To some, the 2011 Lexus IS F represents the company's response to other carmakers' performance divisions. To others, it shows what might happen if your teenage son absconded with your Lexus IS and your platinum credit card. Either way, only the exotic Lexus LFA sports car sends a stronger high-performance message for Toyota's premium brand than the 2011 Lexus IS F. The problem is that this car comes up short in terms of ride comfort and passenger space when compared to its chief rivals.
The IS F formula is certainly spot on, with an array of high-performance hardware added to the goodness of the midsize Lexus sedan, including a potent 416-horsepower V8, bigger brakes, a suspension that's calibrated for aggressive driving and sticky performance tires on 19-inch wheels. Styling comes next, with a meaner front fascia, a bulging hood, wide fender flares, low-slung rocker-sill skirts, quad exhaust pipes and a rear spoiler. Needless to say, the IS F doesn't look like any other Lexus model.
Yes, the IS F is a far cry from the typical Lexus. The problem is that in transition from on-paper specs to reality, the IS F is a bit of a letdown. Besides the slightly adolescent styling cues, this production tuner car lacks the type of refined ride quality that the luxury brand is known for. Unless you're driving on glass-smooth pavement, the IS F feels harsh and unyielding, even when compared to cars that offer similar performance.
Some tweaks for 2011 have been designed to take the edge off the IS F and make it a little more adult. New suspension tuning is said to reduce some of that ride harshness, and last year's uncommunicative electronic-assist steering should be helped by retuning for 2011. There's also a new mechanical limited-slip rear differential that replaces the previous electronically controlled unit for improved traction. But short of a complete redesign, engineers can do little to add more space to the relatively cramped passenger compartment, something inherent in all IS sedans.
There's no doubt the 2011 Lexus IS F is a potent performer, but the drawbacks are substantial enough for us to recommend other more well-rounded luxury sport sedans. The BMW M3, Cadillac CTS-V and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG all deliver similar driving satisfaction along with more real-world usability.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2011 Lexus IS F is a high-performance luxury sport sedan that is offered in a single well-appointed trim level.
Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, a limited-slip rear differential, a sport-tuned suspension, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, auto-dimming mirrors, eight-way power heated front leather sport seats with memory settings, suede seat inserts (black leather only), dual-zone automatic climate control and a 13-speaker audio system (with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio, a six-disc CD changer, iPod integration and an auxiliary audio jack).
A hard-drive-based navigation system with a back-up camera, real-time traffic and weather updates is optional. Also available is a 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system (requires purchase of the navigation system), front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control. Navigation-equipped vehicles come with a one-year subscription to Lexus' Enform, which provides on-call travel advisers who can help drivers with destinations (e.g., a movie theater or the closest gas station) and then send the info to the navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance:
The rear-wheel-drive 2011 Lexus IS F is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic with a manual mode and shift paddles on the steering wheel is the only transmission offered.
In Edmunds testing of the Lexus IS F, the car accelerates to 60 mph from a standstill in a brisk 4.8 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates are 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 18 mpg in combined driving.
Standard safety features for the 2011 Lexus IS F include antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, front-seat side airbags, front knee airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A one-year complimentary subscription to Safety Connect, which provides collision notification, stolen vehicle location and an "SOS" emergency help button is also included. A pre-collision system is also available with the optional adaptive radar cruise control that senses an impending collision and automatically adjusts seatbelt tension and braking force.
The IS-F has not been crash-tested, but results from the IS 250/350 versions on which it is based should yield similar results. In government crash testing, the IS models managed four stars (out of a possible five) in frontal impacts for the driver and front passenger as well as side impacts for rear passengers. Side impact protection for the driver garnered five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the IS a top "Good" rating for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
In Edmunds braking tests, an IS F came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 112 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features:
Much like the supporting IS models, the 2011 Lexus IS F features a quiet cabin, well-placed controls and top-notch materials. Unfortunately, the IS F also suffers from the same drawbacks in the form of limited space. Headroom and rear legroom are at a premium, which might prove problematic for taller occupants. The trunk can hold a maximum of 13 cubic feet of luggage, which is about average for cars in this class.
The IS F differentiates its interior from its more sedate IS stablemates by utilizing sporty accents and features. The front sport seats are the most notable upgrade, with added side bolstering and racy suede inserts. The IS F's rear seat is set up to only accommodate two passengers instead of the normal three. Other sporty touches include aluminum trim (instead of wood) and cool, blue ambient lighting.
The 2011 Lexus IS F is as exciting to drive as advertised. The powerful V8 roars when prodded and has no problem laying waste to the rear tires in a torrent of white smoke (with the traction control disabled, of course). The chassis is capable of managing the abundant power, with high levels of cornering grip and precise steering. Traditionalists will bemoan the lack of a manual transmission, but the eight-speed automatic proves worthy with quick upshifts and rev-matched downshifts.
While the IS F may be an entertaining track-day car, it doesn't fare so well in the real world. The stiff suspension does little to quell potholes and ruts in the road, sending harsh jolts into cabin. Furthermore, with eight speeds to choose from, the transmission seems to frequently hunt for the right one.