2008 Lexus IS F Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 12, 2008

The 2008 Lexus IS-F challenges the best from Germany, bringing 168-mph capability with an uber-high pricetag to boot.

TheCarConnection.com’s car experts read reviews from the most respected automotive Web sites to produce this comprehensive review of the new 2008 Lexus IS-F. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also drove the 2008 Lexus IS-F, and offer our opinion on its performance, styling, safety and features where other reviews might have different opinions.

Lexus introduced its IS-series sedan in the early 2000s, and followed it with a sportback wagon. But rather than beef up the brand’s reputation for performance, the IS-series distracted from the usual Lexus selling points -- luxury, quietness and flawless quality.

Imagine what traditional Lexus buyers will think when they twist the 2008 Lexus IS-F sedan to life.

Picture a BMW M3 done by the Japanese, and you’re not far off from pinpointing the 2008 IS-F’s character. The IS-F takes a stock IS sedan and stuffs its engine bay full with a 5.0-liter V-8 making an impressive 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft of torque. The power’s routed through an eight-speed direct-shift auto/manual transmission, with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The fastest car ever delivered by Lexus, the 2008 IS-F is capable of hitting 60 in 4.6 seconds and topping out at an electronically regulated 168 mph. All the while, it turns in 16/23 mpg.

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The basic IS shape, sleek and reasonably attractive, gets some tweaks in the process too, like a more aggressive grille, with lower vents to enhance engine breathing, and matching vents for brake cooling. Flared wheel arches house the oversized tires needed to pump all that extra power to the pavement. Some of the add-ons to the sedan’s exterior look unrefined, but the interior is more flawlessly pulled together. Four grippy bucket seats are split by a console covered in aluminum-look trim. The back seats don’t offer an excess of head and leg room.

Lexus upgrades the suspension of the 2008 IS-F to give it BMW-like handling. The independent suspension feels tighter than the stock IS suspension, though the IS-F’s electric power steering leaves some feeling behind on the drawing table, even on its stiffer Sport setting. Big 19-inch wheels are standard, as are Brembo brakes.

Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution, and more, all integrated into a specially-calibrated VDIM, or Vehicle Dynamics Interface Module.

The 2008 Lexus IS-F is the closest this brand has come yet to mimicking the performance of the best German iron. It lacks a manual-transmission option and there’s no all-wheel drive, either, but in every other regard it’s the equal of the Audi RS4, Mercedes-Benz C63 and BMW M3.

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2008 Lexus IS F

Styling

The basic shape is pleasant enough, but some of the 2008 Lexus IS-F’s add-ons look out of place.

Reviewers from around the Web had criticism for the add-ons that turn the quiet and luxurious sedan into the rip-snorting 2008 Lexus IS-F.

Lexus has a difficult task with the herculean power and grip of the new IS-F. The brand’s built its reputation on comfortable rides, flawless cabins, and perfect reliability—and the IS-F is all about brute power and flash. The Detroit News says there’s no need to worry that the “IS-F might blend into the IS crowd” with its new hood, fenders, and rear spoiler. The subtle good looks of the Lexus IS, however, have been overshadowed by “gimmicky styling,” Edmunds.com notes. Some details like the rear exhaust are simply dummy shapes put in the place of real quad exhausts, they add. Motor Trend appreciates the “pronounced hood bulge that hints of something menacing lurking underneath,” and Road & Track takes the minority view and calls the add-ons “tasteful and appropriate.”

Inside, the Lexus IS-F fared a little better. Under the hood, Jalopnik says, the engine cover reminds them of “Darth Vader’s chest plate.” The cabin, however, is more sedate, offering “the style and quality we’ve come to expect of the Lexus brand,” Road & Track thinks. “Inside, it’s still al Lexus all the time,” Autoblog agrees, noting the white carbon fiber on the console, the “easily readable gauges,” and “beautifully finished seats.” Car and Driver likes the “bling of braided aluminum trim on the doors.

For more comments on the Lexus’s styling, you can also read TheCarConnection.com’s review of the 2008 Lexus IS.

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2008 Lexus IS F

Performance

The 2008 Lexus IS-F’s acceleration is nothing short of stunning and the transmission clever, but the ride is harsh.

All the reviews of the 2008 Lexus IS-F noted its astonishing acceleration, which leaps ahead of big performance names like BMW’s M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63.

The Lexus IS-F gets its game-changing acceleration from a 4.2-liter V-8 with 416 hp, more than the BMW M3 and Benz C63. According to Car and Driver, the Lexus IS-F will accelerate like “a V-8-powered sledgehammer” and will hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds on its way to 172 hp, though it “inhaled” premium unleaded fuel at a 16-mpg rate. It’s “raw and thrilling,” Car and Driver says—and Edmunds.com agrees, calling the “roar of the rev-happy V-8…one of the most lust-worthy we’ve heard.”

An automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered on the 2008 Lexus IS-F, but it’s a special one: an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters and lightning-quick response. Road & Track likes the “full control over shifting” in Manual mode, but dislikes the “quite abrupt” shifts at lower engine speeds. “Nobody’s going to complain” about the lack of a manual transmission, Motor Trend says, thanks to its “ultra-fast shifting.”

By using Porsche’s 911 as a handling benchmark, Road & Track reports, Lexus has tuned the 2008 IS-F so that it’s entirely without “the soft and gentle nature of an IS 350.” It deems its ride “harsher,” and calls its body roll “minimal.” Edmunds.com agrees, noting the IS-F “rides taut and firm…all the time.” Car and Driver differs somewhat, saying that the ride is tuned to “make allowances for road fissures,” while it allows “some restrained roll through the esses.” Differences in drivers and road surfaces usually account for these differing opinions, and since Car and Driver and Road & Track are both enthusiast publications, you can guess that a harsh ride is part of everyday life with the 2008 Lexus IS-F. “Consider yourself warned,” Edmunds.com concludes.

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2008 Lexus IS F

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Lexus IS-F’s harsh ride weighs heavily on its reputation for comfort.

Reviewers seemed to gloss over the basics of the 2008 Lexus IS-F’s seating and use of space, not to mention fit and finish.

Horsepower glazed over their editorial eyes, but Edmunds.com was able to note that the “four-passenger interior” is “effectively identical to that of the IS 350,” which TheCarConnection.com reviews separately. Car and Driver adds that the “two non-folding buckets” that replace the IS 350’s rear seat have a “ski pass-through,” as if Lexus IS-F owners are schussing off to Tahoe on a weekly basis. MotherProof.com felt the Lexus IS-F is “pretty cushy for such a high-performance car.”

The main factor in the 2008 Lexus IS-F’s comfort is its ride quality. Motor Trend points out the trouble with a harsh-riding Lexus pretty succinctly: “From the company that's synonymous with a cloudlike ride comes a suspension that's as cushy as a manhole cover.” But if that or the “pretty big” trunk are the major factors in your shopping process, Jalopnik advises, “don't bother checking your pulse. You're already dead.”

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2008 Lexus IS F

Safety

A strong safety package and user-controlled stability aids give the 2008 Lexus IS-F the safety of a world-class sedan.

The 2008 Lexus IS-F’s safety package is comprehensive, but its electronic stability controls leave the enthusiasts unsatisfied and the consumer reviewers wondering why it can be disengaged.

The basics of the Lexus IS-F’s safety aren’t controversial at all. The IS-F sports all the expected airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control as standard. Though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn’t tested the new Lexus sports sedan, the private Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has—and it’s rated the Lexus IS-F as “good” for both front and side impact protection.

The controversy comes from the switchable stability control, which will “allow you to have plenty of fun on back roads.” It can be turned off by drivers, but AutoMedia warns that doing so is “is asking for a crash,” since the IS-F’s power will “cause the tail to slide excessively.” Still, the enthusiasts aren’t entirely satisfied with the control over the system: Road & Track says the “Sport mode cuts in far too early to allow much fun.”

For the average consumer, MotherProof.com’s assessment rings truest: “I felt perfectly safe and steady.”

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2008 Lexus IS F

Features

The 2008 Lexus IS-F has all the high-end features you’d expect—and most of them make the car better, richer, and more entertaining.

The 2008 Lexus IS-F comes equipped with a long, long list of standard features—and reviewers felt most of the options added to the Lexus experience, instead of detracting from it.

The Lexus IS-F, after all, is a car worthy enough to have its own “special Neiman Marcus Edition,” Motor Trend reports. “All the typical amenities are standard or available, including heated seats, navigation, Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, and radar-guided cruise,” they add, with a special fondness for the “optional (and gorgeous) high-contrast interior, with dramatic white-on-black leather.”

The Detroit News mirrored those comments, pointing out favorite features like iPod inputs, heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated 10-way power front seats, and a six-disc CD changer, perfect for when “you blow the doors off a BMW.”

Jalopnik thinks the Lexus IS-F’s navigation system is “decent,” and adores the digital “F” that appears in the instruments. Their enthusiast-addled advice? “Check the sunroof-delete box. Saves you 55 pounds up top.”

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