2013 Lexus IS F last drive: Requiem for a heavyweight

 

2013 Lexus IS F

The 2013 Lexus IS F: Gozilla Lives!

As trucks begin to unload the 2014 IS at Lexus dealerships, we’re taking one last look at Lexus’ IS F. The ‘F’, Lexus’ Godzilla-like variant in the IS family, was first introduced to the U.S. market in early 2008. Designed to compete with BMW’s M3, Benz’s C63 AMG and – after a fashion – Cadillac’s CTS-V (King Kong), the IS F combines a Boy Racer body kit (bulging hood, deep front fascia and widened front fenders) with 5.0 liters of V8 delivering 416 horsepower. It is, in a word (or three), an absolute rush, and despite a $60K price point is well worth placing on your automotive short list.

With all of that, the newest IS 350, when spec’d with its F Sport upgrades, inches the newest IS even closer to its immediate competition. And while it doesn’t benefit from the widened track or Boy Racer looks of the ‘F’, it does enjoy almost three inches of additional wheelbase, the 8-speed transmission previously used only in the IS F, and a Sport S+ driving mode for even higher fuel consumption and/or legal fees. And with a cockpit inspired by the hyperformance Lexus LFA, this newest IS has a lot going for it when compared to rivals in the sport sedan segment.

Lexus IS 350 F Sport

Where we begin: 2014 IS F Sport

So, with the IS F running on its current platform through the 2014 model year we have time to ‘influence’ (LOL) the spec of its replacement. And if it were our decision to make, we wouldn’t go bigger under the hood; instead, we’d spec a ‘Club Sport’ iteration of the IS 350, making it lighter in weight and simpler in spec. And unlike the Germans, whose more minimalistic ‘Sport’ iterations typically cost more (see Porsche’s Cayman R as but one example…), we’d hold the line on price by holding the line on navigation and infotainment. In our ‘Driver Edition’ of the IS the entertainment will come from under the hood and throughout the chassis.

Under the hood, we think the current 3.5 liter V6 constitutes an absolutely great foundation for turbocharging. As reported by Autoweek, BMW’s upcoming M4 will replace its current V8 with a twin-turbo version of the now-classic 3.0-liter straight-six, rumored to generate some 440 horsepower. If BMW can produce that figure from but three liters, it should be no stretch for Toyota to do it from 3.5. And if the development team finds that output problematic, they need do no more than tap into the expertise of its home-grown affiliate, Subaru.

That 440 horsepower usurps the 416 available on the ’13 IS F, and – when compared to a V8 – should represent a negligible weight gain over the front wheels. And with a curb weight of just under 3,600 pounds, the new IS 350 undercuts the current IS F by almost 200 pounds. However, in our Driver Edition more reduction is needed. Eliminating the sunroof (if you want sunshine and high speed, buy a GSX-R) and the aforementioned entertainment should/could reduce curb weight by roughly a hundred pounds. Offsetting that weight drop is the gain generated by bigger brakes, wheels and rubber. In short, while something around 3,200 pounds would be ideal, an even 3,500 lbs. is more realistic.

Scion FR-S

The inspiration: Simplistic/sensational Scion FR-S

The 2014 IS 350 F Sport features three drive modes: Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. We’d eliminate the middle mode, leaving only Normal and Sport S+. Additional simplification could be achieved by the elimination of the dual-zone a/c; if your passenger isn’t comfortable, he or she can take a cab…or grab a set of water-cooled Nomex.

Adding the 19-inch rims and rubber from the IS F would be relatively simple, but for this project we’re not interested in the arrest-me-vibe of the body mods. Instead, like Mazda has done with at least one SEMA Miata, we’ll go old school, with trackday-appropriate rubber mounted on 17-inch rims. And we’ll make sure the combination of track, lowered ride height and the tire’s section height fills the wheel well; we hate it when it doesn’t.

The end result, a Driver Edition with roughly 400 horsepower propelling less than 3,600 pounds, will produce performance similar to today’s IS F (which is extraordinary), but will achieve it within a lighter envelope and could cost (potentially) some $20,000 less. It employs the same basic recipe as that which was executed for the Scion FR-S: Add only what is necessary for the driver experience – everything else can be left on the shelf.

The value is obvious, and for the discerning few interested in going rather than showing, it’ll hit the proverbial bulls-eye. And while on a Lexus showroom our newest IS might seem slightly out of place, we don’t see it staying on the showroom long.