RE: Lexus IS-F | The Brave Pill

RE: Lexus IS-F | The Brave Pill

Sunday 16th February

Lexus IS-F | The Brave Pill

The car that lived life in the shadow of the M3 and RS4 now looks like a considerably better bet...



While Oscar Wilde's famous line about stalky adulation is often dropped into point-proving conversations about unimaginative rivals, few bother with the full quotation: "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness." Which, like most of Oscar's better-remembered bon mots, is actually a pretty snide insult. But what if the imitator turns out to be as good as the thing that inspired it?

That's the existential question thrown up by the Lexus IS-F, a student that came close to becoming the master of its segment. But before that, the tougher challenge of attempting to justify featuring a Lexus in what is meant to be PH's celebration of the automotively daring.

Assemble a list of car brands and order them according to braveness and Lexus would come close to the bottom of the pile. Toyota's upmarket spin-off made its reputation through solid engineering and cars with the reliability of nightfall. Now make a second list of every model the brand has made and sort them according to the daring necessary to own one; the IS-F comes fairly close to the top. So while objectively it might be no braver than buying an approved used Fiat from your father-in-law's dealership, subjectively the IS-F is about as plucky as a Lexus gets.

The mid-noughties were a fine era for sports saloons - indeed, probably the finest. Buoyed by a ballooning global economy that was expanding towards a still-invisible needle, the premium German carmakers were fighting hard to one-up each other with ever wilder offerings. In the taller branches of the tree this was the Age of the V10s, but even in what was then known as the compact executive segment there was rampant inflation of both power outputs and cylinder counts.


Mercedes went first, trying to counteract the general ugh-ness of the W203 C-Class by creating a V8 powered C55 AMG in 2004. Audi followed with the first V8 powered RS4 in 2006, and BMW launched the 4.0-litre V8 E90/ E92 M3 the following year.

Lexus wasn't even on the field at this point - not even at the back of the grandstand. Like a tubby schoolkid clutching an excuse note, the brand seemed entirely uninterested in sport. Lexus made wafty, conservative and slightly dull models - there had been some TRD tuned variants in Japan, but none had ever reached Europe or the U.S. Indeed, news that the company was founding a performance-orientated F-Division in 2006 came as a near-total surprise; like learning BMW was planning to launch a front-driven hatchback powered by a transverse-mounted engine would have been. Here all week, try the veal.

Expectations for a sporty Lexus weren't high, but when the IS-F reached the UK in 2008 it comfortably exceeded them. It looked good, muscular and buff without any of the sort of cartoonish details that Japanese performance cars often seemed to end up with. It also had a cabin that - even 12 years on - is a model of well-designed clarity. Then there was the engine, definitely the starring feature, the 4.0-litre V8 making 416hp without forced induction and backing it up with a solid 371lb-ft of torque.

So while the IS-F didn't have the screaming top end of the M3 or RS4 - the rev counter calling time at 7,300rpm, nearly a grand below the RS4 - it had serious low-down urge and felt much punchier at everyday speeds. It sounded good, too - deep-chested and muscular rather than zingy, more American than German.

Although contemporary road-testers tended to grumble about the lack of a manual option, the standard autobox was actually pretty bloody impressive. Not only was this the first eight-speeder fitted to any road car, it also featured a lock-up function in second to eighth to sharpen responses. In manual mode it couldn't offer the whizz-bang of the M3's twin-clutch DCT - which was pretty much indistinguishable from magic back then - but it was still probably the snappiest-shifting full auto on the market at the time.

The rest of the dynamic experience was similarly impressive; the Lexus might not have been able to quite match the finesse of the M3, but it was a more charismatic alternative than either the Audi or the Mercedes and - thanks to the under-stressed engine - a hugely accomplished high speed cruiser.


But it was also expensive - five grand more than that pesky BMW - and a fair way from what traditional Lexus buyers were expecting. Being launched just in time for a savage global recession didn't help much either, and UK sales were limited to only around 230 cars over a six year lifespan. That means there aren't many out there to choose from, but also that values have stayed pretty firm when compared to ze Germans. With 106,000 miles showing, our Pill is hardly a Moroccan minicab, but that tally still seems to be the main reason it is one of the cheapest currently on offer, the vendor wanting Β£12,500.

On the plus side we have an image of a Lexus-stamped service book indicating the IS-F was inside a franchised workshop as recently as last year and 3,000 miles ago. (It also shows a single trip to a Land Rover dealershiphave been like an alien visitation from Planet Quality.) The fact the most recent service took place in Belfast also helps explain why our Pill's MOT ran out in May last year - NI not using the DVLA database - but also suggests that anyone buying it from elsewhere in the UK is going to start ownership with a bracing ferry journey.

And the brave stuff? Well the IS-F does have enough documented faults to make ownership a modest wager, if not a drunken binge on a Fixed Odds Betting Terminal. Water pumps are prone to leak, as are the heat exchanger plates buried more deeply in the engine compartment - something that can lead to a substantial bill. Old-fashioned Japanese 5,000-mile service intervals can also quickly add to the pile of receipts. Oh, and the drilled brake discs are prone to crack under hard use.

Alright, so not particularly courageous then - especially not when compared to the well documented foibles of that vaunted M3. Even the bravest Lexus isn't going to be too hard a pill to swallow - but would you want to?


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Author
Discussion

scottygib553

Original Poster:

266 posts

47 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
This is a Spotted, not a Brave Pill, lads.

Great car, though!

Edited by scottygib553 on Saturday 15th February 06:33

Fatball

324 posts

11 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
I’d have this over any of the others in the brave series. Great pick.

FlukePlay

100 posts

97 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
A lovely alternative to the German options but not a Brave Pill yet, more like a respectable purchase.

carinaman

14,569 posts

124 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
It's not a Brave Pill and it's not a 4 litre.


llcoolmac

120 posts

52 months

Saturday 15th February
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I bought one of these because it is anything but brave. Even the water pump replacement is only €600 at a main dealer. Brakes are expensive but plenty of after market options for a fraction of the price. I believe exhaust manifolds can crack which would be relatively expensive but not earth shattering by any means. Mine is a 2008 model and it's build quality is noticeably better than my brother's is300h and it feels way more expensive than the interior of my parents w206 c-class. There isn't a creak from it and it feels genuinely tank like. It puts all the German cars in that class to shame for quality feel. I'm not sure if it was built on a different line to the regular IS but it certainly feels like no expense was spared in the assembly process. Mine is low mileage but even so it feels remarkably fresh for a 12 year old car. I've been in 12 year old M3s and they usually don't feel like this. I pretty much made my decision to buy it when I sat in for the first time.

Lack of braveness aside, it is by far the best car I have ever owned. The engine and gearbox are superb. I recently watched a review where Clarkson was complaining about the auto gearbox constantly changing between ratios and it is such nonsense. He clearly didn't drive the car enough so made up some rubbish based on what he thought an 8 speed gearbox would do. It is incredibly smooth and it is very clever. If you leave it in auto it will kick down pretty quickly and hold onto revs while you overtake or accelerate away. The best thing about it is that when you want to drive slowly if wafts around like any other Lexus. It's just so smooth. In normal mode it's quite a serene place. Comfortably, quiet and smooth but you can just hear the engine purring away at low rpm. Incredibly satisfying as an everyday car.

But when you go over 3600rpm it is a totally different animal. The engine has a NASCAR like growl which is neither fake nor piped in and in sport mode the gearbox is quick and always gives you the gear you want. Out it in manual and rev matching takes place on the downshift and it never, ever shifts up when you don't want it to. It will stay at the red line all day if you don't tell it to change to the next gear. Handling is extremely sharp with loads of grip and the sport mode allows just the right amount of slide. It never feels like the TC is killing the fun. I think the sport mode in this car is perfectly judged. Luckily sport mode doesn't affect steering or suspension so even in normal driving mode you always have that great steering feel and enjoyable handling.

Some people say the ride is overly harsh but I totally disagree. It is very controlled and sharp. The engine is a masterpiece and loves to go to the redline but has bags of torque also. Accelerating hard from 2nd gear always brings a smile as it feels so rapid. The seats are extremely comfortable and very supportive. The infotainment system feels pretty modern still and it has loads of tech like keyless entry, radar cruise control, collision warning, rain sensing wipers that actually work, parking sensors, reversing camera, Mark Levinson stereo etc. All that stuff came as standard. I just wish it had a little more suspension travel and I would like if 2nd and 3rd gears didn't have such a jump between them. It's also extremely cramped in the back. Almost like a 2 seater rather than a saloon car.

I have changed my cars a lot in the last 5 years, but I can see myself still owning and driving this in 10 years. I can think of nothing that would offer the confidence of Lexus reliability and build quality while offering this level of performance and character. I love this car more every time I get into it. Glad they are finally getting the acknowledgement they deserve. So not a brave pill but an amazing car.

Billy_Whizzzz

1,237 posts

95 months

Saturday 15th February
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WTF is going on with those exhausts?

carinaman

14,569 posts

124 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
Billy_Whizzzz said:
WTF is going on with those exhausts?
I like them. And the exhausts on the Ferrari California.

llcoolmac

120 posts

52 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
Billy_Whizzzz said:
WTF is going on with those exhausts?
They look better in person than in photos. In fact I think that can be said about the car in general. I didn't really care for it before I actually saw one in the flesh. It's a pretty butch looking thing and really stands out from a normal IS. It really makes the standard IS look weedy.

cerb4.5lee

14,091 posts

132 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
I've always really liked these because I really like Jap cars and I really like V8's too. It was just the auto gearbox that let the side down for me. I also really like the C63 with the 6.2 V8 but that's also hobbled with an auto.

So I went with the V8 M3 with a manual gearbox but for me personally the M3's engine is weaker than both the ISF's and C63's. I prefer a more torquey V8 like what is in the Lexus/Merc rather than the high rev screaming V8 in the M3.

My ideal would be the Lexus body with the Mercedes 6.2 V8 mated to a decent(so not a BMW) manual gearbox. smokin

Leon R

476 posts

48 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
cerb4.5lee said:
I've always really liked these because I really like Jap cars and I really like V8's too. It was just the auto gearbox that let the side down for me. I also really like the C63 with the 6.2 V8 but that's also hobbled with an auto.

So I went with the V8 M3 with a manual gearbox but for me personally the M3's engine is weaker than both the ISF's and C63's. I prefer a more torquey V8 like what is in the Lexus/Merc rather than the high rev screaming V8 in the M3.

My ideal would be the Lexus body with the Mercedes 6.2 V8 mated to a decent(so not a BMW) manual gearbox. smokin
GT350 for you then.

cerb4.5lee

14,091 posts

132 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
Leon R said:
GT350 for you then.
That would hit the spot for sure! thumbup

cloud9

deron

7 posts

120 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
Love mine. 2010 version with the lsd and upgraded infotainment and suspension.

No issues in 17 months of ownership. The 5 litre engine is sweet as a nut.

One thing that never gets mentioned is that as well as being direct injected it's also port injected, so no carbon build up issues either.

When I considered all the v8 contenders it was a no brainer as a used option.

apm142001

70 posts

41 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
Is it not a 4.2 rather than a 4.0?

I’m usually firmly in the German camp on sports saloons but I like this a lot...in fact, great to have such a good option that isn’t German, somehow.

Those exhausts do look a bit daft but that’s my only criticism (have heard it said that they’re ‘fake’ too...but not sure what was meant by that)

samoht

1,154 posts

98 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all

I would imagine that depreciation on that £12.5k is likely to be fairly gentle from here on, too.

Seems a very prudent buy, unless any owners have tales of woe and ruin to share ?

Spykedevil

1 posts

2 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
If you are going to make a post about a car, surely you should make sure your facts are correct. It’s not a 4 litre, it doesn’t rev to 7300rpm and the water pump + heat exchanger problems did not affect UK cars.

Baldchap

2,344 posts

44 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
I test drove one of these when they were new and it was fantastic. Sadly at the time I was doing 130 miles per day so I'd have spent all my life (and money) at petrol stations.

apm142001 said:
Is it not a 4.2 rather than a 4.0?
Five litre. thumbup

As has been said above, the 2010 onwards is the one to have as the LSD put handling on par with the competition.

carinaman

14,569 posts

124 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
apm142001 said:
Is it not a 4.2 rather than a 4.0?

I’m usually firmly in the German camp on sports saloons but I like this a lot...in fact, great to have such a good option that isn’t German, somehow.

Those exhausts do look a bit daft but that’s my only criticism (have heard it said that they’re ‘fake’ too...but not sure what was meant by that)
No it's a 2UR-GSE - A 5 litre.

Fatball

324 posts

11 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
The Lexus specialist i use for my rx300 (sadly for sale) says that these things just do not break. I’m sure they do but he reckons he hardly sees them in other than maintenance.




apm142001

70 posts

41 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
carinaman said:
apm142001 said:
Is it not a 4.2 rather than a 4.0?

I’m usually firmly in the German camp on sports saloons but I like this a lot...in fact, great to have such a good option that isn’t German, somehow.

Those exhausts do look a bit daft but that’s my only criticism (have heard it said that they’re ‘fake’ too...but not sure what was meant by that)
No it's a 2UR-GSE - A 5 litre.
Oh nice! I stand corrected...Japanese stuff not my strong area, as you can probably tell...had it in my head that it was bigger than a 4.0 but hadn’t realised it was that much bigger...

Lastmin

42 posts

162 months

Saturday 15th February
quotequote all
Good read, enjoyed the article I don't often get all the way to the end of the spotted/brave sections but despite people who love to point out mistakes (Fair enough good to highlight them.....but only needs doing once) enjoyed the writing style.