Lexus IS F road test: A hot rod and a lot more

2014 Lexus IS F sedan

2014 Lexus IS F sedan

It’s not very often — if ever — that you see the words “Lexus” and “hot rod” in the same sentence. Yet, the terms pair well in any discussion of the 2014 Lexus IS F.

To bring you up to date, The IS F sedan was introduced in 2007 as an addition to the Lexus line-up of compact luxury vehicles. It was Lexus’ first effort to spice up its product portfolio, and it was given the F designation to pay tribute to Turn One of the Fuji Speedway, where it underwent a lot of its racetrack-ready development.

It is now nearing the end of its life, and a replacement is expected next year. Still, this sports/luxury sedan still feels mostly up to date.

Lexus IS F front seats

Lexus IS F front seats

What a driver will notice first is that the Japanese manufacturer’s compact sedan is fitted with a monster V-8 engine —  5 liters, 416 horsepower, 371 pound feet of torque. Teamed with a lightning fast 8-speed automatic transmission, it can slam the four-seater from a stop to 60 mph in about 4 ½ seconds.

Lexus? Hot rod? You bet.

But, hold the horses for a few moments. Lexus has made sure, especially with major updates for the 2011 model year, that the IS F is not just some one-trick team of stallions. There’s a whole lot more to this sedan than the muscle that can throw you back into your seat, put a grin on your face and make you a hero at red-light runoffs.

Starting with a standard IS sedan, engineers have upgraded and/or massaged  the transmission, suspension, steering and brakes, added special performance tires, inserted high-tech electronic assists, installed a torsion rear differential to improve high-speed traction.

Lexus IS F rear seats

Lexus IS F rear seats

Add it all up and it’s obvious that Lexus prepared a high-performance sports/luxury sedan to play on the same Nurburgring as similar elites from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

But, the average enthusiast was not forgotten, either. If you can stand a somewhat stiff ride, you will have plenty of fun enjoying the driving dynamics on life’s everyday roads, and you certainly will get a kick out of the muscular music streaming out of the tailpipe when the strong V-8 ventures into the upper reaches of its rev range.

So, let’s look a little closer at what puts the excitement into this rather innocent-looking rear-wheel-drive sedan.

That Direct Shift Transmission can be operated manually with steering-wheel-mounted paddles. There are two modes, D (for docile?) and M (for marauder?). In “M” mode, the transmission can hold each gear to the 6,800-rpm redline and click off shifts in a 10th of a second. It also automatically matches engine speed to vehicle speed during downshifts to achieve maximum traction.

There also are three driving modes — normal, sport and snow — which adjust the r sedan to accommodate the driver’s wants and/or needs.

The independent suspension — double wishbones up front, multi-link at the rear — was upgraded to sharpen handling without destroying ride quality, After all, this is a luxury sedan, too.