Full 2012 Lexus IS F Review
What's New for 2012
After a comprehensive freshening last year, the 2012 Lexus IS F receives only minor changes, including slightly wider wheels and tires and a revised interior color scheme.
This isn't your typical Lexus. Where some of the brand's models get criticized for being bland to drive, the 2012 Lexus IS F is sporty and spicy. With inspiring performance and aggressive styling flourishes, it's poised to challenge the luxury sport sedan establishment. But this hasn't always been the case.
When the Lexus IS F was introduced five years ago, it suffered from overly harsh suspension tuning. Furthermore, this harshness failed to provide a performance advantage over its competitors. But thanks to numerous revisions last year, the IS F's suspension is much more compliant, and as a result, it gives you not only more comfort but also more confidence.
These improvements make the IS F worthy of your attention, although you're probably already intrigued by the 416-horsepower V8. But there are still some shortcomings to consider. Compared to its competition, the IS F lacks interior space, which taller drivers and passengers will no doubt find immediately distressing. There's also no available manual transmission to satisfy driving purists, though it's worth noting that the automatic in Manual mode is quite good.
Probably because it took so long for Lexus to address the suspension tuning issue, the IS F has probably dropped off a lot of people's radar. And of course, there are still other cars to consider. The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is our top choice for a luxury sport sedan given its all-around talents and superior interior. One might also look at the Cadillac CTS-V for a car with more rear-seat room. But overall, this un-Lexus-like Lexus earns our recommendation.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Lexus IS F is a high-performance luxury sport sedan based on the regular IS sedan. It's offered in a single well-appointed trim level.
Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, a limited-slip rear differential, a sport-tuned suspension, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, auto-dimming mirrors, eight-way power heated leather front sport seats with memory settings, suede seat inserts (black leather only), dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth (with audio streaming) and a 13-speaker audio system with a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, iPod integration and an auxiliary audio jack. A two-tone interior color scheme in either red or white with black is available at no additional cost.
A hard-drive-based navigation system with a back-up camera, real-time traffic and weather updates is optional. Also available is a 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system (requires purchase of the navigation system), front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control. Navigation-equipped vehicles come with a one-year subscription to Lexus Enform, which provides on-call travel advisors who can help drivers with destinations (e.g., a movie theater or the closest gas station) and then send the info to the navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive 2012 Lexus IS F is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 416 hp and 371 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic with a Manual mode and shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel is the only transmission offered.
In Edmunds testing, the Lexus IS F accelerated to 60 mph from a standstill in a brisk 4.8 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates are 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 18 mpg in combined driving.
Standard safety features for the 2012 Lexus IS F include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, front knee airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A one-year complimentary subscription to Safety Connect, which provides collision notification, stolen vehicle recovery and an "SOS" emergency help button is also included. A pre-collision system is also available with the optional adaptive radar cruise control that senses an impending collision and automatically adjusts seatbelt tension and braking force.
In Edmunds braking tests, an IS F came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 112 feet. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the structurally similar IS 250 and 350 its best score of "Good" for frontal and side impact protection, and a second-best score of "Acceptable" in roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Much like the supporting IS models, the 2012 Lexus IS F features a quiet cabin, well-placed controls and top-notch materials. Unfortunately, the IS F also suffers from the same drawbacks in the form of limited space. Headroom and rear legroom are at a premium, which might prove problematic for taller occupants. The trunk can hold a maximum of 13 cubic feet of luggage, which is about average for cars in this class.
The IS F differentiates its interior from its more sedate IS stablemates by utilizing sporty accents and features. The front sport seats are the most notable upgrade, with added side bolstering and suede inserts and two-tone color schemes. The IS F's rear seat is set up to only accommodate two passengers instead of the normal three. Other sporty touches include aluminum woven-composite trim (instead of wood) and cool, blue ambient lighting.
No question, the 2012 Lexus IS F is exciting to drive. The powerful V8 roars when prodded and has no problem laying waste to the rear tires in a torrent of white smoke (with the traction control disabled, of course). Even when cruising, the baritone exhaust tempts you to feed in more and more throttle. The chassis is capable of complementing the abundant power, with precise steering and high levels of cornering grip. Traditionalists will bemoan the lack of a manual transmission, but the eight-speed automatic proves worthy with quick upshifts and rev-matched downshifts. Unfortunately, eight gears sometimes seems like a couple too many, as the transmission occasionally hunts for the right one.
In prior years, the IS F rode too stiffly even for this class of car, making it hard to justify itself for everyday driving. Suspension changes from last year are a welcome improvement, though, as the car is much more livable on city streets and freeways. The steering also feels more natural. The 2012 Lexus IS F still has a slightly firm ride, though, and notably the adaptive suspensions on the C63 and CTS-V give those cars a slight edge for dual-purpose use.