I must admit at the start of this article that I haven't always been a big fan of Lexus. Lexi have never really set my pulse racing. I have always admired them for their technological brilliance and Lexus' continual pursuit of manufacturing perfection but they just never seemed to stir the emotions. Maybe its because they were always looking like they wanted to be a BMW or a Merc but for whatever reason their Mum smoked through the gestation period and they came out looking a bit...wrong.
The Lexus IS-F has changed all that for me. Finally a Lexus that is styled in a way that embraces it's inate Japaneseness (if that isn't a real word it should be) and looks all the better for it.
For Lexus the 'F' designation is like 'M' for Motorsport over at BMW. In this case 'F' stands for something obscurely Lexus from back when they first started as a brand. We will just say it is 'F' for fast.
Unveiled at the Detroit motor show in January the IS-F is the Lexus answer to the European performance saloon phenomenon currently gripping the world. Think M3 V8, Audi RS4 and more varieties of AMG than I have any hope of remembering. Lexus just want their share of this lucrative segment. Great for the person buying in the $140k - $200k range but not so good for the likes of BMW and Audi.
Being a Lexus it will no doubt be superbly built, ultra reliable and cheaper than its rivals. Possibly to be seen in Australia late in 2007 the IS-F features a 5.0-litre V8, which includes special heads and a two stage intake system (think Porsche Varioram). The new V8 produces 'more than' 300kW's and 'more than' 475Nm. Final figures are not known yet but expect it to challenge the Audi RS4 and soon to be released E92 BMW M3 head-on at least in output figures if not outright ability.
The transmission is a direct shift 8-speed automatic. The torque converter is constantly locked from second gear onwards which allows for lightning fast gear-shifts in manual mode whilst retaining a smooth shift in auto mode. Kind of like Lamborghini's e-gear but for gentler folk.
The IS-F runs on 19 inch BBS alloys and features a three mode active stability management system called VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) which uses throttle, braking and active steering functions to control the car if you get it a little bent out of shape. Hopefully and unlike other Lexus offering one of the three stages will be off.
Braking is handled by huge cross-drilled Brembo discs and calipers. In a neat Porsche-like touch, 'Lexus' now replaces 'Brembo" on the massive 6-pot Brembo calipers.
Lexus claim that the IS-F will not be a direct competitor for any of the German head-bangers instead they say that it is a uniquely Lexus interpretation of a powerful sports saloon and all that entails.
Finally, for me at least, Lexus have built a car with presence. Even if it doesn't take the fight right to Audi and BMW's doorstep, it is enough that their first real attempt to enter this market comes in such an aggressive and attractive package. Knowing Lexus, it will only keep getting better.