2014 Lexus IS-F review: If you only knew

2014 Lexus IS-F

2014 Lexus IS-F

In the week we spent driving the 2014 Lexus IS-F it’s we heard repeatedly, “A V-8? In that?”

If they only knew.

But if the cross section of people we met are representative, very few indeed have any idea that beneath  that discreet exterior lies a 416 horsepower five-liter V-8, this in a four-door compact sedan weighing in at about 3,700 pounds and casting a notably small shadow on the ground. In fact, one of the complaints against the IS 250 and IS 350, the Lexus models forming the platform of the IS-F, is the diminutive back seat and a cabin so narrow that one of the cupholders is hidden inside the center armrest.

2014 Lexus IS-F front seats

The 2014 Lexus IS-F front seats are deeply bolstered for sport car-type driving…but then so are the back seats. (click to enlarge)

Of course, that misses the point of the IS sedans. It’s a compact sports sedan. There are larger alternatives for those who require larger car. It’s a Duh Moment, folks.

But stuffing a big engine in a small car is a hot rodding fundamental and, and with the IS-F, it gets hot rodding fundamental results.  Yes, it’s quick, and it catapults out of corners like an F-18 off a carrier deck.

Of course there are a lot of fast cars out there. We might mention the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack, for example, as a coupe that’s sort of capable of carrying four people. But the IS-F counters with its size. Although the IS-F is certainly fast enough—and with the V-8 noises certainly soul satisfying for at least a goodly portion of the enthusiast nation—the IS-F fits a narrow winding road in a way that a muscle car never could.

2014 Lexus IS-F instrument panel

The 2014 Lexus IS-F instrument panel, unlike other Lexus IS models, puts the tachometer in the center. (click to enlarge)

The Lexus IS-F reacts in a way a larger heavier car would find difficult. It’s easy, in fact, to steer the IS-F—or at least enhance its handling—with throttle and brakes. Shift the weight forward with braking or deceleration for better turn-in. Feed the throttle out and the weight shift rearward not only for traction but to align the car for the next straight. In a word—well, four words—it’s a driver’s car.

Hardcore drivers will bemoan the lack of a manual transmission. So get used to paddle shifting. The Lexus IS-F’s is as good as they come, neatly matching revs on downshift with quicker-than-you-can-think upshifts.  The shift lever itself doesn’t have a “park” position. Instead there’s a button on top of the shift knob. Push it and the transmission goes into park.

2014 Lexus IS-F engine

Where the action is: Lexus hides the V-8 under a plastic cover. (click to enlarge)

Kudos to Lexus on conjuring up an instrument panel just for the IS-F. Most cars give the speedometer and tachometer equal billing, or make the tach subservient to the speedo. Yet to a driver of a performance car, engine rpm is the most important dial. So Lexus flatters the IS-F driver with the tachometer front and center. The way, of course, it should be.

The front buckets are buckets, sport seats with side bolsters which will annoy those who don’t like sliding over them or being butt-squeezed once in…or delight those who like being held in place while going around corners. The back seat also gets special heinie-hugging seats, with no pretense of seating three across.  Sitting back there is still better for small people than the average adult.

2014 Lexus IS-F

The 2014 Lexus IS-F has quad exhaust outlets. It doesn’t make them faster but it does impress the man on the street. (click to enlarge)

The 2014 Lexus IS-F is the last of its generation, due for replacement in the 2015 model year. They’ll become increasingly rare as unsold inventory shrinks. No doubt the next generation will be better in almost every way—assuming one likes the signature Lexus “spindle grille.” If not, or for those who just want a fast, fun sports coupe with a big “L” on the hood, well, if you only knew.

Specifications and window sticker next page.

See also the 2011 Lexus IS-F review and another take on the 2014 Lexus IS-F.