Try as we might, most of us don't have the coinage to purchase a $56,000 IS F. But that hasn't stopped Lexus from making our dreams come true. Taking note from the aftermarket tuning scene, Lexus birthed a line of F-Sport products designed to improve power, handling and braking, as well as aesthetics accessories to sharpen up its entry-level sedan. The masterminds behind F-Sport crafted each component with performance in mind; stringent testing of each product on and off the track guarantees their consumers are getting the best bang for their buck. The F-Sport accessory line, specifically geared for the performance-minded customer to fit the IS 250, IS 250 AWD and IS 350 sedans, was developed by Lexus USA and engineered by Toyota Racing Development (TRD) to allow the owner to personalize their car's performance to best match their needs and budget.
Marketed as an affordable, tuner-friendly sedan, the Lexus IS 250 has mass appeal to a maturing audience that's looking to graduate from their Civics and Integras into a more luxurious ride. Yet, many of today's youth are weary of purchasing a Lexus, due to its fade-prone brakes, lethargic handling and lack of power. Fortunately, Lexus F-Sport accessories address those shortcomings. And you'll be glad to know that-unlike many aftermarket parts that will void your warranty faster than you can say "Lexus"-F-Sport accessories are fully warranted for 12 months when installed by an authorized Lexus dealer, or for the balance of the new car warranty, whichever is greater.
Putting Lexus and their F-Sport products to the test, we arranged to compare a stock IS 250 with one outfitted with the entire F-Sport package (our March '09 Power Pages test subject) both on streets and through the local canyons, with former Sport Compact Car editor Andy Hope behind the wheel. According to Lexus track data, a fully equipped F-Sport IS 250 ran an average of three seconds faster per lap at Willow Springs' Streets of Willow circuit than a stock version (79.08 seconds for the stock IS 250, versus 76.15 seconds for the F-Sport-equipped machine)-impressive numbers for a car that still retains its factory warranty and the ability to turn heads while cruising the streets. Would ours fare as well? Beginning with a trip to Lexus/TRD headquarters in Torrance, CA, for the authorized install, we would soon find out.
Driving Impressions When you're accustomed to riding in a lowered car with a modified exhaust, driving a stock Lexus just feels unnatural. Don't get me wrong-the stock IS250 that we borrowed for this comparison was a really nice car. It was smooth and quiet. It had leather seats, A/C, a quality sound system, and every other imaginable amenity, yet I felt uncomfortable behind the wheel. It was as if I'd borrowed my mom's car and I'd be banned from burrito night at the Hope's house if I scratched it.
Despite my attempts to drive with caution, as soon as I merged onto the freeway, I drove straight up someone's ass in the fast lane. The rings around the speedometer switched from orange to red as the needle swept passed 80 mph. I could have sworn we were only doing 50. The silence of the cabin had thrown my sense of speed all out of whack, and it didn't get any better once we got to the canyons. The uphill sections were fun; the tires would let out a hearty squeal before sliding too much. However, coming down the mountain was sketchy. Trail-braking in the corners would initiate a lot of brake dive and body roll. It was hard to feel when the back end was going to break loose, and I didn't care to find out what it would be like when it did. In stock form, I'd recommend leaving the traction control on and turning to the center console for entertainment.
The F-Sport components really wake up the car. One blip of the throttle and I felt right at home. With the windows down, the growl of the high-compression V-6 was fantastic. There was no more need for a tach; she lets you know when it's time to shift. The increased traction from the larger and stickier tires was also welcome. But it was the suspension that I liked best. The stiffer springs, dampers, and sway bars not only helped keep the tires planted, but also increased feedback through the steering wheel, seat, and even the brake pedal. While going uphill, the oversized rear tires would only step out when provoked by violent footwork. And when coming down, the resistance in the steering kept me apprised of available traction, making it easy to balance cornering and braking forces.
The ride quality of the F-Sport car didn't feel that much different from stock as we commuted back into the city. This is mostly due to the progressive-rate springs that don't really stiffen up until you lean on them, and dampers that have mild high-speed valving. The exhaust isn't even that intrusive with the windows up. However, on the outside it certainly makes your presence known. If we could have more of anything, it would be power. The axle-back exhaust sounds wicked, but the car is more likely to break the necks of its admirers than its occupants. Still, the designers at Lexus have come up with a really tempting assortment of upgrades that work really well together. We'll resist the calling of boost . . . at least until the warranty expires, anyway.
Former Honda Challenge champion and senior editor of Sport Compact Car magazine (bless her track-loving soul), Andy Hope is a NASA instructor turned part-time 2NR driving stooge.
2008 F-Sport Equipped Lexus IS 250
Engine: F-Sport intake, axle-back exhaust
Drivetrain: F-Sport short shifter
Suspension (Front): F-Sport/Bilstein shocks, springs (25 mm lower, 268-377 pounds per square-inch progressive rate), 28.6mm hollow anti-sway bars
Suspension (Rear): F-Sport/Bilstein shocks, springs (19 mm lower, 228-399 pounds per-square-inch progressive rate), 19mm solid anti-sway bar, under chassis brace
Brakes (Front): F-Sport six-piston forged aluminum calipers, 355mm diameter cross-drilled two-piece rotors
Brakes (Rear): F-Sport four-piston forged aluminum calipers, 345mm diameter cross-drilled two-piece rotors
Wheels: F-Sport forged aluminum wheels (19x8 front, 19x9 rear)
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport tires (225/35/ZR19 front, 255/35/ZR19 rear)