by Matthew Wilson
Lexus has come a long way in terms of performance since their 1989 debut. After quickly establishing themselves as a top tier builder of luxury cars, they forced automakers such as BMW and Mercedes to quickly adopt higher quality standards in order to insure their products' ability to compete. What Lexus didn't have and what their German competitors excelled at was passion and, more importantly, performance.
Today, it's a whole new ballgame for Lexus and their reputation for building cars that drive and handle like a 1980-something Buick Park Avenue. That's now mainly in the past. With the introduction of Lexus high-performance F series in 2007, the automaker is successfully proving that it can engineer sport sedans that give their German competitors something to sweat a bit over. The Lexus IS F first launched in 2008 and was the brand's first model to bear the 'F' marquee. For 2011, it's been tweaked with updates such as revamped front and rear fascias, revised taillamp lenses, and tailpipe finishers.
There's also new color choices and redesigned alloy wheels. And while it looks pretty mean on the outside, how does it measure up against its arch rivals, mainly the BMW M3? Featuring a 5.0 liter, all-aluminum direct-injected 2UR-GSE V8 producing 416 hp at 6,600 rpm, it's paired up with the world's first 8-speed Sport Direct shift automatic transmission. It has a high-performance-turned double-wishbone front, and a multi-link rear suspension riding on 19 inch wheels. If you think that Lexus is simply no match for the current patriarch of sport sedan uberlegenheit, the M3, then you're right.
However, with the rate in which Lexus has decided to push the proverbial envelope, it comes as no surprise that Lexus has built a sport sedan of the highest caliber. It's been clocked going from 0 - 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, a slalom speed of 71.2 mph, and an electronically limited top speed of 170 mph. Oh yes, those pesky electronic limiters that we all know and love. Rumor has it that if said chip is removed, the IS F can break 200 mph. Now that the IS F's performance abilities are established, how does it measure up in the all-important looks department. I've never been a fan of the conservative Lexus/Toyota design philosophy.
While it works for many country club member attendees, anyone with a decent level of self respect towards their chosen ride will avoid Toyotas like a pack of rabid monkeys. The 350 IS F is different. Not only does it have a muscular exterior persona, the interior is every bit luxurious and sporty that Germany can offer. Is it Audi-level sophistication? Not quite, nor does it need to be. The heated and leather covered seats are extremely supportive - especially the front buckets that have excellent side bolsters along with grippy microfiber center inserts.
There are also special F labels throughout the cabin, mainly on the steering wheel, shift knob, and door-sill plates. Overall, we're talking Japanese build quality combined with German-level performance. The Lexus IS F isn't necessarily better or worse than an M3, but just different in its own right. It doesn't have BMW's years of tuning practice, but serves as a demonstration of Japanese precision and growing performance confidence. With a base price of $58,460, the Lexus IS F bases for less than a BMW M3, but it can't really take the place of it.
If your heart is set on the M3, then there's little stopping you. However, if you're the type who wants something different and not from Germany, the IS F is calling you and your checkbook.