Back in 2007, Toyota made its intention to turn Lexus into more than just a cushy-car brand even more evident with the introduction of the 2008 Lexus IS F. This car was an evolution of the Lexus IS sport sedan, which had been running American roads since the 2000 model year. Here, it is important to recall Lexus made its bones on the back of quiet, smooth, luxurious—appliances with little or no passion evident. While the company was engaged in a relentless pursuit of perfection, passion wasn’t really an issue for Toyota’s luxury brand.
In fact, prior to the introduction of the Lexus IS line of cars, only one Lexus model had any performance orientation at all, the Lexus GS. However, that was a mid-sized car along the lines of the BMW 5 Series sedan. With the IS, Lexus went after the all-conquering BMW 3 Series. Some say with a modicum of success, other say the IS was (and frankly still is) nowhere near the car the BMW 3 Series was/is.
Which brings us back to the Lexus IS F. If the standard IS sedan was the Lexus attempt at a 3 Series fighter, the 416-horseowr IS F was the marque’s parry to the BMW M3’s thrust. The 5.0-liter V8 was adopted from the hybrid Lexus LS 600h. Tweaked by Yamaha, the V8 was tuned to also generate 371 ft-lbs of torque. This was quite the significant achievement, as the engine “only” made 306 horsepower and 277 ft-lbs in its Lexus LS hybrid configuration. For the Lexus IS F, the engine was paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission tuned specifically for high-performance applications. Power was routed to the rear wheels.
The suspension system was tuned for maximum adhesion, rather than ride comfort. While enthusiasts loved the IS F, regular rank and file Lexus drivers were a bit put off by it. Further, the exaggerated look of the IS F skewed away from being traditionally Lexus-like as well. The main difference was in the way the front end had to be elongated to hold the V8. Out back, the Lexus IS F boasted a set of four non-functional stacked tailpipes —two to a side. A lot of purists derided the car for these affectations, but there was no denying its performance capability.
Interestingly, while the IS F was trimmed specifically to go head to head with the M3, (as well as its contemporary Mercedes-Benz C Class AMG models) those cars boasted a better ride, and in the case of the BMW, a manual transmission option. The Lexus was thought by many to be bit too boy-racerish to be taken seriously in the company of the more sophisticated Germans. However, there was absolutely no question the IS F had the performance potential to be well in the running.