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Edmunds' Expert Review

  • Tire-melting thrust, track-ready handling, subdued interior noise levels for this segment.
  • Exterior by J.C. Whitney, rock-hard suspension, no manual option.

With beastly performance and a ride to match, the 2008 Lexus IS-F is a shot of pure adrenaline from a company typically associated with uninspiring driving dynamics. It may even prove too hard-edged for some -- something we never thought we'd find ourselves saying about a Lexus.

Vehicle overview

The letter F is an auspicious one in Lexus lore. Back in the mid-'80s, when the Lexus brand was still in the planning stages, Toyota insiders referred to the prospective luxury division as "Circle F." And the car that put Lexus on the map, the LS 400, was known internally as Flagship One, or F1. For 2008, the letter F is back: The company has decided to crash the über-sport sedan party with the 2008 Lexus IS-F, a hard-edged performance car based on the IS-series sedan and aimed squarely at perennial magazine-cover fodder like the Audi RS4, BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.

The IS-F marks the official launch of Lexus' F line, and it's akin to the aforementioned competitors' in-house performance divisions. As such, Lexus has gone to great lengths to differentiate the IS-F from its more sedate IS-series brethren. Take the IS-F's exclusive power plant, for example, which begins life as the gas-swilling half of the LS 600h L's hybrid engine and then gets a thorough makeover from Toyota's longtime performance partner, Yamaha. The end result is a 5.0-liter V8 that churns out 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque, compared with 306 and 277, respectively, from the IS 350's already potent 3.5-liter V6. Likewise, the IS-F eschews the IS 350's six-speed automatic transmission for a heavily modified version of the LS 460's eight-speed unit that boasts Ferrari-quick upshifts and automatic throttle blips on downshifts. The singularity and complexity of this powertrain serve notice to the old guard that this Lexus means business. Like its F1-cum-LS 400 forebear, the 2008 Lexus IS-F is designed to go toe to toe with the best.

Outside the engine room, however, the IS-F has a few kinks to work out. For one thing, while its extensively revised suspension is dynamite on the track, the IS-F falls well short of the ride-handling balance for which certain rivals are justly famous. For another, its exterior styling cues range from the controversial (e.g., the reshaped hood and snout required to accommodate the 5.0-liter mill) to the downright tacky (e.g., the quad-stacked tailpipes that aren't actually connected to the exhaust system). Its German competition, on the other hand -- as well as the upcoming Cadillac CTS-V -- feature relatively compliant rides and subtle aesthetics.

There's no doubt that the IS-F is a serious driver's car, but we can't help but wonder whether its hardcore personality is a little over the top for this segment, notwithstanding its commendably hushed interior and rather incongruous lack of a manual transmission option. Enthusiasts with 60 large to plunk down on a sport sedan may find the IS-F a smidge too fast and furious for their tastes.

Nonetheless, the 2008 Lexus IS-F is a thrilling car on its own merits, and its uncompromising nature indicates that Lexus is willing to do what it takes to ensure that its sporting F models will be competitive with class leaders. The company has already hit two home runs with the letter F, and while it hasn't quite knocked the IS-F out of the park, it's still a promising first step toward challenging the established heavyweights for the factory performance crown.

2008 Lexus IS F models

The 2008 Lexus IS-F is a high-performance version of the Lexus IS-series sport sedan. Only one trim level is available. Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels with high-performance tires, Brembo brakes, xenon headlights, heated and leather-trimmed 10-way power-adjustable front sport seats, driver and front passenger memory settings, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 13-speaker audio system with six-CD changer and auxiliary audio jack, keyless ignition/entry and a moonroof.

Among the available options are adaptive cruise control, a 14-speaker Mark Levinson CD/DVD surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, iPod integration, park assist and a DVD navigation system with back-up camera and Bluetooth capability.

2008 Highlights

Making its debut for 2008, the 416-horsepower Lexus IS-F is a muscle-bound reinvention of the Lexus IS-series sport sedan.

Performance & mpg

The 2008 Lexus IS-F is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 engine that generates 416 hp and 371 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission routes the V8's prodigious thrust to the rear wheels. Although the automatic is the only available transmission, Lexus says it rivals the performance of the best automated-clutch manuals, with 100-millisecond upshifts and automatic rev-matching on downshifts.

In our instrumented testing, the 3,780-pound IS-F sprinted to 60 in 4.8 seconds en route to a 13.2-second quarter-mile at 109 mph -- impressive numbers, no doubt, but a tad underwhelming given that we've clocked an IS 350 at 5.2 seconds to 60 and 13.8 seconds at 101.2 mph in the quarter-mile. Don't get us wrong -- the IS-F flat-out hauls. The Germans, however, remain a few ticks faster on the stopwatch.


Stability control, traction control, antilock brakes with brake assist, front-seat knee and side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags all come standard on the 2008 Lexus IS-F. An optional pre-collision system employs radar to monitor the likelihood of a frontal collision and adjusts seatbelt tension and braking force accordingly.

The IS-F has not been officially crash tested, nor is it likely to be. However, in government crash tests, its IS 350 sibling earned four stars (out of a possible five) for driver and front-passenger frontal impact protection. It also earned five stars for front side impacts and four stars for rear side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the IS 350 its top rating of "Good" after administering frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.


Cars in this class are all about the experience behind the wheel, and the 2008 Lexus IS-F mostly impresses. The new V8 emits a spine-tingling roar at full throttle once you've cleared 3,600 rpm, and the engine proves eminently tractable throughout its linear power band. While the IS-F's electric steering rack is somewhat short on feel, it holds a line tenaciously in hard cornering, and grip from the substantial rubber is first-rate. Stopping distances are similarly impressive thanks to the car's massive Brembo brakes.

Turn off the stability control system and the IS-F will do powerslides all day if you've got tires to spare. What's more, the eight-speed automatic actually performs as advertised: We can't believe how well it emulates the behavior of a genuine automated-clutch manual transmission. We would still prefer having the option of a proper manual shifter, but the IS-F is blessed with one seriously sporting automatic.

Around town, however, eight speeds seem like two or three too many, as the IS-F is constantly hunting for the optimal gear ratio. Errand-running also reveals the secret of the IS-F's race-worthy handling: an unyielding suspension, even by the rarefied standards of this class. In other words, the IS-F feels a bit out of its element as a daily driver -- something to consider if all-out performance isn't your only priority.


Apart from some aluminum trim pieces, blue ambient lighting, the aforementioned sport seats and a two-passenger backseat as opposed to the regular IS's three-across seat (the rear seatbacks don't fold down, but there is a ski pass-through), the IS-F's interior is more or less identical to the IS 350's. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the IS 350 features high-quality materials, excellent sound insulation and an attractive and user-friendly control layout. Unfortunately, the IS-F also inherits the cramped rear-seat legroom that's endemic to the IS-series. Prospective buyers will want to keep this in mind if they plan to ferry multiple adult-sized people around on a regular basis.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the Used 2008 Lexus IS F.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

5 out of 5 stars
The perfect car for me
4dr Sedan (5.0L 8cyl 8A)
I've owned this car now for 2.5 years and have put 20k miles on it. The car has performed flawlessly requiring no unscheduled maintenance to be done.
4.63 out of 5 stars
I got a kid but I still like to drive
4dr Sedan (5.0L 8cyl 8A)
I spent the first 45 years of my life single and without any kids. I've driven everything from Vipers, to Jags, a host of AMGs, not to mention 1 Aston Martin. I thought about dropping the amount of money for an M5 but then I thought, I have a little girl. I need to spend the money on her. I decided on the IS-F. I drive it daily, like a normal person with my family and like a maniac when I'm alone. So far no problems and nothing but sheer fun. I wish the Lexus people had thought to put adjustable shocks in it to dampen the ride when necessary but oh well. I can always get new kidneys when I'm 80.
5 out of 5 stars
This thing is a BEAST!
4dr Sedan (5.0L 8cyl 8A)
I've driven a lot of sports cars and this is among the most fun. I tried the M3/5 and the AMG and just preferred the way the IS-F is tuned. It is a lot more like a muscle car than the M's and I guess I'm just not a Mercedes guy. Plus, with Lexus, I don't have to worry about all the reliability issues of the Germans. Love the grunt, the automatic is buttery smooth and the manual mode is actually decent (from a diehard straight drive fan). Don't understand people whining about the ride. This is a SPORTS car, and it's actually not even that bad for a sports car. Plus I can get 25-27 easily on the highway, 28 if I try hard. Overall an awesome car. Would like ventilated seats, but small gripe.
5 out of 5 stars
More bang for your buck than BMW m3
IS-F for life = ),08/09/2009
4dr Sedan (5.0L 8cyl 8A)
This is the best car I have ever owned and driven. This car came standard with all options including navigation etc. Extremely reliable, and with cruise control on when driving on the open road, I averaged 29.8 mpg while going 70mph which is impressive for a v-8 sports car even if you don't like the brand. I paid 54,000 for my car which came with everything, and compared to the legendary BMW m-3 which cost over 71,000 and only came with heated leather seats and nothing else standard! Lexus is more bang for your buck! Never owned a Lexus before, but this is great!

More about the 2008 Lexus IS F
More About This Model

Rather than shoehorning a 5.0-liter V8 into the nose of an IS 350 and simply calling it the IS 500, Lexus has instead cooked up a far more dedicated sport sedan with its new 2008 Lexus IS-F.

According to Lexus, the "F" in Lexus IS-F is derived from Toyota's initial "Circle-F" designation of 20 years ago for what would become the Lexus brand itself. Circle-F later morphed into Flagship One or F1, which in turn became the internal code for the first Lexus car, the LS 400.

Lexus is using this convoluted pedigree to help explain the importance it attaches to the IS-F. It promises that this and subsequent F-type cars will give Lexus real performance credentials, and it hopes that the F sub-brand will become as synonymous with performance as BMW's M Division and Mercedes-Benz AMG.

Frankly, we would've been just as satisfied with a simple "IS 500" badge and far more subtle exterior styling. But from now on, it's all about the F-word.

F Is for Fury
Regardless of what it means to the luxury carmaker (and how it appears to the serious sport-sedan buyer), the 2008 Lexus IS-F is a serious piece of highly engineered hardware indeed. At its heart, the 5.0-liter V8 (2UR-GSE) comes from a stroked version of the 4.6-liter engine (1UR-FSE) found in the luxo-cruising Lexus LS 460. Now that Yamaha (a frequent collaborator with Toyota for engine projects) has had its way with it, an essentially all-new engine pumps out an impressive 416 horsepower at 6,600 rpm with 371 pound-feet of torque available at 5,200 rpm.

Exclusive to this Lexus V8 are trick cylinder heads with solid lifters and titanium intake valves, plus a water-cooled oil radiator. There's also an oil-scavenge pumping system that keeps the engine supplied with life-sustaining lubricant even in high-G cornering, and even the fuel tank uses an offset pump in a sub-tank for the same reasons.

The engine's lightweight reciprocating mass (said to be half that of other UR engines) combines with variable valve timing to produce a lofty redline of 6,800 rpm.

There's an instantly recognizable pubescent change in the IS-F's voice at 3,600 rpm when the dual-path intake system opens the secondary plumbing (located in the right wheelwell), immersing the passengers in a furious symphony of eight-cylinder baritone.

When you pour the 5.0-liter V8's power through the highly modified eight-speed automatic transmission (from the LS 460), the 3,780-pound IS-F is good for a 4.8-second time to 60 mph on the way to a quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 109 mph, and it's still accelerating hard — very hard.

The Competition
Frankly, we expected even better performance from such a good power-to-weight ratio. In our testing, the IS 350 has run to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and done the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 101.2 mph. Meanwhile, the BMW 335i sedan with an automatic clocks 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 103.9 mph.

And when it comes to BMW's official performance estimates for the 2008 BMW M3 sedan with its 414-hp 4.0-liter V8, the benchmark of 60 mph is supposed to come up in 4.9 seconds. The same stat for the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG with its 457-hp, 6.2-liter V8 is less than 4.5 seconds.

We admit we might've left a tenth or two on the IS-F's table, however. As much as we feel that Michelin Pilot PS2 tires are like sticky Lucky Charms, the IS-F's 255mm-wide rear contact patches aren't wide enough to duplicate a magically delicious launch.

That said, the roar of the rev-happy V8 is one of the most lust-worthy we've heard, rivaling the thrilling sound of the 4.2-liter V8 in the Audi RS 4, which also sounds like a flat-bottom drag-racing boat powered by a small-block V8 with open headers.

F Is for Fuji
Though if drag racing isn't quite the IS-F's sort of environment, road racing is. Besides the four other racetracks where camouflaged IS-F mules spent much of their time during testing, the car primarily was developed on Toyota's own Fuji International Speedway. A nice thing, if you can afford it.

What this did for the IS-F is readily evident in the car's ability to hold a line in the corners, the linearity and tractability of the engine's power, and the magnificent proficiency of the transmission's shift action in manual mode.

The brakes are also track-worthy. The fixed Brembo six-piston front calipers feature three different piston diameters and clamp 14.2-inch drilled and vented discs, while two-piston rear calipers squeeze 13.6-inch drilled and vented discs in the back. Sixty-to-zero stopping distances tumbled down with each successive stop with a best of 112 feet. We tired before these fade-resistant brakes did.

Thank You for Smoking
We had a few laps at a local track and can tell the IS-F is no stranger to an apex. We tried all three modes of stability/traction control and found Sport VDIM mode largely unobtrusive. It's pretty permissive and becomes slightly annoyed only if the driver's corner entry or exit is less smooth than Sir Jackie Stewart would recommend.

Still, we couldn't help but enjoy the drive-at-your-own-risk mode with the stability control switched off. When you briefly lift off the throttle pedal midcorner, then whack it wide open, the tail of the car is easily coaxed into a slide. The faux, brake-induced simulation of a limited-slip differential initially fights the slide, but it eventually relinquishes its hold on the tires and two plumes of magnificent white tire smoke finally emerge.

The IS-F's turn-in is breathtakingly quick, as the car takes a confident and very firm set through corners with pretty stubborn understeer on the car's limit. We measured 0.93g on our skid pad.

Though the steering action is as precise as any rack-and-pinion can deliver, the artificially heavy effort of the two-mode, electric power assist (a 42V system) still cannot communicate as much information about the contact patches of the front tires as other sport sedans we've driven. Even so, the IS-F weaves its way to an exhilarating 70.2-mph slalom run where oversteer becomes the limiting factor. Credit the car's weight distribution of 54 percent front/46 percent rear.

F Is for Fast
Automatic transmissions are slow-acting, power-sapping, indirect hindrances between an engine and a driver's will, right? Yet the IS-F's eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission (AA80E) obliterates this notion with an entirely novel — and we think industry-changing — control system.

While the hardware again has its foundation in the transmission of the LS sedan, lightweight yet robust internals plus a complete rewiring of the transmission's brain have produced an entirely new definition of an automatic transmission. In manual mode, it comes as close to instant shifting as anything we've driven.

When manual mode (shifted via steering-column paddles or the console-mounted gearlever) is selected, upshift times drop from a Lexus IS 350's typical 1.3 seconds (0.7 second to initiate plus 0.6 second to change ratios) to a mere 0.3 second (0.2 second to initiate plus 0.1 second to shift). We also appreciate the perfectly timed tone that reminds you to shift just before you hit the rev limiter in each gear.

The gloriously quick downshifts (with matched revs) sound as if the car has a true sequential gearbox. It's unbelievable. The only other transmission that comes close to such quick, driver-friendly action is the dual-clutch DSG gearbox like the one in an Audi A3, or perhaps the latest $9,000, Formula 1-style automated sequential manual like that in the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano.

When it's in Drive, the transmission behaves much like a traditional automatic with the personality and torque-converter lock-up habits of the latest BMW StepTronic, but with two or three too many gears from which to choose. The mundane cut-and-thrust of everyday traffic produces frequent shifting among the eight ratios and it takes some getting used to.

F Is for Freeway Hop
While the kind of on-track schooling the IS-F has received is generally a good performance-tuning practice that tends to breed more performance-capable vehicles, it doesn't always make for a livable car.

The IS-F short-travel suspension rides taut and firm like a racecar's — all the time. Without driver-adjustable suspension, freeway overpasses that are usually registered by the seat of your pants as a gentle, rolling hop become spine-compressing jolts. Consider yourself warned.

Generation Gap
What do you think of when you hear "Lexus"? Maybe it's not performance. Initial quality studies, customer satisfaction ratings and a luxury-car benchmark with a reputation for reliability are more like it, and that's why the median age of a Lexus buyer is older than any of its competition among performance-oriented brands.

The way Lexus sees it, all those WRX and Evo owners are getting older, have increased their earning potential and shortly will be looking for cars that satisfy their inner enthusiasts while avoiding the boy-racer stigma. So the IS-F is the right thing to do for the future of Lexus.

The 416-hp 2008 Lexus IS-F also intends to take a preemptive bite out of the high-performance compact-sedan pie currently sized up by the forthcoming BMW M3 sedan and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.

The price of the 2008 Lexus IS-F might make it persuasive. Though the official numbers won't be announced for a bit, Lexus says our estimate of $59,900 isn't "embarrassingly inaccurate," so we used the current IS 350's optional $2,550 navigation system price to calculate this IS-F's $62,540 as-tested price.

The F-Word
If it seems that our enthusiasm for the IS-F is mixed, you're right. While we can appreciate all the work that went into this performance-minded, track-worthy Lexus, we're more than a little put off by its harsh ride on the street. Is this truly a usable high-performance car, or just a car for extreme profiling?

There's also something about the gimmicky styling. The most telling trace of disingenuousness can be found in those stacked quad exhaust "resonators," as Lexus describes them. We discovered that not one of the chromed ovals is directly plumbed to the muffler and are instead part of the rear fascia. They're there just for looks.

There's too much of this car that reminds us of the supersonic jet-powered sports cars we all used to draw on our denim binders back in third grade.

F Is for Future
Yet there's a whole lot more invested in this notion of a high-performance Lexus than the ill-fated "L Tune" kits for the first-generation IS, which were little more than stiffer suspensions, tacked-on body parts and loud exhaust systems.

Depending on its success, Lexus says the IS-F is but the first in a series of F-division vehicles, with the next obvious, though not confirmed, candidate being the GS-F.

We applaud the effort and support Lexus' path down this road, but we hope they spend a little more time on city streets and a little less time on race tracks.

Second Opinion

Editorial Director Kevin Smith says:
Before I drove the new Lexus IS-F, the Lexus guys chuckled when I said I expected it would be quick and responsive but still smooth, quiet and refined, and maybe a bit numb and isolated, because that's the way of Lexus.

They knew I was about to discover that the IS-F breaks from Lexus tradition in several key areas, chassis performance being the most striking. Yes, the 5.0-liter, 416-horsepower V8 bellows through its intake and exhaust in a way no Lexus has before. And the eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic makes for instant rev management like no Lexus transmission has ever done.

But pointing the car at the light pole that tells me where I am cresting the blind and always thrilling apex over Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca's Turn One, then hammering the brakes and bending in to clip the Andretti Curve's first apex, the car is steady, crisp, communicative and, yes, stiff, an adjective never applied to anything about a Lexus except maybe its price.

Even more telling was busting through the dip at Turn Six's apex, something that can upset a car enough to have you launching off the hill and not hearing anything until Salinas. The F took one firm hit in the dip, settled immediately and was ready to dash up to the Corkscrew.

Some of my pals have proclaimed the IS-F's suspension intolerably firm on the road. Maybe I was swayed by throwing the car about on Laguna's immaculate new pavement as a first introduction. In any case, the taut, stable, tied-down feel of the F while generating serious velocity is a quality I am happy to proclaim completely and determinedly un-Lexus.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds with this preproduction vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

Used 2008 Lexus IS F Overview

The Used 2008 Lexus IS F is offered in the following submodels: IS F Sedan. Available styles include 4dr Sedan (5.0L 8cyl 8A). The Used 2008 Lexus IS F comes with rear wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 8-speed shiftable automatic. The Used 2008 Lexus IS F comes with a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. basic warranty, a 4 yr./ unlimited mi. roadside warranty, and a 6 yr./ 70000 mi. powertrain warranty.

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Should I lease or buy a 2008 Lexus IS F?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

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