2012 LEXUS IS F REVIEW
It was, and is, a monster. But it hasn’t been without its failings.
Mostly, the lack of a proper mechanical limited-slip differential hampered its ability to get power down when you wanted it. And its suspension tune never felt quite as secure - nor as comfortable - as its German competitors.
Now the latest update is in, and the boffins at Lexus believe they've finally pinned the IS F down.
The updated model’s monotube shock-absorbers are now supplied by German company ZFSachs, the front and rear spring-rates have been increased and the wheels are now half-an-inch wider (although tyre sizes remain the same at 225/40 front, 265/35 rear).
The forged 19-inch alloy wheels are also new, now sourced from BBS and sporting a classic BBS mesh design.
The changes aren’t dramatic and, aside from the wheels, are mostly hidden from view.
So what difference do the latest tweaks make? We took up an invitation to sample the 2012 IS F at Sandown Raceway, and we can safely report that there’s a marked difference in how the updated IS F performs, compared to the old.
On The Track
To highlight the improvements, Lexus put us in a first-gen IS F to start the day, followed by the second-gen model and then, lastly, the 2012 IS F.
The IS F’s 311kW/505Nm 5.0 litre naturally aspirated V8 is a beautiful engine and Lexus has resisted the temptation to alter it.
In the first-gen IS F, with no LSD to evenly distribute power between the rear wheels, there’s simply too much grunt for the driveline to handle.
Putting power down at corner exit simply makes the traction control warning flash like a strobe light. The firm suspension of the first-gen model handles race-track duty reasonably well, but the brake-based e-LSD system is clearly not the most elegant solution to improving traction.
Next, we put the second-generation car under the whip. Jumping from one to the other, the improvement in power-on traction due to the Torsen diff was immediately evident.
The rear suspension though was not quite so happy; it struggled to hold all that traction in place, to pin it to the tarmac - something particularly noticeable on Sandown’s lumpy surface.
Also, braking hard for a chicane set up on the back straight exposed some damper issues: the second-gen IS F’s nose wandered left and right.
After a couple of laps (a blast, in case you’re wondering) we swapped from the 2010 model into the new IS F.
If we were expecting a revelation, it didn’t happen - we’re talking high-performance margins here. But Lexus clearly understands that it’s in the margins, in the honing of the ‘one-percents’, where real progress commonly lies.
Pushing the updated model as hard as we dare on track, the changes down below produced a tangible difference in body control and bump absorption.
Sandown’s surface is far from glass-smooth, but the new ZF dampers iron out big bumps with ease and the firmer springs keep body roll more noticeably in check during cornering.
Stability under braking is also improved, and steering response seemed a little sharper (possibly due to the wider front wheels having a stiffening effect on the tyre sidewalls).
Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to flick the stability control off and push the new car to its limit, but we still came away impressed with the improvements made to the 2012 IS F.
Granted, they are subtle differences that will probably only be truly appreciated at the race track (arguably the only place where you can truly exploit the performance of the IS F).
We’ve yet to assess the 2012 IS F’s suspension on a proper road test, but we’re prepared to say that it’s definitely track-worthy.
Is it the perfect luxury sports sedan? Not yet, but we’d imagine that the addition of wider rear rubber, a smidgen more power from that wonderful V8 and an updated infotainment system would put the BMW M3 and Mercedes C 63 AMG on notice.
The 2012 Lexus IS F is available now.
Photos by Daniel McKenna.