. The front end has a deeper bumper with bigger air intakes and cooling ducts, while the wheelarches are significantly wider to accommodate the larger alloy wheels. At the rear, a larger bumper housing quad exhaust pipes completes the look. The overall appearance is very attractive, muscular and purposeful but subtle, which should appeal to the core Lexus buyer.
There are even bigger changes under the skin. Most important is the powerplant, which is a 5.0-litre eight-cylinder unit, the base of which comes from the LS saloon but is heavily modified for performance driving. Unique to the IS-F is its eight-speed automatic transmission, again derived from the LS model but designed for performance driving - including a manual mode operated by paddles behind the steering wheel.
As the most prestigious and expensive IS in the range, the IS-F also benefits from an impressive specification. Just one model is available, complete with satellite navigation, climate control, a high quality stereo system and radar-guided cruise control all as standard.
Our verdict on the Lexus IS 200 IS-F
As a car in its own right the IS-F is impressive, but considering it is the first attempt at a performance car by Lexus it is even better. It strikes an excellent balance between driving appeal and everyday comfort, and despite its high gadget count remains easy to use. The comprehensive specification means good value, and even in economy terms it shades its rivals.
Running costs for the IS-F will inevitably be high, but the sophisticated eight-speed gearbox helps to give it fuel economy figures better than its close rivals.
Space and practicality
This is an area where the IS-F is perhaps lacking a little compared to its rivals. With four adults on board space is not as generous as you might hope, although the boot is usefully big. Storage space is decent but not exceptional.
Controls and display
The layout of the IS-F cabin is refreshingly simple, while detail changes such as blue-lit instruments and extra leather do add class. The touch-screen satellite navigation is useful, although it partially disables when on the move, preventing passengers from operating it.
Despite its sporting credentials, the IS-F delivers impressive comfort. The seats are multi-adjustable and supportive, the ride quality is very good even though the suspension is stiffer, and noise levels are well controlled.
The IS-F has automatic speed-sensitive door locking, plus a standard alarm an immobiliser system with interior protection.
The IS-F has a truly comprehensive safety specification, with eight airbags as standard, plus the sophisticated VDIM system which can also be tailored to suit the driver's needs.
The key to the IS-F's appeal is its dual personality. Like any good Lexus should, the IS-F can cruise in comfort with the best. The ride, although firmer than standard, is not uncomfortable, while noise levels are hushed. The torque of the high output engine and the smoothness of the eight-speed transmission make for very relaxed driving. However, all it takes is a squeeze of the right foot or a couple of button pushes to change its demeanour. Flip the transmission into manual mode and deactivate the VDIM stability control and the IS-F is ready to play, and once past 3,000rpm the big V8 delivers a big aural treat as well as big performance.
Family car appeal
The IS-F could perform family duties without too much trouble. Rear legroom would be less of an issue with children, although oddment storage would still present problems.
First car appeal
The IS-F, although easy to drive, is too expensive and powerful for novice drivers. Insurance would also be an issue.
Quality and image
The quality of the Lexus is to see, whether it is the cabin fitments or the exterior paint finish. It also feels robustly constructed and the kind of car that would wear well. In terms of image, quality is certainly a feature synonymous with Lexus, but the exterior details and performance credentials of the IS-F should help to boost its hardcore appeal.
Access to the front or rear of the IS-F is simple, although room in the footwell for rear passengers is a little restricted if the front seats are set for taller occupants. The bootlid opens high and wide for easy access to luggage area.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
The IS-F comes with a 14-speaker Mark Levinson 6 DVD changer audio system as standard, which offers a very high standard of audio, including 5.1 surround sound.
Colours and trim
The IS-F is available in a different range of exterior colours to the standard IS model, and unusually for a car of this nature it looks particularly smart in pearlescent white. Inside the combination of dark leathers and plastics is attractive and high quality.
The IS-F is easy to park, not least because of the standard fit parking sensors front and rear and a reversing camera, which is a real safety boon.
Space saver fitted beneath the boot floor.
Petrol engine options - 2.5-litre (204bhp); 5.0-litre (417bhp). Diesel engine options - 2.2-litre (175bhp). Transmission options: Six-speed manual transmission as standard with optional six-speed automatic, eight-speed automatic on 5.0-litre petrol. Sport models feature revised gear ratios for slightly sportier feel. Trim levels: IS 250 and IS 220d - SE, SE-L and Sport. IS-F one trim level with high output engine and eight-speed auto only.
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