THE 2010 LEXUS IS F FEELS unburstable, rock solid, ferocious.
Its 5.0-litre V8 - surely one of the classic modern 'bent-vees' - is alive with multiple personalities and, every time you pile on the pace, you will meet them all. Fire it from the line and its soundtrack changes from a deep bellow to a screaming 'Spitfire-like' stacatto.
Then there is that eight-speed automatic. In manual mode, its rifle-bolt precision and lightning-fast shifts make DSGs feel soft, and manuals a bit last century...
At a casual glance, very little has changed from when we last drove the IS F. The big news is the move to a compact Torsen Limited-Slip Differential (LSD) from the pre-update model's electronic limited-slip type.
According to Lexus, the adoption of a mechanical LSD improves both road and track performance. Our experience was limited to the road, but yes, we agree.
Minor upgrades include modest updates to the interior design and comfort.
What's the appeal?
A svelte sledgehammer. The IS F blends velvety V8 torque with a crisp-shifting eight-speed automatic. It's superbly built and feels strong enough to outlive most of its owners.
What features does it have?
As before, the IS F is only available in one 'fully-loaded' spec. The only option available to prospective purchasers is to delete the standard electric sunroof.
Inside, little has changed. The steering wheel and instrument cluster have been given minor aesthetic tweaks, including a new coloured section at the bottom of the steering wheel.
The centre stack gets updated audio switches and a new fascia around the touch-screen and air-conditioning controls.
On the entertainment front, the 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system gets fully-integrated iPod connectivity, with tracks and playlists controlled via the touch screen in the centre stack.
There's updated navigation software as well, with improved route guidance, functions and map view.
As with the former model, the updated IS F includes active cruise control, hands-free phone connectivity, Smart Key automatic locking and unlocking, dual-zone climate control, Lexus Parking Assist and a power-operated moonroof among its extensive features list.
What's under the bonnet?
The IS F's sophisticated 5.0 litre V8 engine, with its Yamaha-developed cylinder heads, has carried over unaltered from 2009. Which means dual VVT-i (including electric inlet camshaft actuation), dual injection and a dual-intake air system, help this super-smooth unit produce the same 311kW (at 6600rpm) and 505Nm of torque (at 5200rpm) as before.
According to Lexus, the IS F will cover the 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.8 seconds. Top speed is listed at 270km/h.
The Lexus V8 is good enough to be considered special in isolation, but in the IS F's case it comes packaged with the exceptional eight-speed SPDS (Sports Direct-Shift) transmission, the only transmission available for this car.
In lieu of a manual transmission, the eight-speed unit in the IS F offers both Drive and 'Manual' modes - paired with steering-mounted paddle shifters.
The transmission has a manual setting with torque-converter lock-up from second to eighth gear for the fastest upchanges of any four-door sedan car in the world, and an auto-blip feature on downchanges.
As mentioned, the major change to the 2010 IS F is the addition of a mechanical Torsen limited-slip differential in place of the original electronic version.
Where the original arrangement offered a 'simulated' limited-slip diff effect by adjusting rear brake balance, the Torsen unit redistributes torque without affecting power.
The IS F's suspension calibration includes stiffer springs, stabiliser bars and larger diameter monotube dampers compared with the regular IS 250.
The brake system features Brembo monobloc aluminium calipers. Six-piston calipers up-front acting on 360mm x 30mm ventilated discs, and twin-piston calipers in the rear acting on 345mm by 28mm ventilated discs.
The spokes of the 19-inch BBS wheels are beautiful and functional, being designed to draw heat away from the brakes.
How does it drive?
The IS F is the automotive equivalent of a Swiss watch. Everything, and I mean everything, feels 'just right'. The driving position and steering, throttle feel, the amount of brake assistance, the turn-in, the remarkably smooth V8 and the gearbox with its faultless, super fast 100-millisecond upshifts.
The entire car feels as though it is machined from a single billet of steel. No creaks, groans, or rattles, just a vault-like feeling of robustness and security, matched by a superbly behaved and beefy drivetrain.
There are two main stars in the IS F show. The 5.0 litre V8 with its evocative howl, and, dare I say it... the automatic gearbox.
The V8 is character-laden and loaded with torque. It will float you quietly and effortlessly around town, or scream like a Banshee when wound-up on an early morning run through the hills.
You would have to be stone cold dead not to appreciate this engine.
The eight-speed automatic is a precision instrument. Normally one to avoid paddle shifting, the IS F had me addicted after the first throttle blip, on the change form third to second. In sport mode the shifts are so fast and so precise, and the throttle blips on downchanges so evocative, that its hard to imagine a better way to change gears.
DSG-style gearboxes are outclassed by this smart auto, and even a good manual seems a little redundant.
Around town you'll be lucky to use more than the first five gears in manual mode, with the full eight ratios really only coming into play when cruising at highway speeds.
If you want to unwind and relax, then leave the IS F in drive, and it will whisk you along effortlessly, with little to hint at the performance potential on tap.
The IS F has been criticised by others for having overly harsh suspension, but the reality is they are looking too hard to find fault. Sure it's firm, but the beefed-up monotube dampers have just enough initial compliance to provide a taut but comfortable ride over the majority of tarmac types.
Forget the cries of 'teeth rattling' from the whingers, it simply isn't the case.
Really lumpy tarmac will see the front end crash and bang a bit, but with the throttle nailed to the firewall, mid-corner bumps won't move the IS F off line. In fact, in my experience, the IS F has a more composed ride around town than your average VW Golf, even with the bigger wheels and lower profile performance tyres.
The IS F displays a willingness to turn-in that belies its 1700kg kerb weight, and mid-corner balance that inspires confidence, with largely neutral handling. TMR's Tim O'Brien questioned the old IS-F's mid-corner balance, but I found little to complain about with this updated version. Oh what a difference a diff makes.
Stopping wasn't a problem either, with mono-bloc Brembo brakes ensuring the IS F stopped quickly and efficiently time after time. No fade, no pad squeal and perfect pedal feel.
The IS F was honed around Japan's Fuji Speedway, and the reality is that you'll need to take it to a race track to experience its full potential.
What did our passengers think?
The IS F's interior is enveloping, cossetting and comfortable; if you are sitting in the front.
Thanks to the two-seat arrangement in the back, the rear-seat passengers didn't suffer for shoulder space, but rear leg room was at a premium. The IS F is more of a 2+2 than a serious family sedan.
With four adults on board, the average-sized driver will be sliding the seat forward to allow the rear-seat passenger to tuck their legs in. Sure, it will get you and your adult friends to the opera, but your passenger's tuxedos could get a little creased.
Apart from new foldable head restraints for the rear seats, the 2010 IS F's leather-trimmed seating is identical to its predecessor.
The front seats have been designed to offer a compromise between sports-car support for performance driving, and ultimate comfort. With eight-way power adjustment, power lumbar support and heating, they proved to be extremely comfortable.
Interior Quality and Feel?
Lexus rarely puts a foot wrong when it comes to material quality, fit and finish, and the IS F is no exception.
The leather trim of the front and rear-seats is of high quality; soft to the touch and durable. Our test vehicle had clocked over 10,000kms and the leather still looked brand new.
The soft-touch dash, door trims and the metal highlights are all befitting of the IS F's luxury status.
It could be argued that the revised leather steering wheel with blue stitching, feels a little insubstantial in the hand, but that would be nit-picking.
The overall feeling of impeccable quality, is peculiarly let down just a little, by the oddly out of place, 'Casio style' digital clock in the centre stack. Maybe Lexus decided it would be prudent to get one thing wrong?
Storage capacity in the boot is listed as 378 litres, falling 20 litres short of the regular IS sedan. There is no option to fold the rear seats down for extra space.
Proving, in its way, that Lexus wants the IS F to be seen as both a 'daily driver' and as a high-performance sedan, the boot features tie-downs and mounting points, ensuring luggage stays where it should.
How safe is it?
Carrying the same 5-Star ANCAP crash safety rating as the rest of the IS range, the IS F features eight airbags, including front-seat knee airbags and dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags.
There are also driver and front-passenger side airbags and a curtain-shield airbag in the centre of the roof side rail.
The cabin itself was designed using a rigid frame structure, with strengthened frame joints, a reinforced centre pillar and hexagonal cross-section enhancing durability and energy absorption.
Lexus' VDIM system includes a host of safety systems, including vehicle swerve control (VSC), traction control (TRC), hill-start assist (HAC), and abs braking with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
Fuel Consumption and Green Rating
The Euro IV-compliant dual-VVTi engine is oficially rated at 11.4 l/100km on the combined cycle, and 16.8 l/100km in city driving. We saw as low as 11.2 /100km with a mixture of highway and light traffic commuting. At its worst, it blew out to 15.4 l/100km in city-only use.
The Federal Government's Green Vehicle Guide gives the IS F a 3-Star 'green' rating (out of five), with CO2 emissions rated at 270g/km. With 10 being the best score, the GVG gives the IS F an air pollution rating of 6.5.
How does it compare?
What do you compare the IS F to?
At $126,900 (plus on-road costs), it compares very favourably to the BMW M3 sedan, which tips the till at $152,300 (plus on-road costs) for its 4.0 litre V8 and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
The Lexus costs considerably less, is arguably better-built (just), and comes with an extra 100Nm and the promise of more easily accessible performance.
The IS F is the rarer vehicle on the road, but the BMW wins on being a more usable four-seater (to a degree). The M car also has a pedigree that Lexus can only dream about.
If you prefer the fist without the velvet glove, then the C63 AMG can be had for $148,900 (plus on-road costs). With a massive 600Nm tucked under its belt, it outperforms everything in its class, and will suck 21 l/100km on the urban cycle while it does it.
At the other end of the scale is the larger and flashier, homegrown HSV Senator at $82,990 (plus on-road costs). It is unlikely that potential IS F buyers will be bothering their local HSV dealer, but both are V8 sedans with similar performance.
The HSV can hold its head high to a degree, with a considerable price advantage and literally acres of interior space. But, in every other respect, the IS F is significantly superior, and worth the additional $44,000.
Is it expensive to maintain?
The cost of routine maintenance for the 2010 Lexus IS F is quite reasonable, and Lexus stipulates a 15,000km/12 month service interval. The first service is free of charge, while the 30,000km/two-year service costs roughly $750.
The 45,000km/three-year service is slightly less at $600, while the 60,000km/four-year service is $750.
The first major service occurs at 90,000km/72 months and involves, among other things, a sparkplug change, differential oil change and a transmission service. A major service costs around $1500.
Lexus provides a four year/100,000kms warranty on the IS F.
White Pearl, Platinum Silver, Vermillion (Red), Flame Blue, Graphite and Onyx (Black as tested)
The IS F is available in one specification only and retails for $126,900 (plus on-road costs). The standard electric sunroof is a delete option.
Priced significantly lower than its German competition, the IS F is worthwhile buying for the well-heeled performance sedan buyer. The drivetrain is superb, the build quality outstanding and the prodigious on-road performance and personality addictive.
One of only a few cars with a six-figure sticker that feels underpriced.