2011 Lexus IS-F First Drive

From an enthusiast perspective driving the 2011 Lexus IS-F is like taking in a one nighter in Vegas with your buddies, knowing that everyone has already signed that internal non-disclosure agreement.  In all practicality it’s the “Whose idea was this?” or “Why did I do that?” conversation you have with yourself on the flight back.

From the moment I laid eyes on it I couldn’t help but think of how pleased I was with being a budding automotive journalist.  Like that Vegas trip, as you get closer your level of excitement grows because you know you’re in for something special; that what you’re about to experience could very well make some of the greatest moments in your life but with a very real possibility that it might land you in jail.  My goal was to capture as much of the former while avoiding coming anywhere close to the latter.

With the styling of the IS-F Lexus has done a fantastic job including noticeable features that separate it from the other IS trims, but just.  I’ve had opportunity to enjoy a few of the other trim levels and the IS-F is such a departure mechanically from the others that I expected that fact to be reflected with more aggressive body styling as well.  On the performance front the fact that this is no normal IS is blatantly obvious.  From the moment you touched the Engine Start button and hear the unmistakable hunger of it’s 5.0L V8 to the second it shows you the first corner.  You’re quickly left with the impression that this is a wolf in poorly tailored sheep’s clothing.

On second thought this slight styling evolution may be the perfect natural defense for this IS.  While being anything but, it is nice to have a vehicle that at least looks relatively non-threatening.  This would help me realize the second part of my goal without having to worry too much about meeting Johnny Law.

Eventually I would get close enough to see the interior of the IS-F which did nothing but continue to siren me closer.

Its two-tone black on cream leather seats with blue stitching can only be described as one thing – Fresh To Death.  The contrast of the Lexus Ultrasonic Blue Mica, Black and Cream is so stark.  You get a sense of how well it stands out in the photos but trust me, it is a completely different thing to see it in person and it only gets better from here.  Because then you sit on those seats and you experience something truly unique.  Don’t ask me how they do it, but there is a perfect balance of soft leather married to firm bolsters for both legs and torso.  The result is a very comfortable fit that somehow seems to swaddle you in.  Apart from the seats themselves the only things that are specific to the IS-F on the inside are the stitched in F logos on the sides of the seat, another logo between the rear seats and again at the base of the steering wheel.  That’s it.

(Warning: If you aren’t used to or have never owned a true sports car the realistic impact of owning an IS-F will be a big surprise and I don’t plan on holding back any more than the IS-F does.)

Flash forward and it’s only the second day with the IS-F and I can tell I wouldn’t want to daily drive one.  the witchery of its suspension is downright deceptive.

For instance, any other time I am in an area with a 25 or 30 mile an hour speed limit I get so anxious my knees ach.  In the IS-F I almost didn’t realize I was ever driving that slowly.  The suspension is so smooth it really does encourage you to take it easy and enjoy having a bit of a cruise.  But is this what you buy a 416 HP 371lb-ft 5.0L V8 Sports car for?  Of course not!  Why is driving slow in what can only be described as a rocket sled such a wonderful feeling?  I may be confused by this but if it weren’t such a comfortable experience I would really hate driving this car in the city.  I would be bald from pulling my hair out between traffic lights.

Many journalists have complained about the 8-Speed “Sport Direct-Shift Transmission” with Paddle Shifters.  I will have to admit that working with the paddle shifters has a bit of a learning curve, however it really doesn’t take long to get used to the short amount of lag between pulling on either paddle and receiving the gear change you want. Give a little bit of thought to timing your changes and it will feel like second nature and result in taking very little effort to get the gear you want when you want it.  Really the 8-speed isn’t something to be afraid of.  I can understand why many reviewers say that the car “searches” for the right gear but this breaks down to learning how to drive this car.

If you accelerate by holding a steady throttle position and simply back off to hold your desired speed when you reach it the transmission will shift at the same RPM for ever gear change, predictably, every time.

On the highway or giving the IS-F a bit of a workout is a different story all together.  It’s here that 8-Speed has to do some thinking and makes things a little interesting.  The same lag that you get from the paddle shifters manifests in the throttle play as well.  Even with a healthy dose of gas pedal it takes the IS-F a quick second to realize, “Oh you don’t just want a bit more speed, you must need to pass something quickly”.  So when you step on the gas pedal you’re given a stepped approach to accelerating.  First a bit more gas to pick up the pace, then a downshift or two but you have to leave your foot there just a second longer to get the serious acceleration.  You can however easily get around this.  You see I noticed that what seemed like the floor was really the top of what felt like a button that can be pushed to reveal a surprise. A feature built into the pedal that will cut all that nonsense out and give you what you’re looking for in an instant.  Careful though.  Do that and you open the floodgates.

No literally.  Under full throttle and at full song I swear the injectors of the IS-F are projectile vomiting fuel into the engine.

Just having shot around town for a bit the night before, we hit the road in the AM for a short day trip…I was already down to a half tank.  This is where the IS-F decides to confuse me again. On this trip, we left our home for what ended up being an 89 mile trip into Pennsylvania. For the return trip we drove a total of 108 miles to eat at a place called the Blue Moon Café in Sheaphardstown West Virginia. It would be another 19 miles until we got back in town and when we did the tank only had a 38 mile range left.  When you stop and think about it, that’s half a tank for about 3 hours and 216 miles of driving with potential for a total 254 miles, which is quite frankly phenomenal for that engine.  But what happened to the other half a tank while I was enjoying myself around town?

While enjoying and getting familiar with the Lexus’ party piece it was nothing to watch the Distance To Empty change to 38 miles left in the tank and less than a mile later watch it fall to 36.  The IS-F has a 16.9 gallon tank and by the time I parked it for good the tank average was 16.7, even after babying it it’s last few hours with us.  $50 later we’re not quite full but still ready for another 180 mile trip the following day.  Three quarters of a tank later, we were back home again.  Admittedly, I enjoyed the highways a bit more that morning so I can’t blame the IS-F for drinking as much that day. The rest of my time with the IS-F I cruised leisurely though. I was surprised at this point as I would notice the transmission shift up at 1500 RPM, every gear.  No wonder it’s outfitted with an 8-speed; a rather smart way to save fuel if you ask me.  Having read this far…you kinda have.

Its also worth noting that whether shifting at a low RPM or in the high end of the IS-Fs rev range, every single change up is almost imperceptible.  A bit laggy as weve mentioned, but you really cant feel it. Downshifting on the other hand is a completely different story.

The IS-F is equipped with a downshift rev matching feature that, when done at higher RPMs, sounds unbelievable, seductive even.  Its V8 has an asolutely intoxicating snarl that is delivered in such sharp bursts; no matter how many times I did it, it never got old.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Not at all what you want in the middle of a corner though.

How can I explain it?  The IS-F seems to simply “let go” from the moment you request a downshift to when it applies the next gear.  The resulting weight shift is so strong that there is a split second where deceleration almost seems to turn into acceleration.  If you ever brake heading into a corner and downshift, there is a good possibility that you and the Traction Control are going to be good buddies.  That or, those cream and black with blue stitched seats may end up with an additional color. And trust me when I tell you that earth tones dont mix well with that creamy interior. Want to try and drive the IS-F with the Traction Control off…may the force be with you.

In slow tight corners it suffers as well from the addition of a 5.0L power plant as opposed to the much lighter 3.5L V6 of the IS350.  The 3.5L still leaves the IS chassis with a 52/48 weight distribution biased to the front and a curb weight of 3527, which sits pretty comfortably in the mid range of the IS models.  The IS-F sits at 3780lbs, a 253lb difference that gives it a 55/45 weight distribution.  Doesn’t sound like much, but trust me.  When those front tires decide to lose traction, you’re going to remember me saying it.

Any attempt at a nimble low-speed direction change only leads to a turret of under-steer.  I say that because it manifests with 0 warning.  Honestly I’m trying to find a nicer way of putting this but nothing has surfaced in the last few weeks.  In much cheaper vehicles you can find under-steer that comes on in very slight doses and as you continue to over drive the car it increases.  This is simply not the case with the IS-F.  When it decides it is time to push through a corner it seems almost eager to do it.

I’ve been on a short rant about the things I didn’t like about the IS-F however the things that I really enjoyed stand out far more than those negatives.  To be honest my personal driving style met with those negative characteristics very few times and the average driver may indeed never notice or have opportunity to experience any of them.

When all is said and done the IS-F is the car that many people have been waiting for the Toyota/Lexus engineers to produce for over a decade.  It may not be the next Toyota Supra but it does deliver tones of fun, two of them in fact. And much like that trip to Las Vegas theres a real good chance it will leave you with a happy ending and huge smile on your face.  If only we could find a way to give IS performance a diet, hmm.

Can anyone say IS250 F-Sport?

Check out a few of our other photos of the IS-F from our early morning shoot.

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