REVIEW DATE: 25 Mar 2010
Lexus is looking to purloin more sales from its German rivals with the sporty IS F-Sport models. Steve Walker reports.
The F-Sport is the Lexus IS compact executive saloon with some sporty accessories. Nothing to write home about you might think but the IS now has substance behind its athletic add-ons courtesy of the IS-F sports saloon. With a little of the V8 range-topper's aggression matched to mainstream engine options and mechanicals, the IS should be better equipped to take the fight to the Germans.
What does Lexus mean to you? My guess is that a straw poll along these lines conducted on a typical British high street would produce a predictable set of answers. Assuming they knew what Lexus was, respondents who didn't gaze intently at the floor or pretend to take a mobile phone call while hurrying past would say things like quality, refinement and luxury. You might even get the odd clever clogs chipping in with hybrid powertrains or minuscule panel gaps. All are pillars of the Lexus brand but sportiness isn't amongst them. Compared to its German rivals, Lexus still isn't seen as sporty, despite recent landmark efforts to change that. Could the IS F-Sport models provide the required athleticism?
Of all the brands that have dared challenge the German hegemony in the UK's executive car market, Lexus has had the most sustained success but it still lags behind. The powers that be within Toyota's premium subsidiary clearly identified a need for extra dynamism and wow-factor in the product range and it was delivered in some style by the IS-F sports saloon and the phenomenal LF-A supercar. The trick is to transfer the kudos gleaned by these well-received hyper-performance models onto the mainstream cars that customers are likely to buy. That's where the F-Sport versions of the IS compact executive saloon come in. This is the Lexus answer to the M Sport and S-Line trim levels that have proven so popular with BMW and Audi customers.
The F-Sport versions of the IS are an exercise in aesthetics and there's nothing wrong with that. It just means that mechanically, they're identical to the other mainstream IS models. The one exception is that the IS 250 F-Sport model with its 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine gets lowered suspension. The IS 220d F-Sport is as standard, packing a 2.2-litre common-rail diesel.
The IS may not have the variety of engine options made available by its German competitors but the two units that are available stack-up well. The petrol engine generates 202bhp and proves quiet, smooth and melodic on the road. That's not a huge amount of power from a modern six-cylinder petrol unit and it has to be worked quite hard if it's to offer up its best performance. With the delightful six-speed automatic gearbox fitted, however, it's a tempting package for lazy, relaxed motoring.
"The F-Sport versions of the IS are an exercise in aesthetics and there's nothing wrong with that."
The 175bhp 2.2-litre diesel may be noisier and less powerful but it serves-up 400Nm of torque compared to 249Nm in the IS 250 petrol. That pulling power is available from 2,000rpm so you'll not want for pulling poke. The diesel takes 8.9s to reach 60mph while the petrol takes 8.1s so both have a turn of pace that's competitive, if not dramatic.
Inspiration for the IS F-Sport comes from the IS-F, the car Lexus built to challenge the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. The upgrades over conventional IS models aren't too far-reaching and stop a long way short of the aggression that pervades the exterior of Lexus' 417bhp sports saloon but they do the trick. The lowered suspension in the IS 250 models is joined by a boot-lid spoiler and 18" alloy wheels but there's quite a bit more inside. Sports seats, aluminium pedals and a sports steering wheel are all added while the cabin is finished in Alcantara and leather upholstery with black headlining.
Inside, the interior is also constructed with customary Lexus quality. Some of the materials lack the luxurious feel common to German rivals but there's never any doubt that the IS will stand the test of time. Technophobes will welcome the absence of complex computer control interfaces and find the various systems refreshingly easy to fathom. In terms of space, those in the front are well catered for but the rear seating area and 378-litre boot are less amply proportioned.
Dropping into the Lexus IS range just below the range-topping SE-L models, the F-Sport isn't wanting for bells and whistles. The equipment quota includes rain-sensing wipers, powerful HID headlamps which swivel to illuminate bends more effectively and a 13-speaker stereo. That's good going in a car that retails around the £30,000 mark.
The IS also comes with excellent safety provision that gives you eight airbags, stability control, traction control, brake assist and brakeforce distribution. Security too is out of the top draw with locking systems to confound the cleverest crooks.
The fleet managers and company car users whom compact executive car manufacturers expend so much energy trying to impress will take reasonably kindly to the IS. Its all-important residual values are helped by its relative exclusivity compared to fleet-favourites like the 3-Series and A4. It's also reasonably strong in terms of economy and emissions thanks to upgrades to the engines.
The diesel engine is the one to go for if running costs are a concern. It now returns over 50mpg with CO2 emissions of 148g/km. That's a competitive showing for the compact executive class. Less encouraging is the IS 250 which manages 29mpg with the manual gearbox or 32mpg with an automatic. Emissions with the two gearbox options are 227g/km and 209g/km respectively and that isn't great for a 200bhp compact executive saloon in today's market.
Whether we're spending our own money or ticking a box on a company car list, we all like a vehicle that brings a touch of emotional involvement with it. A fine compact executive car in so many areas, the Lexus IS lacked this spark of desirability or a long time but the F Sport models should help fill the gap. The recent push by the Japanese marque to highlight its sporty side has brought some formidable high performance cars and the IS F-Sport range offers some of their visual potency in a mechanically standard IS at a reasonable price.
The IS has always been a good-looking vehicle and the F-Sport add-ons enhance this. The interior is particularly slick with high quality materials and racy detailing. The engine range is limited but capable - the petrol majoring in smoothness, the diesel, a better and more affordable all-rounder. Beating the Germans is a hard job but the polish and exclusivity of the IS along with its F-Sport sportiness mean it is a worthwhile alternative.
The results below show the top IS deals on buyacar
|Lexus IS 250C SE-I 2dr Auto convertible|
|Price £28,490||Save £3,245|
|Lexus IS 250 SE-L 4dr Auto [Sunroof/Multimedia/Acc/Pcs] saloon|
|Lexus IS 220d SE-I 4dr  diesel saloon|
|Lexus IS 250 SE-I 4dr Auto  saloon|
|Lexus IS 250 SE-I 4dr Auto [Navigation]  saloon|
|Price £27,364||Save £3,572|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT IS DEALS|
|For IS F-SPORT|
|OVERALL||7.6 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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