A Lion In Sheep's Clothing | Lexus IS F

BY Burnpavement

With such unassuming looks and the fire-power it packs, we wished it came with a madder name, like Lexus Surprise Attack Weapon!

Photos: Joel Tam and Fai Ming

It will take a trained eye to make out the difference between the standard IS and the IS F. They look almost identical, until you make out the bulging bonnet, the flared wheel arches and discreet badges. We like it in black, particularly since it seems to hide this car's real identity.

Lexus' name for class-leading refinement goes out of the window when you fire it up. With its deep throaty exhaust note, the IS F begins to show it's beastly side with its 417hp and 505Nm, 5.0L V8 growling. In fact, we longed for the moment we could stick it in sport mode on a long empty road and mash the throttle to the floor.

If you do find a nice quiet place where you can really unleash all the pent-up power, the IS F won't disappoint you. While the engine doesn't feel that powerful at low speeds, gunning the engine past the 4,000rpm mark results in the aural pleasure of an angry roar and violent acceleration. Fitted with an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift Transmission with paddle shifts, you can cruise around at top gear without scaring everyone off, or shift it into manual mode and drop those gears to wring out the best from the engine.

There are eight-a-bit-too-many gears, but it helps to keep the fuel consumption at an excellent 11.4L/100km. It behaves like a normal automatic, but shift the lever to the left or pull the left shift paddle and it starts to feel like a clutch-less manual. Shifts are over in a blink of an eye and are smooth if you're driving gently. However, the shifts get really ferocious if you drive on the edge.

It wasn't long before we heard the voices inside our head to turn off the traction control, which exposes the IS F's rather tail-happy sensation through the corners (if that's what you like). Leave it on though and there's a lot of traction on hand, even on expressways during a downpour. The steering is nicely weighted, however it does lack a wee bit of feedback from the road. Brakes pack superb stopping power, slowing us from almost any speed without complaining.

Ride quality is totally un-Lexus as it doesn't float from corner to corner in absolute comfort. On anything but smooth roads, especially on uneven tarmac like the one you would find in the KPE, the firm suspension gets a tad too harsh for comfort, but this is not your ordinary Lexus.

The interior is interesting, with marble effect panels scattered throughout instead of the more Lexus-esque lacquered wood grain. Fit and finish is Japanese-perfect, and the controls are easy to understand and use. Orange bucket sport seats snug you nicely during tight corners, while rear passengers get the same body-holding deal with bucket-style rear seats too. However, the rear row seats two instead of three as compared to the entry level IS 250.

As far as luxury features go, there isn't much in the IS F. You get cruise control, ventilated seats and climate control just like any other luxury sedan. But, after pressing down on the accelerator and feeling the car instantly respond with such a sense of drama, we weren't bothered by the lack of equipment. Like a lion defending its territory, this car can be just as scary. But when it settles down into cruise mode, it's as docile as a house cat.

Can the IS F really be Japan's answer to German muscle? Maybe not, but there's no denying that the IS F has made some in Europe worried.