Aside from all the tacos, I was also lucky to be visiting town the weekend before South By Southwest really kicked off in earnest, because it was that Sunday that my good old buddy John, and my new old buddy Pat, were headed up to the Circuit of the Americas to see the first ever SCCA Majors event there. It was lucky that I had planned to be out at CotA, which is east of Austin, because that made it very slightly easier for a very nice woman named Marcia to bring me a 2013 Lexus IS F from Houston, roughly 150 miles away.
Marcia brought me the IS F to replace another press car, which was having mechanical troubles; I didn't ask for the fire-breathing IS but when it was offered up I figured I couldn't do much better as a warm up for the 2014 IS program I was about to go on. See, lucky right?
- It's been a long time since we've written up a review of the IS F, so let me remind everyone of a critical fact: this car lives just inside the borders of sanity. Forget for a moment that the 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque from the 5.0-liter V8 is actually starting to sound modest in today's turbo and biturbo days, and pay attention to the fact that the IS-F might be the easiest luxury car to get sideways that I've ever driven. Power delivery to the rear wheels via the quick-spinning V8 is incredibly rapid, so if you are inclined to introduce even smidge of steering lock into the equation, you're bound to go drifting, boy. Good thing hadn't just finished watching hours of racing at a Formula One track right after I picked the car up... oh, wait.
- In many ways, the newly sporting character of the more basic IS350 is a direct result of lessons learned building this IS F. The eight-speed automatic is a carryover from the F to the new IS, even though it's handling a lot less power in the new application. I actually don't think it works quite as well in manual mode in the IS F as it does in the new IS, primarily because it doesn't react quite quickly enough to smoothly handle all the power of the quick-revving engine. I found myself really needing to shift up a beat or so before I would have expected to in order to account for the lag in the transmission. Not a horrible thing after getting used to it, but it does make it harder to squeeze out those last rpms before having to shift up. Automatic mode is unobtrusive, however, and that's what I used for three-quarters of my driving in downtown Austin, for sure.
- When I got this IS F in Austin, I was immediately transported to the first drive I'd ever had of the car, and recapitulated my thoughts on what a bruiser it is. There's very little "Lexus-like" about how the IS F rides and handles. It's stiff and almost brittle over badly surfaced roads (of which Texas has far fewer of than Michigan, thank God), with practically zero lean in hard corners. It is also loud when accelerating hard, having a flat, metallic bark of an exhaust note that seems better-suited to a Nissan Z car than anything wearing the Lexus lazy L badge. It's almost as if the Lexus performance engineers got sort of pissed about getting teased in the Luxury Car Lunchroom and built a sort of psycho mini muscle car to get back their street cred. Yes, that means it's awesome.
- You can really see how far the Lexus interior design team has come between the launch of the IS F in 2007 and now. This older style car seems like a much less mature version of the 2014 IS, albeit with many of the same materials. The IS F has got loads of high-gloss carbon fiber, bright white leather and shiny black trim. None of that is bad, per se, in fact, John (who generally hates new cars as a rule) claimed to like the simplicity with which the controls were laid out, but it does feel immediately behind the times when compared with more recent Lexus interiors.
- On that front, Lexus doesn't have plans to discontinue the IS F in the face of the new IS. I was told that this car will stay on sale concurrently with the new model, presumably until Lexus decides to built a second generation of the F. Frankly, I couldn't even get them to confirm that a followup version of the F is set in stone at all.
- This is a completely tiny, annoying-car-writer bitch, but I can't help myself: How in the hell did the overlords at Toyota sign off on a front cupholder setup this bad? The IS just has that one easy-to-use front cupholder for the front two seats. The second one requires you to drive with the center armrest pad lifted up to use. Am I the only one that ever drives with a passenger and two beverages? Has the whole world gone crazy? As soon as I saw that the new IS had remedied this with two normal cupholders, I jumped up in the air just like those Toyota commercials from the 1980s, I swear.