Those of you waiting for the Lexus IS F sport sedan to return … keep waiting. And we don’t mean that in a vague, open-ended sense. While Lexus has no official plans to bring back the eight-cylinder track-ready F version of its compact IS sedan, it is about to release something that’s at least 90 percent there: The 2022 IS500.
It is basically an IS350 F Sport model with the old IS F’s 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V-8 engine in place of the 3.5-liter V-6. Given how today’s IS descends directly from the previous-generation model—whose lineup included a full F—the IS500 is kinda, sorta, a new IS F. Having just ridden in a prototype IS500, the capital-F feels are certainly there.
The Dirty Bits
Our time in the IS500’s passenger seat was brief, and, in all honesty, merely confirmed the simplistic assertion that an IS350 F Sport with a V-8 behaves much like, well, an IS350 F Sport with a V-8. The cars look the same, have basically the same grip levels, and seem to brake with similar alacrity. And yet there is that eight-cylinder sound. For all this car’s IS350 F Sport componentry, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re in anything related to that humble six-cylinder sedan—that’s how much extra shove you get from the V-8, how much more noise.
The IS500 we rode in was not exactly production-spec, so we’ll note its key differences before elaborating on our lap riding shotgun. Racer Townsend Bell was behind the wheel of a demonstrator vehicle Lexus created for the IS500’s splashy debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race in Florida. Wearing a zany neon-yellow-and-black vinyl wrap matching that of the brand’s RC F GT3 racers, as well as a carbon-fiber rear spoiler borrowed from the RC F Fuji Edition coupe (which also is powered by the same 5.0-liter V-8), this IS500 wasn’t exactly the low-key sport sedan customers will buy this fall. It also rode on 20-inch Rotiform wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot 4S tires; regular IS500s will have 19-inch forged aluminum wheels with Bridgestone Potenza summer rubber.
Rolling stock, body wrap, and tall rear spoiler aside, this IS500 is otherwise said to be mechanically stock. The 5.0-liter V-8 under the extra domed hood makes the same 472 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque as the production model, and it bolts to the same eight-speed automatic transmission. The IS500 comes standard with the IS350 F Sport’s Dynamic Handling package, which includes a limited-slip differential, extra drive modes (Sport+ and Custom), and firmer springs and adaptive dampers. Lexus wisely upsized the brakes front and rear, upping the rotor sizes to 14.0 inches up front and 12.7 inches at the rear; after all, the V-8 adds about 150 pounds to the IS350 F Sport’s curb weight—mostly in the nose.
As in other Lexus models with this V-8 engine (the old IS F included), the IS500 doesn’t kick you in the chest with its acceleration. Having sampled the 311-hp IS350 F Sport ourselves on the same track’s undulating curves just before our ride with Bell, we can say the more powerful V-8 launches harder. But this engine’s a revver, not a twister, meaning it prefers to be wound to its generous redline for maximum power, keeping you pressed into your seat firmly while it spools out. We noticed that for much of our hot lap, the IS500 was in third gear, and it delivered plenty of power and wonderful sounds from low to high rpm.
The IS500’s handling behavior seemed dead-on with the IS350 F Sport we drove beforehand, with gentle understeer nudging the nose slightly astray as the car was chucked into corners. Whereas the IS350 can only hope to see its cornering attitude tightened up some with a stomp of the go pedal, the IS500 can muscle the chassis into neutrality and beyond. The limited-slip rear differential deserves a lot of credit. We could feel it laying the V-8’s power down, helping overcome the front tires’ scrub and pitching the tail out for easy oversteer on demand.
It’s been a while since this author drove an IS F, but from the passenger seat, the IS500’s chassis behavior seemed less hardcore. There was more body roll, more tire squeal (the non-representative tires seemed just as overwhelmed as the correct Bridgestone rubber on the IS350 F Sports we drove), and generally gentler responses to both bumps in the tarmac and the track’s curbing. Refined athleticism and everyday drivability seemed like the tuning goals, not track driving; from our too-short experience, it seemed clear that more tire, a stiffer suspension, and the like are all that separate this IS500 from the mechanically similar IS F of yore.
But then it’d be an IS F. It is, instead, an IS500, the first member of Lexus’s newly minted F Sport Performance tier. It, therefore, lives between the largely style-driven F Sport level and full-blown F efforts, such as the RC F and, well, that’s it at the moment. Lexus recently pulled the plug on the GS F sedan and it killed the IS F right around the middle of the 2010s. As our driver Townsend Bell mentioned, we could leave the track, drive a few hours, and be totally comfortable. He is right. The IS500 isn’t an IS F, but we’ll be damned if this Lexus isn’t hugely appealing between its power, noise, and poise.
The next shoe to drop, besides our driving the IS500 ourselves, is price: Lexus representatives seemed giddy about it—and we think this hot sedan could come in at less than $60,000. This would make it a huge deal. No competitor offers a V-8 at this price point; Lexus, remember, is chasing the mid-grade Germans—the turbocharged, six-cylinder BMW M340is, Audi S4s, and Mercedes-AMG C43s of the world. And yet, the IS500’s engine is on par with the entry-level Mercedes-AMG C63’s 469-hp twin-turbo V-8. The similarly muscled BMW M3’s turbo inline-six makes 473 hp, while the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing’s V-6 makes the same 472 hp. None of those can match the Lexus’s uproarious, naturally aspirated V-8’s engine sound, and each represents their respective manufacturers’ top performance tier and sticker for north of $60,000.
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