The Japanese have created the mouse that roared, writes KEVINHEPWORTH
APERFORMANCE Lexus. Now that’s a phrase not often heard. But you had best get used to it. The Japanese luxury maestros may have taken their time in risking anything approaching an emotional project, but in the IS F the company renowned for refinement has produced a performance firecracker.
A small sedan stuffed full of 5.0-litres of in-your-face V8 punching out 311kW, 505Nm and a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.8 seconds may be difficult to reconcile with the same company that produced the SC430 and called that a sports car. But this time it’s serious. ‘‘What is important to us about this car is it gives us a performance car in the range, which we’ve never had before,’’ Lexus Australia boss John Roca said at the first Australian drive of the IS F at Japan’s Fuji Speedway.
‘‘We haven’t just put a V8 in this car and shouted ‘job done’. We could easily have called it an IS 500, but we didn’t because this is a thoroughbred built for racing. This is really a car built for the track and adapted to the road.’’
It’s based on the IS — known to Australians in its V6 IS 250 guise and due Down Under in October priced about $40,000-$45,000.
The fact the IS F ever saw the light of day is almost entirely because of the passion of a man who spent much of his early time with Lexus divesting the driver of sensory inputs by developing the eerily quiet NVH levels of the original Lexus limousine, the LS 400.
Ironically, those efforts won Yukihiko Yaguchi the kudos in senior management circles that allowed him the leeway in 2002 to play with his own private ‘‘skunk works’’ within the strictly structured Lexus world.
He says: ‘‘When I started there was no budget. Many people did not understand what I wanted to do. It was hard. I wanted to develop a new breed of animal for Lexus. In general our company produces rather rational cars and it was certainly very difficult to reach a consensus for development.’’
Constrained by the semi-official nature of the car’s development program but driven by unbounded belief and enthusiasm, Yaguchi continued building and testing proto- types— largely in his own time after completing his official Lexus duties — until he was ready to put the acid test to those with the power to officially sanction his project.
‘‘To profile the potential customer I just looked in the mirror,’’ Yaguchi says. ‘‘My benchmark was what I wanted to drive based on 30 years of experience and enthusiasm.’’
Lexus has firm orders for 38 IS Fs and John Roca is confident the supply-restricted 120 cars a year available to Australia will do little more than whet the appetite as the car’s reputation spreads.
Styled to be aggressive without being threatening, the IS F is not the poster kid for athletic design. The bonnet, swollen to contain the impressive engine, gives the immediate impression of a boxer who has taken one too many on the nose: tough but not necessarily attractive.
There’s no doubting the power of this car. It’s evident from when the first tickle of the throttle lights the wick until the final burble of the exhaust dies away on shutdown.
It’s not a slap-in-the-back car. Neither is it brutal in the manner of the C63; rather, it’s more refined without being overwhelmed.
The 5-litre V8 has been built up in the company’s ‘‘clean room’’ engine factory.
The quad cam multi-valve unit has Yamaha-developed high-flow cylinder heads, variable valve timing with electronic control on the inlet actuation, titanium inlet valves, high-lift camshafts and a full stainless steel dual exhaust.
Coupled to the eight-speed automatic from the LS460 (again, the question is, do you need that many cogs with the V8’s amount of torque?) the engine will spin to 6800 revs in what seems no time at all.
Blue thunder: it may not be the most beautiful of cars, but the tough new Lexus IS F V8 can deliver 311kW and scorch from 0 to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.
Driven man: Yukihiko Yaguchi, the man behind the IS F, says he produced the sort of car he wanted to drive.