2009 Lexus IS F Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
March 20, 2009

The 2009 Lexus IS-F is pricey, but it takes on the best from Germany.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Lexus IS-F on the street and on the track, in order to give you an expert opinion regarding its performance and practicality. TheCarConnection.com's car experts have also researched available road tests on the new Lexus IS-F to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other car reviews might differ.

Introduced in 2008, the Lexus IS-F is a high-performance version of the IS sport sedan. It was the first production model to wear the brand's "F" designation, heralding more exclusive vehicles offering track-ready performance.

The attractive IS-F features a more aggressive grille with lower vents to enhance engine breathing and matching vents for brake cooling, while flared wheel arches house the oversized tires needed to pump all that extra power to the pavement. Some of the add-ons to the 2009 Lexus IS-F sedan’s exterior appear unrefined, but the interior is flawless; a console covered in aluminum-look trim splits four bucket seats. Backseats, however, don’t provide enough head- or legroom.

For 2009 the IS-F receives an updated instrument-panel center cluster and a black/terra-cotta two-tone interior trim. Additional interior enhancements include a new piano-black finish for the center cluster and illuminated outside mirror controls.

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The Lexus IS-F is the closest Lexus has come to matching the best of the high-performance variants from Germany. The IS-F lacks a manual-transmission option and all-wheel drive, but in every other regard it’s equal to the BMW M3, the Mercedes-Benz C63, or the Audi RS4. The engine bay of the IS-F features a 5.0-liter V-8 producing 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque. Power is transmitted to the wheels via an eight-speed direct-shift auto/manual transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Capable of hitting 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and topping out at an electronically regulated 168 mph, the 2009 IS-F is Lexus’ fastest car to date.

The IS-F’s 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 for the 2009 Lexus IS-F includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, and more, all integrated into a specially calibrated VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Interface Module).

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2009 Lexus IS F

Styling

The 2009 Lexus IS-F maintains a luxurious cabin but earns demerits for its exterior styling.
 

TheCarConnection.com’s editors determine from multiple reviews that the 2009 Lexus IS-F exhibits respectable performance at the cost of some luxury and quietness.

Lexus builds its reputation on comfortable rides, flawless cabins, and perfect reliability—and the IS-F is all about brute power and flash. “Gimmicky styling has overshadowed the subtle good looks of the Lexus IS,” says Edmunds.com. Some details like the rear exhaust are simply dummy shapes put in place of real quad exhausts, they add. Motor Trend appreciates the “pronounced hood bulge that hints of something menacing lurking underneath,” though Road & Track takes the minority view and calls the add-ons “tasteful and appropriate.” 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 interior of the 2009 Lexus IS-F doesn't receive the harsh criticism to which the car’s exterior is submitted. “Inside, it’s still all Lexus all the time,” says Autoblog, 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." Under the hood, Jalopnik observes, 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,” declares Road & Track.

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2009 Lexus IS F

Performance

The ride is harsh, but the 2009 Lexus IS-F accelerates like nobody’s business and shifts gears through a lightning-fast transmission.

With a 4.2-liter V-8 producing 416 horsepower, the 2009 Lexus IS-F’s ability to accelerate has propelled it ahead of other performance models such as BMW’s M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63.

According to Car and Driver, the Lexus IS-F accelerates like “a V-8-powered sledgehammer” and hits 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 agrees, calling the “roar of the rev-happy V-8…one of the most lust-worthy we’ve heard.”

An eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters is the only gearbox offered on the 2009 Lexus IS-F, but it’s special and lightning-quick. 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.”

Lexus uses the Porsche 911 as the high-water mark for handling. The 2009 IS-F is tuned so that it’s entirely without “the soft and gentle nature of an IS 350.” Road & Track deems its ride “harsher” and calls its body roll “minimal.” Edmunds 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 varying 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 2009 Lexus IS-F. “Consider yourself warned,” Edmunds concludes.

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2009 Lexus IS F

Comfort & Quality

Don’t expect the typically pillowy, quiet Lexus ride in the 2009 IS-F.

Practical aspects like fit and finish, seating, and interior space aren’t so much on the minds of reviewers as they hotfooted around in the IS-F.

Car and Driver notes 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 feels the Lexus IS-F is “pretty cushy for such a high-performance car.” Edmunds.com says that the “four-passenger interior” is “effectively identical to that of the IS 350,” which TheCarConnection.com reviews separately.

But with overall packaging quite similar to that of the IS sedans, TheCarConnection.com confirms that the IS-F has a roomy trunk, yet is quite skimpy in backseat space; some drivers might also feel limited in headroom.

Ride quality is the key ingredient to comfort in the 2009 Lexus IS-F. Motor Trend succinctly points out the trouble with the harsh-riding Lexus, saying, “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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2009 Lexus IS F

Safety

The 2009 Lexus IS-F offers the safety of a world-class sedan.

Reviewers wonder why the electronic stability control can be switched off, but otherwise the 2009 Lexus IS-F offers a comprehensive safety package.

The IS-F sports all the expected airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability and traction control technologies, but controversy comes from the switchable stability control. AutoMedia warns that turning off traction control “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 shopper, MotherProof.com’s observation might be reassuring: “I felt perfectly safe and steady.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the Lexus IS-F as “good” for both front and side impact protection. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn’t tested the new Lexus sports sedan.

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2009 Lexus IS F

Features

Despite being a performance-focused car, the 2009 Lexus IS-F comes equipped with all the best luxury features.

The 2009 Lexus IS-F has all the high-end features you’d expect, and reviewers feel most of them make the car better, richer, and more entertaining.

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

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.”

The Detroit News points 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.”

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