The corporate line at Lexus is that the IS F was by no means intended to dethrone the BMW M3 as the world’s greatest sports sedan. We, like the general public, by no means believed it. Just take a look at the two cars’ spec sheets: Both are according to their respective company’s entry-level sedan; both have unique 400-plus-hp V-8s shoehorned upfront; and both have huge brakes, ultra-high-performance tires, upgraded sport seats, and so on.
When we initial sampled the IS F, even so, it was clear it wasn’t fairly up to the task for which Lexus swore it wasn’t intended but everybody knew it was. The BMW M3 can be a perennial 10Best winner, and its head-to-head battle using the IS F is just 1 of the present car’s five C/D comparison-test victories.
Still, the IS F had significant potential; its 416-hp V-8 left no doubt about that. But its ride and handling simply didn’t deliver. It would hobbyhorse down uneven pavement and batter occupants in a straight line but roll excessively in corners. For 2011, Lexus addressed these concerns in a large way, changing or retuning just about every key suspension component. There are softer front springs, stiffer rear springs, larger-diameter anti-roll bars front and rear, stiffer bushings on the rear subframe and rear anti-roll bar, as well as a new steering knuckle and front lower control arms for decreased unsprung mass. Oh, as well as the rear camber is tweaked at the same time. The honking V-8 as well as the eight-speed automatic carry over unchanged, but a Torsen limited-slip replaces the previously open differential. Engineers also retuned the electric power steering, injecting a dose of much-needed feel.
With these adjustments, the IS F goes from subpar to front-runner. At our most recent Lightning Lap track romp at Virginia International Raceway, the 2011 car posted a lap as fast down to the 10th as any we’ve recorded from an M3 coupe (3:05.4), regardless of weighing roughly 200 much more pounds and having only two extra ponies. A lap time is a superb measuring stick for performance, but all-out driving alone doesn’t tell the whole story. The ride is still rough but far extra livable, and cruising around town in the F is an exercise in sublime stealth. Keep the revs below 4000, and also the automobile will pass into the casual onlooker’s unconscious as just an average sedan. Crank the revs and hit the sport button, along with the F becomes a green-light monster, devastating just about every Japanese auto this side of the Nissan GT-R and broadcasting it with a burly exhaust note on throttle and back-pressure burbling off.
A spirited stint on a country road highlights the F’s newfound handling prowess. Corners are inhaled as the driver’s confidence builds. The retuned electric steering feels much more natural, more like traditional hydraulically boosted steering, even though our skidpad revealed that maximum lateral acceleration, at 0.90 g, is unaffected by the suspension modifications. The brake pedal is reassuringly firm. Cracking off shifts with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles doesn’t make us miss a clutch pedal as considerably as we thought we would, as well as the swaps feel as fast as any dual-clutch box’s. An audible shift warning lets the driver keep his eyes off the huge, centrally situated tachometer and on the road. While we would usually object to an idiot buzzer, with eight ratios to work with and 371 lb-ft of torque hurrying the car via each one, shifts are frequent.
At the drag strip, our 2011 test car didn’t rather measure up. It was a number of 10ths off the other Fs we’ve tested, turning in a 4.7-second 0-to-60-mph run plus a 13.1-second quarter-mile at 110 mph. That this automobile had a fairly green engine, with fewer than 1000 miles on its clock, could account for the drop in performance. Our past IS F test cars all ran to 60 in 4.4 or fewer seconds, with the quickest turning in a 12.8-second quarter at 114 mph. Either way, with its sub-four-second 60-mph dash and low-12-second quarter-mile, the M3 betters the F in a straight line.
The Lexus also trails the M3 within the price wars. A base IS F runs $61,535 compared using the M3 sedan’s $58,075-M3 coupes commence at $61,075. Pricing has yet to be released for the updated 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, but the 2011 sedan starts at $61,175. The 2011 IS F’s base cost is an increase of $2200 over the 2010 model’s, and well worth it. The automobile tested here also had a package bundling touchscreen navigation with a 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo for $3925 and dynamic cruise control for $1500. A cargo net for $64 plus a trunk mat for $73 bumped the total to $67,097. We’d recommend forgoing the fancy cruise plus the nickel-and-dime stuff, obtaining the navigation-only choice for $2485, and reserving the roughly $3000 difference for replacement tires. Trust us, you’ll want them.