The 2013 Lexus IS F plays your spine like a keyboard plugged into a Marshall amp. Instead of black and white keys, the Lexus’s 5.0-litre V8 strikes at your vertebrae, hitting each one with a sledgehammer as soon as the metronome needle spikes past 3,500rpm. Sometimes your spine is a better sound receptor than your ears, especially when Yamaha is involved.
See, the engine is what this car is all about. Chassis-wise, the Lexus IS F is fair. It’s certainly the sportiest Lexus you can buy (because come on, who can buy the LFA) but let’s face it, it’s not exactly difficult to stand out in a Lexus line-up made up entirely of Sealy Posturepedics on wheels.
So you buy the engine, and just like Enzo Ferrari used to do, Lexus throws in the rest of the IS F for free.
The engine dictates many things in the IS F, not just the performance (0-100kph in 4.7 seconds), for example, the bonnet needed a bigger bulge to conceal the 5.0-litre V8 underneath, and more area to channel air into the bay — the grille is a mesh with touches of Lexus’s new spindle style up front, too.
But what really makes the naturally aspirated V8 special, is its Yamaha- designed head and tuning development that’s freed up 417 horsepower for a healthy specific output of 83bhp-per-litre. Not quite Honda VTEC category, but with variable timing, cast-aluminium intake manifold, titanium valves, forged crank and con-rods, the V8 is an absolute gem of tractability. Below 3,500rpm you’ll hardly hear it hum as it returns fuel economy of well below 10 litres-per-100km, but when you point the needle towards its 6,800rpm limit, Yamaha’s other schizophrenic nature comes out to play. It’s a totally addictive all-atmospheric power delivery made even better with the accompanying soundtrack — one of Yamaha’s many business interests is in hi-fi components, so they know a thing or two about acoustics.
As for what makes this IS F a 2013 model, Lexus swears the car’s received refined suspension tuning, but honestly, I think a Lexus engineer went into the shop, sucked on his pencil for a while, and then decided to check the tyre pressure. Job done, he marked it up as a 2013 suspension retune…
The rest of the changes are limited to cosmetics; new exterior colours that are merely shades of old paint options; and feature additions, such as HD radio and Enform 2.0, which is an app that accesses online services such as Bing, Facebook, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora and Yelp. What that means for you, the consumer, is absolutely nothing, because you can’t use any of those services in the GCC and the app isn’t available here at all anyway.
So really, the 2013 Lexus IS F, is a 2011 Lexus IS F sold in 2013. Which is fine, because this thing drove great back in 2011 too.
The all-electric steering system is devoid of connectivity to the driver and that feel we all search for, but its relatively quick ratio makes it precise, and the wheel has a surprising tendency to quickly spring back to centre out of sharp turns or during corrective steering, which is something few electric systems manage well. In Sport mode (you never really need this switched on, you just need TC switched off), the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system further increases steering assist.
The standard limited-slip differential (introduced with the old update in 2011) means the Lexus gets sideways at every opportunity, easily breaking the traction provided by the 255/35R19 rear tyres (225/40R19 fronts), but you do have to kick down in the gearbox simply because you so often find yourself too far up in the ratios with so many options — this is quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. Despite the electronics’ best efforts — switch off the traction control fully by holding down the button, yet the tell-tale TC lamp still periodically flickers to let you know it always lurks in the background — the Lexus can power out of every turn, even harmoniously swaying down perfectly straight roads through the first three gears.
As the first Lexus to wear the brand’s ‘F’ mark, the IS F gets a smattering of badges, and finely shaped leather seats, most of the amenities you need (dual-zone auto AC, electric everything including steering column), and glass-fibre trim.
Yes, the same stuff they make septic tanks out of. This is a luxury car, Lexus, so skip the poor man’s carbon fibre and put a 5in x 10in patch of the real stuff in there.
Other than that there isn’t much to complain about. This is a sports saloon bursting with character, and since it’s in dire need of a full redesign (the latest generation car will debut next month at the Detroit show), we can understand one last-ditch effort for attention. Well, as soon as you cross 3,500rpm with a Yamaha-tuned head, you’ve got our attention, Lexus.