Showdown: 2010 Lexus IS F Versus 2010 Lexus IS350 with F Sport – Comparison, Road Test and Review
Lexus is not the first company that comes to mind when you think about tire-vaporizing track monsters. It doesn’t have the same racing heritage as the likes of Audi or the depth of performance models as Mercedes-Benz. But the company is quickly making up for lost time with its most recent F Performance Vehicles – the muscle car-like IS F and the exulted LFA – as well as its new line of F Sport equipment add-ons. Even though Lexus lacks the motorsports pedigree, it’s taking no prisoners in its approach, modifying its DNA along the way for a more aggressive and competitive attack on the market. And it can only help that Toyota Racing Development is lending a serious helping hand behind the scenes…
We recently had an opportunity to spend time in the 2010 Lexus IS350 with substantial F Sport mods as well as the 2010 Lexus IS F and we walked away both tremendously impressed and moderately puzzled. Both vehicles fall into the luxury sports car segment and, in their fully optioned form hovering around $55-60k, compete in a tough class against cars such as the BMW M3, Cadillac CTS-V and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. And so, along with reviewing both models, we set out to answer two questions: 1) how does the Lexus "F" offering stack up against the competition and 2) does an IS350, with all the F-Sport add-ons, sort of equal a Lexus IS F? Since this is a relatively new market direction for the Japanese automaker best known for its conservative perspective, we wanted to clear up some of the confusion— for us and for you.
The standard IS350 has clean lines and a demur styling that is both sporty and aesthetically pleasing. Since the IS F is based on this underlying platform and billed as a much more extreme variation, some aggro tweaking was in order. The hood has a proper bulge to make way for the V8 engine and an enlarged grill for better cooling, with honeycomb style grating as opposed to the IS350's vertical slats. The lower section sports brake cooling ducts on either side of the fog lights. From the profile view, the large front fender air outlets flow into the rocker panels.
The side sills flare out with a substantial crease that narrows approaching the rear wheels. In the back, the low- and wide-mounted square brake lights of the IS 350 are replaced with tiny slivers of LED lamps mounted higher in the bumper to make room for two sets of vertically stacked exhaust diffusers integrated at a slight offset. An understated rear spoiler finishes off the look. If all that isn't enough to tell you that the IS F is a different kind of animal, the car also features special F badging in a silver matt finish set in black with blue trim on the front fender as well as the bumper.
The interiors of both cars are impressive in form and function. High quality materials and excellent fit and finish are present throughout. The biggest difference between the IS350 and the IS F comes down to the seats, trim and accents. The standard front sport buckets in the IS 350 get replaced with heavily bolstered racing seats that fit especially snug and are set lower in the vehicle. The IS F also loses the middle seat in the rear. Speaking of folks relegated to sitting in the back, leg room in both cars can be a bit cramped for those with above average sticks.
A carbon-fiber-like trim set in a silver finish adorns the center console and door switch plates in the IS F, which also offers aluminum trimmed gauges. Additional branding with the F badge is found on the lower section of the steering wheel, outside seat cushions and the pull-down center console in the back. Both the IS 350 (with Sport package) and F feature aluminum pedals and scuff plates as well as nifty leather and chrome shift knobs. Vibrant blue gauge needles add to the allure and complete the ‘look.’
Both models come standard with Lexus' SmartAccess system which includes a push-button Start/Start function and keyless entry, adjustable power seats, automatic dual-zone climate control with a pollen filter and smog detector, power tilt/slide moon roof, auto-dimming outside mirrors with defogger and puddle lights, steering wheel with audio/memory/cruise control, power windows, dual map lamps, dual lighted vanity mirrors and the Lexus Premium Audio System with 13-speakers, in-dash 6-disc changer, Bluetooth, XM Radio and USB/iPod connections. That's a lot of tech for the standard offering.
Our IS350 model included the optional navigation system with voice command, XM NavWeather , XM NavTraffic and XM Sports & Stocks. And, as part of the Sport Package, it also included heated and ventilated seats, driver and passenger 3-position memory seats, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and rain sensors.
Our IS F loaner stepped things up further with all of the above along with the Mark Levinson 14-speaker Premium Surround Sound Audio System. This offering didn't sound significantly different than the standard fair but the 7.1-channel architecture with 300 watts of power did offer subtle nuances in sound delivery and better lows and highs across the board. In addition, being able to play DVD movies (when the parking brake is engaged, gahh!) and listen to thousands of MP3s thrown on a DVD is a nice option. The instrument cluster indicates oil temperature as well as displays a voltimeter and a shift-indicator light.
Overall, the controls across the board were some of the easiest to use and operate. Lexus has a simple, no nonsense approach with everything functioning in a logical and straightforward way. There was never a time where we needed to pull out the manual. The touch-screen LCD display offers fast response, pleasant graphics and a convenient layout of virtual buttons. And the Bluetooth phone functions were some of the slickest we've come across, with prompts for each phone cataloged in the system including the display of security PINs for syncing. The backup camera is a nice touch but some additional graphics denoting boundaries would have been helpful (yes, we've gotten that lazy after being spoiled by the Acura TL and Range Rover Sport). That said, Lexus does offer a parking alert system complete with icons which indicate any solid object in close proximity to the front or rear bumper and a beeping tone that accelerates with imminent collision.
The Lexus IS350 is a legitimate sports car with a 3.5 liter V6 engine good for 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Lexus has claimed a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds although anecdotal evidence suggests that times as low as 5.2 seconds have been recorded by various folks. Official quarter mile figures are pegged at 13.9 seconds with an electronically limited top speed of 144 mph. And gas mileage is surprisingly decent with a rating of 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
The Lexus IS F on the other hand is outfitted with a 5.0-liter V8 putting out 416 hp with 371 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturer's performance stats list 0-60 mph acceleration at 4.6 seconds, with a quarter mile reached in 13 seconds flat on the way to a top speed of 170 mph. Both engines offer direct and port injection, an electronic throttle system and Lexus' stellar Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) for strong and linear power delivery. Outside any type of forced-induction, Lexus definitely pulls out all the electronic wizardry stops. In fact, for the IS F specifically, there is even a scavenge pump that forces oil into the cylinders during extremely hard cornering above 1g.
Both vehicles incorporate a direct-shift automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which offer crisp switches and excellent solid feel. The Lexus IS350 has a six-gear sequential gearbox while the IS F has a ridiculous 8 speeds, an industry first. Each car travels effortlessly through the full range of gears and offers three ETC driving modes including Sport/Power (which holds gears longer), Comfort/Normal (which is basically just the normal mode) and Snow (which we assume launches in 2nd gear and offers more responsive traction control) as well as the option of activating the paddle shifters in normal Drive mode. In manual mode, the shifts are executed much quicker, with 1/10th of a second transitions, downshift rev-matching (in the IS F) and the ability to ride out gears to the 6,800 RPM redline in the IS F and 6,500 rpm in the IS350. One anomaly was the tendency for both cars to hold a low gear for an especially long time after obtaining cruising speeds while in fully-automatic Sport mode.
The Lexus IS F is unique is its utilization of two types of air intake based on speed. At low to moderate acceleration, air gets pulled from the primary inlet delivering quiet and smooth operation. But really step on the gas, and a secondary inlet opens at 3,600 RPM pulling in another huge gasp of air and delivering quite a nice power punch. And when this happens, the low restriction semi-dual exhaust system (two catalytic converters are channeled into a "Y" pipe that enters a single muffler) lets out a howl unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.
The basic IS platform features a fully independent double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension, both served up with coil springs, gas-pressurized shock absorbers and stabilizer bars. The biggest difference between the two vehicles results from the track-proven mods that Lexus made based on performance testing at Germany's legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife, Circuit Paul Ricard in France, Japan's Fuji Speedway and the Higashi-Fuji Technical Center in Japan. The IS F is dropped a full inch lower than the stock IS models, has increased spring and damper rates, larger diameter stabilizer bars and piston rods on the monotubes and a revised sets of rear control arms. All of these serve to lower the center of gravity, offer tremendous balance and outstanding handling response at high speeds. Both cars have a tight, sharp and precise feel. Many folks have complained about the harshness of the IS F's ride and we did find it especially firm but not uncomfortably jarring. And, neither car offers much in the way of road or wind noise.
The standard brakes on the IS350 are run-of-the-mill front and rear ventilated brakes that provide sufficient but not stellar stopping power. The IS F on the other hand delivers Brembo brakes sporting 14.2-inch drilled rotors with 6-piston calipers up front and 13.5-inch drilled rotors with two-piston calipers in back. Both sets sit behind 19-inch BBS forged alloy wheels in a smoke finish wrapped in low profile Bridgestone Pontenza tires.
And Then Came Along F Sport
Now here's where things get interesting… Lexus is now offering an opportunity to take any of their standard vehicles, install high-performance add-ons via their F Sport line, and turn luxury but everyday rides into track-worthy sleepers. Our IS 350 model came with the Sport Package which already offered a sport suspension with lowered ride height, sport pedals and aluminum scuff plates. But it was also outfitted with a whole host of F Sport options including an upgraded exhaust system ($1,470), performance air intake ($455), 19-inch forged wheels ($2,196), sway bar set ($495), shock set ($740), lowering springs ($299) and front ($3,025) and rear brakes ($2,550).
The intake system takes the form of a fully polished aluminum tube featuring a welded F sport logo matched with a reusable dry polyester filter. The exhaust system provides polished 304 stainless steel piping mated with welded and polished mufflers leading to oversized chrome tips. Performance gains are minimal, with Lexus claiming a 3 percent and 1.5 percent increase on horsepower respectively. Even though you won't notice much difference in acceleration, the freer flowing intake gives the engine a nice hum while the exhaust delivers a serious wail so pronounced that it makes open-window Bluetooth conversations a little difficult.
The brake upgrade offers six piston calipers gripping 14-inch cross drilled rotors in front with 4-piston calipers in back grabbing 13-inch cross drilled rotors. The combination of bright blue calipers and oversized drilled rotors makes for an amazing sight on such a pedestrian–looking (albeit luxury) vehicle. And performance improves substantially with additional brake torque, zero fade, a forceful bite and tremendous stopping power.
The 19-inch F Sport wheels are staggered with an 8-inch width up front and 9-inches in rear to nicely fill out each wheel arch. In front, 5.5 pounds of rotation mass are saved while 4 pounds are shed in the rear compared to the stock 18-inch sport wheels. The reduction in unsprung weight is both noticeable and welcome and results in better responsiveness and grip. Speaking of grip, the Michelin Pilot Sport tires are nice and sticky but do offer some additional road vibration.
And finally, the Bilstein shocks, springs and anti-roll bars deliver a reduced ride height (25mm up front, 19mm in rear), firm compression and rebound as well as additional cornering composure. With this additional bracing and bolstering, the IS 350 did get a little busy on tracks of uneven highway and elevated speed-bumps felt a bit like small land-mines.
Lexus does a great job of covering all the angles when it comes to safety. The standard offering provides advanced front airbags (twin-chamber for front passengers) driver and front passenger seat-mounted side impact airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, 3-point safety belts for all five seating positions, pretensioners with force limiters in front and the rear outboard seats, child restraint seat tether anchors, front/rear crumple zones, steel beams in each door as well as a tire pressure monitoring system, first aid and tool kit. The IS F includes all of these as well as knee airbags. Lexus also provides a Safety Connect system (which sends automatic collision notification to a third party), stolen vehicle location service, and an emergency assist button as well as enhanced roadside assistance (1 year trial subscription included).
With both of these cars capable of getting a driver in trouble, Lexus provides a host of sensors and controls to keep folks safe. All of these function as part of an integrated system known as Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) that includes a four-channel ABS system, Electronic Power Steering (EPS), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and engine torque.
You can disengage VSC/TRAC by pressing and holding the TRAC-OFF button for more than three seconds. That said, a brake-based limited slip-differential and the ABS system still report for active duty and a Torsen rear differential adds additional traction control (in the IS-F).
In either case, VIDM can never be completely disabled but it is significantly less intrusive than one would expect. Overall, you probably won't notice it too much unless you decide to get a little crazy.
As a side note, it used to be that turning off traction control in the IS350 was a little like performing a cheat code for Contra. First, you turn the car on with the parking brake down, then you push release, and push and hold the regular brake. Then, while still holding the regular brake down, you had to go back to the parking brake and press and release it twice, making sure the second time it remained down. If you do everything right you should get unlimited lives and access to all the weapons (or in the case of the older model IS350s, a nice skid sign in the bottom right side of the dash.)
The IS F is an amazing machine with the heart of a lion and the face of a lamb. Sure, the body mods may be a little cartoonish but the car is a killer. And the IS 350 with the F Sport mods, when taken at face value, is completely unassuming. But step on the gas and hear its howl or try to out-corner it or out-brake it into a turn and you'll be sadly mistaken.
So, does an Lexus IS350 + $12,000 worth of performance enhancements = an IS F? Almost, but not quite. The 416hp V8 engine does provide a noticeable bump in getup over the 306hp V6 and the fact that the car was specifically track-tuned as a performance monster gives it the nod. But that said, the components provided in the F Sport offering for the IS350 are so solid and the underlying vehicle so good, that the confidence-inspired drive and enjoyment factor is almost parallel. The Lexus F Sport line is a tremendously comprehensive and high quality offering of the most requested and effective aftermarket add-ons. They even have an aftermarket-like vibe with their overstated styling. And being able to source performance parts and have them installed directly from the manufacturer complete with the full warranty is definitely a nice option.
Our 2010 Lexus IS F had an MSRP of $62,633 while the 2010 Lexus IS350 was listed at $54,802. At these price points, both cars are going up against the likes of the BMW M3, Mercedes C63 AMG, Audi S4 and Cadillac CTS-V. This is tight tight competition. The case for whether one may be better than the other really comes down to personal preference. The Germans have long dominated the luxury sports car segment and the quality of German engineering is unquestionable. American companies have had much less success in this realm but are catching up quickly. But the things that make Japanese cars so attractive – reliability, super electronics and no-nonsense comfort and convenience – may give the advantage to Lexus for someone in the market with $60,000 to spare.
The IS F and IS350 F Sport aren't perfect but they have more character and guile than any Lexus to date. They both lack on-center steering feel, have somewhat cramped interiors and a slightly brutish ride quality. But for our money, vehicles in which you can ride comfortably, safely and luxuriously to take your kids to school, pick up the drycleaning, meet your gumbahs for lunch, and later hit the freeway like Mario Andretti, is our idea of an uber-cool ride. It may be pricey, but how can you argue with a two-for-one deal?