Lexus kicked off its high-performance F brand over a decade ago, with a V8-powered sedan called the IS F. This model bowed out after the 2014 model year and was followed by the two-door RC F coupe and larger GS F sedan. Lexus hasn't offered a V8-powered IS since. Until now, that is. The 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance arrives sporting a familiar engine, but an all-new message: Whereas the old IS F was directly targeted at the BMW M3 and Mercedes C63, this IS 500 is pitted against mid-level performance sedans like the Acura TLX Type S, Audi S4, BMW M340i, and Mercedes-AMG C43. Lexus says the new F Sport Performance sub-brand will slot above the standard F Sport models, but below the more hardcore F vehicles coming in the future.
Lexus recently refreshed the third-generation IS with updated styling and new cabin technology, but it is still one of the more dated options in the segment. The Lexus IS 500 F Sport enters the segment with the only naturally aspirated V8: a 5.0-liter unit producing 472 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque. Though the performance may not match some of its turbocharged six-cylinder rivals, the appeal of a howling V8 might win over old-school shoppers. Lexus is targeting a niche market with the IS 500 F Sport, perfectly aimed at brand loyalists and enthusiasts.
The IS 500 F Sport Performance is all-new, and the pinnacle of the current IS range - for now. While it's not as hardcore as the previous-generation IS-F (a criminally underrated car), it does come with a sublime 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 producing 472 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque.
This is the first model in the new Lexus F Sport Performance line, which will inevitably lead to an entire lineup of go-faster products carrying the same nomenclature. We doubt the 5.0-liter V8 will be around for that, which means the IS 500 F Sport might be a swansong model. It is available in three trims: Base, Premium, and Launch Edition.
Lexus is really going to upset the establishment with the IS 500 F Sport. You see, the base car retails for around the same money as a BMW M340i xDrive in the USA, but includes far more standard features. The 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance has a starting price of $56,500. Upgrade to the Premium grade and you have to fork over $61,000. The Launch Edition commands a hefty premium for 500-unit exclusivity and special content, retailing for $67,400. These prices exclude a delivery fee of $1,075.
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Our time spent in the IS 500 is a tale of two cars; the IS 500 as a daily driver, and the IS 500 as a back road attack machine. Let's begin with the former. We hopped behind the wheel thinking the rear-wheel-drive IS 500 F Sport would immediately impress with its V8 grunt and hardcore flavor, but this wasn't the case. Lexus designed this car as a daily driver first and foremost. If we didn't check the back for an 'IS 500' badge, we might have thought we were driving a lesser IS. There's a subtle burble from the V8, but other elements such as the suspension, steering, and transmission tuning feel broadly similar to the IS 350. If you're expecting an AMG-rivaling level of lunacy and stiffness from your Japanese sports sedan, this isn't your car. This may sound like a negative assessment, but the IS 500's lack of excitement during normal driving is actually an achievement.
The IS 500 is an astonishingly comfortable daily driver. Road noise is minimal, and despite the sporting pretensions, the suspension is sublime. We'd happily take the IS 500 road-tripping, and the abundance of comfort is applaudable. Unfortunately, the IS 500's lazy tuning (especially the transmission) becomes an issue when the mood to drive quickly strikes. Even in Sport S and Sport S+ modes, the transmission constantly seeks higher gears and short-shifts before hitting the redline, limiting access to peak power and dampening enjoyment. In short, the IS 500 feels downright slow in normal traffic.
We quickly became disillusioned by the IS 500's sporting credentials, until we played around with the manual mode. We typically leave most automatic transmissions to their own devices, but this car begs to be shifted manually. By taking control, we could fully experience the IS 500's potential. That 7,100 rpm redline was ours to hit on-demand, accompanied by the shriek of the glorious V8. By keeping the car way up in its rev range, the IS 500 transforms from a sleepy cruiser to an outright muscle sedan.
Like the old GS F, you can balance the rear end using the throttle, adding more revs to kick out the back end at will. When pressed hard, the soft suspension will limit your outright cornering speeds, but we appreciate how the car sets in and remains balanced through the bends. The steering is well-weighted and highly communicative, meaning you feel in control no matter the speed - BMW could learn a thing or two from how Lexus tuned its steering. When you take a test drive, we highly recommend putting the IS 500 into manual mode, or you may walk out of the dealership not understanding what this car is about. It's a comfortable prince during daily driving but when requested, it transforms into a howling beast. Just be aware, getting the IS 500 F Sport to fully wake up requires a bit of work.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
When we drove the updated IS 350 F Sport earlier this year, we enjoyed the upgrades Lexus made to the exterior styling and interior technology, but wished the car received a buff in the engine bay. With the 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance, we think Lexus has perfectly encapsulated what a performance sedan should be and silenced our complaints. Rather than focus on giving this car the best stats on a race track, Lexus remembered that most owners will take it back-and-forth from work more often than they will lap Laguna Seca. In this pursuit, the IS 500 puts an emphasis on comfort, culminating in a luxury sedan that we'd happily use to eat up highway miles.
If we were to offer some feedback, the drive modes do not effectively let the driver tap into the car's potential. Even in Sport S+, the IS 500's transmission felt too unresponsive to our inputs. Luckily, the manual mode gives drivers full license to peg that sky-high red-line, enjoying one the last naturally aspirated V8 exhaust notes available in this segment. If that's not worth the price, we don't know what is. The IS 500 won't win many head-to-head battles with the Audi S4, BMW M340i, or Mercedes C43 on paper, but its balance of price and performance combined with its old-school mentality makes it among the most appealing cars in this class. This may be the last compact luxury sports sedan packing a V8 engine, so we'd get one before it's gone.
The IS 500 F Sport Performance does not seem like a value buy on paper. At $56,500, the IS 500 has the highest starting price in its segment (tied with the Mercedes-AMG C43). However, Lexus provides a lot of standard equipment that costs extra on the German rivals, and it's the only one to offer a V8, unlike the less expensive Acura TLX Type S. If you can live without the upgraded sound system, 360-degree camera with parking sensors, rear sunshade, and triple-beam headlamps, we suggest sticking with the base grade to save $4,500. The Launch Edition looks cool with its unique wheels and Incognito color, but its $67,400 price tag approaches M3 levels.
The new Lexus IS 500 F retails for more or less the same amount as the BMW M340i xDrive. The Bimmer's 3.0-liter turbocharged six produces 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The Lexus's naturally-aspirated V8 gives you 472 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque. The German car is still faster, however. That turbocharged motor is strong, enabling the M340i to get to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, which is still faster than the IS 500's mid-four-second sprint.
Do we care? Nope, not even one little bit. Sprint figures are meaningless and they don't tell the full story. While we respect the M340i, we can't imagine a world where we'd walk away from this 5.0-liter high-revving naturally-aspirated V8. Even if it did 0-60 mph in six seconds, we'd still have it over the German car. The IS 500 F Sport Performance is a bargain of note, and most likely the last of its kind. This glorious V8 engine will not last beyond this generation IS. If you want to own a seminal piece of automotive history, get one of these.
The top-spec IS 350 F Sport retails for roughly $43,000, representing a huge saving over the all-in Premium spec IS 500. Priced at $61,000, it's $18,000 more expensive. The standard IS offers you almost exactly what you get in the IS 500. It also errs on the side of comfort, and its 311 hp/280 lb-ft naturally-aspirated V6 makes it feel brisk, but not particularly fast.
If you simply require a moderately fast luxury sedan with sensational build quality, the V6-engined IS is a fine choice. But if you're here because you seek performance, the IS 350 is not the car for you. When talking about performance, you have to go for the IS 500. That thrilling 5.0-liter V8 is easily worth the $18,000 price increase. And the IS 500 will likely hold its value better, being one of the last big-engined, naturally-aspirated V8 performance sedans.
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