Lexus tor­nado

The Ja­panese have cre­ated the mouse that roared, writes KEVINHEPWORTH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

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