Driving Impression>> The Isf Revisited

One of the best aspects of any Speedhunters trip is driving. Be it road trips, commutes from airports to hotels or driving to local tuning shops, getting behind the wheel is one of the things I look forward to the most. Sampling new cars and driving in new and unexplored cities around the world is just about as good as it gets. Last year Rod and I were lucky enough to explore Sydney and some of its surrounding areas with an R35 Nissan GT-R, and this year we had a couple of nice cars for us to Speedhunt in. It might not be a supercar slaying AWD monster, but the 2012 ISF was probably the perfect vehicle to tour the beautiful city of Sydney in.

I hadn't driven one of these luxurious sports sedans since it first hit dealers in Japan at the end of 2007. It's funny I mentioned the GT-R above, as the first time I drove the ISF was to do a drive comparison between it and the R35 for the US weekly magazine AutoWeek. And it's a good thing I drove the original 2008 model, as it would have been hard to fully understand the improvements Lexus have carried out to the car in its latest guise.

Looking at it, there are very subtle changes…

…the unmistakable stacked quad tail pipes remain…

…but are joined by new-design 10-spoke 19-inch wheels…

…and redesigned headlights, now featuring LED daytime running lights, a little detail that was often criticized on Audis back in the day but one that every manufacturer is slowly adopting.

The most important changes however are the ones you don't notice. Lexus has spent time fine tuning the handling, fitting the car with revised suspension which gives a slightly better ride at lower speeds. One of the most obvious characteristics I noticed during my 2007 drive experience in the mountains of Hakone was a rather evident body roll problem. This has been addressed thanks to thicker anti-roll bars, helping the ISF stay flat and composed when you find some corners to throw it around on. This however was something we didn't really have much chance to do, as away from our busy shooting schedule, Sydney roads and the constant Police presence, be it active or inactive via the thousands of speed cameras, are far from inviting for anyone with a performance car. Thankfully Charles took us to the Sea Cliff Bridge down towards Wollongong to not only have a chance to push the ISF and the 370Z a bit, but also get some great driving shots. Too bad the weather that day was less than cooperative! 

Under the hood the ISF still packs the same 416 HP 5-liter V8, a masterpiece of an engine that seems to have a split personality. Around town it is more than happy to burble along under 2,000 rpm, using its creamy smooth torque to waft you along with grace; but step on that loud pedal and it takes nothing more than a split second to awaken the beast that lives within. At just over 3,600 rpm the whole note of the engine changes completely as the valves in the intake plenum open to allow for a more direct airflow and the rpm shoots quickly towards the redline. The variable valve timing and dual injection systems (direct & indirect) work together to provide an unrelenting and very linear power delivery throughout the rev range.

The 8-speed transmission machine-guns through shifts like no other torque converter out there, but can be often caught out when requesting shifts and downshifts outside the programmed parameters. It's also a pity downshifts aren't always rev-matched; it's something that only happens when you drive real hard. All in all the improvements however have made the ISF so much better, the now mechanical LSD giving the adjustability and 'hoonability' the original version of the car lacked.  

The interior is a comfortable place to be in; occupants are surrounded by leather and an overall quality cabin that was a superb place to enter after a busy day shooting at the WTAC.

There is plenty of technology but I was surprised not to see a TV mode, something all cars get in Japan. I heard this is illegal in Australia? Instead you can plan your calendar!

I have to say I'm not the greatest fan of colored carbon but the fit and finish is top notch, as you would expect it to be in a Lexus. Sad to see the 80's digital clock is still very much there, as is the equally old-school looking gear selector panel next to the shifter. 

The Mark Levinson surround sound system reproduced our favorite tracks from our iPods with the upmost quality and power.

Little details are what set the ISF apart from other versions of the IS. The "F" of course stands for Fuji Speedway, the Toyota owned race track where all Lexus sports models are developed and tested at.

With the Sport setting turned on and an aggressive enough driving style, pull back on the tactile delight that is the downshift lever…

…and you will be rewarded with a perfectly executed rev match. It's addictive stuff!

The rear seats are not the biggest in the class but are pretty comfortable nonetheless.

The ISF is a car we all loved. Its ride, even if choppy at times, oozed quality in the way the dampers and chassis absorbed road imperfections.

Just like the LFA we spent some time with, the ISF proves Lexus really does know how to make great cars. I just wish their performance range expanded a bit, I'd love to see the 5-liter V8 shoehorned into a CT… 

…and maybe that glorious V10 dropped into the new-gen GS (GSF anyone?) that has just made its public debut at Pebble Beach. Whatever Lexus plans to do with future models however we can rest assured they will know exactly how to tantalize the end user, give the enthusiast what he craves, pretty much exactly what the ISF did for us in Sydney. 

Lexus Australia

-Dino Dalle Carbonare

Pictures: Casey Dhnaram, Charles Kha, Matt Malcolm



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that must be annoying, having a loud pedal :P kidding. what an amazing car, they need to make a model with the LFA's v10 though


Love how they made the gauges small speedometer and big revmeter!


At JORdan: the world couldnt handle it


I loved the ISF the minute I set eyes on, it's a beautiful car, and I'd love to have one. But hey about saying "give the enthusiast what he OR SHE craves?" There's no love for female enthusiasts on this site is there?


a rhd lexus, beyond weird. you would think toyota would have an isf equivalent


nice been loving this car from long time but more and more each day, one is here in Jamaica and everyone talks about the low grumble of the engine.exhaust note as it pass by and when it opens up.......ooooooooohhhhhhhhh. would love to see it for myself or better yet, drive it.


i would choose this over a E92 M3 ANY day!!!! but the C63 over the ISF :D


That clock, FFUUU-, that is still really embarrassing in that price range and with this type of car. Good news is that they have finally put a decent clock in the new GS, in stead of one from a microwave. It's only a small detail, but an annoying detail nonetheless.


The TV mode for the ISF can only be used when the car isnt running. Here in Australia anyway.


rhd lexus exist in Japan, UK, and Australia. Toyota stopped calling the IS 'altezza' after they started marketing lexus's in japan.


Those exaust tips are fakes


I like that 7 segment clock with 2 or 3 buttons, it's something from the past of japanese carmanufacturers. And I think it's good, they keep some little thing from their past.


Dino, Superb article and Photography again! Thank you!


even to this day. going to work every day and seeing one i find something little to love about them. the roof lining or the carbon centre console. we even had a custom order arrive last with with black and orange interior. wasnt my cup of tea, but i give lexus credit for stepping up the anti for jap luxury cars. oh and the "option upgrade" package we offer at my dealership would make you loose you mind dino. full stainless exhaust with porting to the intake. sounds AMAZING!!


Glad you liked it Dino. I absolutely adore mine, I think its one of the best all round cars I've ever driven.


I seem to recall theres a EU law coming up which states all new cars must have daytime lights. Audi took it and ran the concept as a feature. Volvo have been doing it since the dawn of time.


When these first came out I was invited to the local track to thrash...er...drive one around for a while, it was a lot of fun and it gave me the desire to put in more track time in other cars. There's something absolutely wonderful about driving a car fast on a track!


The clock and the speedo (the rev counter is ok) look like they are from totally different cars circa 1980s


It should be called the IS F'in Awesome lol. Its a shame that my co-worker's MOM bought one. SMH... How she makes the transition from an 07 Camry to that, is beyond me. I love it when he brings it in to work though lol


LMAO bout the clock! =P