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Lexus IS-F

Click to view picture gallery“417bhp of raw V8 power and
  enough tyre-shredding potential
  to make even The Stig
s most
  enthusiastic burn-outs look like
  a shopping trip: Ladies and
  gentlemen: I give you the latest
  Lexus IS-F

BUT HANG ON, ISN'T LEXUS THE TOUCHY-FEELY, ECO-GREENY member of the luxury car club? And isn't this the company that declared that all of its cars will be hybrid in the very near future?

Actually, yes, it is. And the newly-launched Lexus CT200h hybrid is very much the shape of things to come. Not because it's a cutting-edge car to drive it's actually rather stodgy but because no other premium car even comes close to its CO2 output of 94g/km. With company car drivers set to save a fortune in tax, UK CT200h sales will hit 6,000 a year.

But lest we forget, what brought Lexus into being was big luxury saloons with V8 engines.

Now massively politically incorrect, we are surely in the 'end zone' for such behemoths. With CO2 emissions of 270g/km, the Lexus IS-F is, I suspect, the sort of car you physically won't be able to buy very soon.

Although the
speedometer goes up
to 220mph,
top speed is limited
electronically to
The IS-F is probably the most left-field performance car in the world. While Europe's executive car clientele coo over the Audi RS6, BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG, you'd have to be slightly perverse to sign on the dotted line to buy a Lexus IS-F. However, now Lexus has introduced a revised IS-F for 2011. Question is, can it finally match up to RS, M and AMG?

While Honda says it can't get the Civic Type R engine through Euro 5 tests (really?), somehow Lexus has managed to do it with the IS-F. Lexus claims the changes haven't dented power or performance, so the 5.0-litre V8 lump still kicks out 417bhp and 0-62mph still takes just 4.8 seconds. Although the speedometer goes up to 220mph, top speed is limited electronically to 168mph. CO2 emissions and fuel consumption are also unaffected by the engine changes, remaining fairly dismal at 270g/km and 24.4mpg.

One thing that hasn't changed is the Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic gearbox. Like the BMW M5, you can't buy the IS-F with a manual gearbox. But Lexus makes up for this by fitting its auto 'box with no less than eight speeds. You can drive in fully auto mode or use steering wheel paddles to change up and down, which works pretty well. Lexus say manual shifts take just 0.1 of a second to complete way quicker than you could do it with a gear lever.

It's in the handling department that the biggest changes for 2011 have occurred. The springs and dampers front and rear have been revised and there are new bushes, but the changes are there to improve ride comfort rather than outright handling. Since ride quality was a big problem with the previous IS-F, it's a welcome change and the new car is significantly better in this regard (although still not limousine-like).

The 2011 changes are not just about comfort, though the rear suspension camber angle has been altered to improve stability when accelerating, braking and cornering. That may be so, but the Lexus IS-F still isn't a car that will trouble a BMW M5 in the handling department. The electronic steering in particular even though it's been updated has a numbness and disconnectedness to it that isn't in keeping with the car's raw power.

The rear suspension
camber angle has been
altered to improve
stability when
accelerating, braking
and cornering — but the
IS-F still isn’t a car
that will worry an M5
in the handling
The new-for-2011 Torsen limited-slip differential helps keep the power down when exiting fast bends but there's always a moment when you question your confidence in the car to get you through fast bends. And in a performance car, confidence is absolutely crucial to going quickly.

Changes in other departments are few. There are now LED daytime running lights (Audi has a lot to answer for), although the signature stacked exhaust pipes and blue 'F' badges remain.

Inside, the cabin sees a redesigned instrument binnacle (with the rev-counter in the centre of the display) and new dark silver carbon fibre-style detailing. The 'Sport' button that gets the auto transmission engaging more enthusiastically now has a new home on the steering wheel.

How to sum up the slightly odd new IS-F? Well, it's very much an unreconstructed, old-school bruiser of a car. Put it like this. If American muscle cars can be likened to Tony Soprano, and German über-autobahn merchants to Hamburg nightclub bouncers, then the IS-F akin to a Yakuza assassin lurking in the shadows. It's under the radar for most of us, but a deadly killer when you least expect it. — Chris Rees

Lexus IS-F | £58,300
Maximum speed: 168mph | 0-62mph: 4.8 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 24.4mpg
Power: 417bhp | Torque: 372lb ft | CO2 270g/km