Released in 2008, the Lexus ISF immediately became a dream car to a Toyota and Lexus loving 15-year old teenager. That was me. After getting married and buying a house late last year, I started looking for a newer vehicle than the aging LS400 I have driven since getting my license several years ago. The process of figuring out what car I wanted to buy was extremely long and a bit taxing on my wife. Who was the one who had to listen to it. I looked at numerous Subarus, Toyotas, and even a Focus ST. But five months later, I settled in on a 2011 ISF with 65,000 miles.
The ISF was developed on Japan’s Fuji Speedway and targeted the BMW M3 in every category. It has 19” wheels with rubber band tires and suspension designed for quicker track times.
This past weekend I took the ISF—with its 416 horsepower, 5.0L liter V8 monster of an engine—on it’s third major journey as part of our family. It resulted in over seven hours straight of seat time and I am happy to say, it was excellent.
First, and quite important, the ride quality is quite nice. One of the things to remember about this car is that it is a sports car at heart. Designed to beat the king of all sports sedans, the aforementioned M3, the suspension may not be cloud soft, but it is still comfortable nonetheless. An important thing to note is that 2011 was the first year of the mid-cycle refresh on the ISF. Among many things, the main dash display was changed, LED daytime running lights were added, and most importantly, the suspension was revised. I have not had the opportunity to drive a pre-refresh vehicle, but from what I have heard the suspension is a bit more rough to say the least. So much so, there are pages upon pages of people trying to figure out how to get their pre-2011s to ride better.
Even with this great ride quality it still retains its great handling prowess, which showed its face on this last road trip. On my total seven and a half hour drive to Mobile, Alabama, another random car decided they wanted to occupy the same space as the ISF. The 6 piston Brembo brakes had no problem slowing me down while the suspension took the sudden jolt of me avoiding the tire kicked up by said car. My wife, who was looking down, was surprised but comfortable and the car never became unsettled.
The two biggest gripes I have about the ISF as a road tripper are actually related to one-another and they involve the steering and the arm rest. Even when Sport mode is turned off, the electronic steering is very heavy. This means even the most minute change of direction can feel like major work. This is especially noticeable when switching between my elder LS400 and the ISF. This also means you need arm support and the armrest definitely does not do the job. The leather is good Lexus quality and feels nice, but you quickly notice the lack of padding underneath. I find myself putting an extra shirt or towel underneath my elbow to provide the needed cushion. Not cool.
Luckily the seats more than make up for it from a comfort perspective. They are power adjustable in ten different directions including lumbar support guaranteeing you will find a setup that works for you. When you do find your setting, each front seats allow up to 3 memory settings. The large bolsters also provide good horizontal support to keep you in place while not squeezing you to death. The seats in my ISF also happen to made of perforated alcantara with leather on the outside. It allows your back to breath better and also lowers the chance of getting your back scalded when getting in the dark grey car on a hot, sunny day.
The engine and transmission combination might be the thing that has sold me the most on this car during my ownership experience. With the 416 horsepower and 371 ft/lbs tq available, switching lanes is extremely easy at any point. When changing into a faster moving lane, the power makes it flawless to get from point A to B as fast as you want. This is all done while the 8 speed transmission helps the 5.0L eight cylinder provide over 26 (ish)miles per gallon! That means the fastest car I own, is also my most fuel efficient. While automatic transmission are much maligned, in most situations it’s perfect. The M3 was offered with either a manual transmission, or a semi-automatic dual clutch. The manual involves a heavy clutch while the semi-automatic is more at home on the track while it is getting wrung out. The dual clutch setup tends to be quite clunky in traffic as the transmission constantly engages and disengages the two clutches. I am a huge fan of the crisp shifting, economical automatic in this car.
The other big plus in this car is the understatedness of it. The pronounced quad exhaust tips occasionally gather attention at gas station but for the most part people could care less. This is not a Ferrari, a Porsche, or even a BMW. It’s just a Lexus sedan to most people… and also most police. It makes things easy knowing you can go on your business and people will not take too much interest like you are in a Smart Brabus Roadster or a Fisker Karma.
The longer I have owned this car the more I have come to appreciate it more and more. I even find myself grabbing the ISF keys when on my way to work rather than the trust ole LS. It is starting to make more and more sense that it is the do everything car. Carve a country road, commute to work, and as I have come to learn, cruise for hours in comfort and speed.