This my.IS author has been quite vocal in the past about the need for a 2nd-generation Lexus IS 300
to bridge the 102 hp and 92 lb/ft of torque gap between the Lexus IS 250 and the IS 350. Left unsaid, however, is the even bigger 110 hp and 94 lb/ft of torque gap between the Lexus IS 350 and the range-topping IS F. Also, while the jump in base manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) from the IS 250 RWD automatic to the IS 350 is a reasonable $4280, the IS 350 to IS F step is a jaw-dropping $20,005. Further, the IS 250 RWD automatic to IS 350 jump brings with it a 2.3 second improvement in 0-60 mph acceleration, a 2.1 second faster quarter-mile time and a 3 mph faster top speed; while upgrading from the IS 350 to the IS F brings but a further 1 second improvement in those times (plus a 27 mph greater top speed that, quite frankly, is academic and unachievable under most conditions in most parts of the world). Thus, it would appear that, box-stock and out of the box, the Lexus IS 350 offers the best bang-for-the-buck of the whole Lexus IS model range.
IS F proponents will, rightfully, argue that those $20,005 include far more than the liter of extra V6 displacement that the IS 250 RWD-to-IS 350 upgrade brings. The extra 1½ liters and
two extra cylinders, two extra speeds in the automatic transmission, 3-mode VDIM, larger wheels and tires, upgraded suspension and much more goes a long way to justify the extra big bucks. Yet, in these times of less-is-more where frugality is a virtue, we can't help but wonder if a judiciously-upgraded IS 350 can approach the IS F's capabilities for a fraction of the cost.
The German carmakers have recognized that the art of offering performance upgrades to their sports sedans can no longer be a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter approach. Audi has been the most adept at recognizing this, offering S-line, S and RS variants of increasing capabilities and cost. Mercedes-Benz offers AMG bodywork, suspension and wheel packages in addition to full-on AMG models, while BMW has opted to offer a line of Performance accessories to bridge the gap between their regular and M models. It is the latter approach that Lexus has echoed with their F-Sport accessory line.
The AutoSpies / Club Lexus approach
If you've ever had the opportunity to attend a major auto show press conference, as Club Lexus Editor (and my.IS moderator) Flipside909 and I have, you will likely have noticed, up front and center among the throngs of fellow journalists, AutoSpies' Agent 001, Donald Buffamanti
, whose aggressive and pushy style (which culminated in his expulsion from the 2009 New York Auto Show Press Conferences
) is an ongoing joke among us. Nevertheless, we must give him and his minions credit and thanks for following the my.IS Front Page and, on occasion, featuring this author's articles on his site, which, in turn, brings a broader public to my.IS.
One of the AutoSpies, Agent 009 is, judging by the photos on his profile page on their site,
a Lexus fan. And, back in November 2007, he wrote a well-thought-out article titled Is The Lexus IS-F Worth the Sum Of Its Parts?
009 reminds us that an IS F is 288 lbs heavier, brakes from 60-0 mph in 16 less feet and has 0.08 higher cornering g-forces than an IS 350. Inspired by a Club Lexus thread started by member caymandive,
Agent 009 argues that a Lexus IS 350 can match if not surpass IS F performance levels for a quarter (if you're handy and install the modifications yourself) to less than half (including outside labor) the $20,000 nominal IS 350-to-IS F price spread. Those numbers break down as follows:
Cold Air Intake: $200.00
Cat Back Exhaust: $1000.00 (insert shameless Joe Z
/ L-Tuned Parts
Springs: $250.00 (Eibachs suggested)
Brembo Brakes: $2500.00
PARTS TOTAL: $4,950.00
Installation Labor: $2,300.00
GRAND TOTAL: $7,250.00
As Agent 009 rhetorically asks at the end of his article: "So is the IS-F really that good? Or is the IS350 just an exceptionally better deal?"
The F-Sport approach. A viable alternative or an overpriced one?
Barely a month before the above November 2007 AutoSpies
article and Club Lexus
thread first appeared came the original, official announcement regarding Lexus' F-Sport accessory line for the 2nd-generation Lexus IS.
It took a while, however, for subsequent, expanded information, item numbers and prices to be divulged by Lexus, and it wasn't until early February 2009 that the first road test of a fully F-Sportized Lexus (an IS 250 Manual) appeared on Edmunds' Inside Line.
Nearly two months later, my.IS' corporate parent AutoGuide.com asked Eric Eikenberry to test and review an IS 350 F-Sport.
Both reviews reached pretty much the same conclusion: skip the F-Sport intake and exhaust, as the performance increase is marginal, and spend on the chassis (F-Sport suspension, wheels, tires and brakes) goodies, which deliver far more tangible benefits. Yet Eikenberry of AutoGuide.com
, in particular, is critical of the cost/benefit ratio of the F-Sport parts. Both reviews note that the parts tallies of their test cars surpassed the $13,000 mark ($13,342 for Edmunds'
IS 250 Manual F-Sport and $13,218 for AutoGuide.com
's IS 350 F-Sport), excluding the larger 35-series Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires, the labor to install all the parts or sales tax.
Those numbers led to fast and furious debate following our Administrator's my.IS Front Page write-up on the AutoGuide.com article,
with some sentiment (also expressed on our thread on the Edmunds' write-up by Scott Oldham)
that, for that kind of coin, the IS F makes more sense. The current economic downturn, if anything, muddies the issue even more. Eikenberry of AutoGuide.com
states that "Individual dealerships will set their own (F-Sport parts) prices. Lexus has said that often the F-Sport parts are available for less than MSRP and many dealerships offer discounted rates when purchased with a vehicle", while there is also talk on the forums of great deals on IS 350s and even greater deals on IS Fs, with proponents of the latter reminding us that, in the immortal words of Ashford & Simpson
(as performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell), Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing.
The my.IS approach
All of the discussion above simply reminds us of the flexibility and opportunity for individual tailoring that the aftermarket, be it F-Sport or F-not, can provide in putting together the ride of your dreams, and it's certainly a more "doable" approach. Ever since attending the IS F Press Preview (and second visit this author made to California's legendary Laguna Seca Raceway)
, however, your my.IS Editor has longed for a more fundamental, factory-engineered approach to an IS 350 with trickle-down IS F goodness.
When it came time for Lexus IS F Chief Engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi to determine the transmission for the V8 IS, he made a surprising decision: he decided to use the AA80E 8-speed torque-converter automatic transmission from the GS 460 and LS 460, not even bothering to change the gear ratios. That doesn't mean, however, that it remained totally unchanged in its IS F application. Rather, Yaguchi-san and his band of engineers added a lock-up torque converter clutch feature for 2nd through 8th gears and throttle blip on downshifts, plus a faster shift speed (0.2-second period for shift initiation and 0.1-second gear change time, among the fastest in the class and the world) than in the larger Lexus sedans. If Lexus was able to perform this magic on the V8-centric AA80E 8-speed automatic (and it's telling that they didn't even bother changing the transmission's designation for the IS F), why not add those tricks to the IS 350's A760E 6-speed torque-converter automatic? It'll certainly go a long way towards quelling the IS 350's "why don't they offer a true clutch-pedal manual?" critics, and at lower cost. And the IS 350 automatic's 6 speeds are sufficient and work well with the 2GR-FSE V6. If anything, the IS F's 8 speeds border on overkill (although they are
instrumental in keeping fuel economy from veering into gas-guzzler territory).
Another area that, in the IS 350, is crying out for trickle-down IS F influence is in the VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) suite of Electric Power Steering (EPS), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), traction control (TRAC, or TRC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), and engine torque (via the electronically controlled throttle) controls. Rather than the simple on/not quite off options that the IS 350 offers, why not use the IS F's 3-mode fully on/sport mode/fully off (except for ABS/LSD) version of VDIM? And, speaking of LSD (Limited-Slip Differential), it's an interesting and open question whether the F21FS "pre-torque" semi-LSD used in the IS 350 could work well with an upgraded and tweaked VDIM, or if the IS F route of adding an Electronically Controlled Brake-based Limited-Slip Differential effect on the rear wheels to the suite of VDIM components would work best.
Chassis, brake and suspension upgrades are, in this author's opinion, well addressed by both the aftermarket and by Lexus' own F-Sport accessory line (not to mention the sport suspension option offered in both the Sport and X Packages), so there's no need to do anything on that front. And complaints of overly light, numb steering feel have been addressed in the mid-term revisions that Lexus applied to the 2nd-generation IS 250 and IS 350 starting in the 2009 model year. As to the aforementioned transmission modifications, we know of at least one my.IS member
that wholeheartedly agrees...