There’s no doubt about it, my first impressions are good. Despite its slightly non-descript compact four-door saloon body shape, the Lexus IS-F is a stunning car, especially in its uber-fashionable white with blue-ish tinted xenon headlights at the front, four huge exhausts at the back and 19-inch carbon grey alloys in the middle.
It might not be instantly recognisable like an M3 or even a 911, but that’s the category that Lexus wants to see itself in.
Inside, the story is the same; it’s way beyond the expectations typical of a Japanese four-door saloon, even one that costs in excess of £50,000.
It really is beautifully finished with superbly bolstered leather seats (electrically adjusted and heated, naturally) and superb interior lighting which makes a big difference at night. It’s also fully loaded with every option imaginable, from super clear sat-nav to radar-controlled cruise control.
But the real story isn’t about how this car looks, but about how it goes.
Let’s start with the facts – rear wheel drive and a 420bhp 5.0 litre V8 and an eight-speed auto gearbox with fingertip paddle change just behind the steering wheel.
You’d expect these figures to make a fire-breathing monster that’s uncontrollable on corners, especially on a damp, cold day in the middle of winter.
Not a bit of it. Ensure that sport mode isn’t engaged (road conditions dictated this anyway), slip it into drive and it’s just like any other modern, well-spec’d compact executive. Smooth, quick, quiet and very relaxing to drive.
Gear changes are many but mainly imperceptible, and only the dashboard display gives any hint which of the eight gears the electronics have selected.
On the motorway, select the automatic cruise control and it speeds up and slows down itself according to what’s in front of you.
In addition, as you’d expect with a large capacity V8, even at motorway speeds, the engine rarely gets much above 2000 revs and it always stays whisper quiet.
This all changes, however, when you dotwo things.
Slipping into manual gives complete control and lets you choose which note you’d like to have – and above 4000 revs the choice is either loud or OMG! Performance is absolutely blistering, but the handling is well controlled, as I found out at a roundabout in Ryhope when the electronics saved me from an embarrassing moment by controlling my slightly heavy right foot.
Gear changes are amazing.
It’s not just the speed which is impressive, but the sound the car makes as it snicks from one gear to another, and the Lexus IS-F has another great trick up its sleeve as it automatically blips the throttle when you’re higher up the rev scale and changing down.
It’s addictive, and with eight gears it’s not hard to find a reason to change up or down! So I guess you could say that the car is a Jekyll and Hyde; beautifully equipped exec one minute, hard-nosed racer another.
And maybe that’s its ultimate downfall, as getting to the sports car side of the Lexus IS-F requires a little bit of effort and certainly higher speeds than most of the camera controlled limits that exist these days. It’s also discreet. Yes, it looks great in white, but take away the alloys, and from the front and side, it looks pretty much like the IS220D, despite the fact that it costs almost exactly twice as much.
Of course, that very discreetness is also beneficial, as the IS-F easily hides its sports car talents, and for potential purchasers, this lack of showiness could swing the deal.
I loved driving it and the noise it makes when pushing on is intoxicating, though driving a car with a 5.0 litre V8 engine that uses super unleaded fuel as fast as a litre every four miles (according to the multi-function readouts) might be extreme for some.
The £55,000 list price is undoubtedly very competitive when you compare the blistering outright performance against M3 and RS4 rivals and, the way prices of cars with higher emissions are dropping these days, in a couple of years, who knows?
The Lexus IS-F Jonathan test drove was provided by Lexus Newcastle, 22 Benton Road, Newcastle, NE7 7EG, tel 0191 215 0404, www.lexus.co.uk/newcastle