I think about cars a lot, as it is my job. But I’ve found that I think about this car more than I do most: a 2008 Lexus IS F. I think about this Lexus roughly twice a week, which is a lot for a car that’s 10 years old. But with rear-drive and a dirty V8 bark, how do you not think about it?
I like the IS F for a couple of reasons, with the first being that it’s a Japanese sport sedan with a fat V8 in its nose. From its 5.0-liter engine, you got about 420 horsepower lighting up the back wheels. Sure, comparable sedans these days have 100 to 150 more horses than that, but it doesn’t change the fact that 420 is still fun in its own regard.
Lexus is one of the last few automakers still stuffing naturally aspirated V8s into its cars. In most cases, it means that they will be down on power next to their turbocharged competitors, as they don’t come from the factory turned up terribly high, but damn do they sound better. It’ll be another nail in the NA coffin once Lexus stops making these things.
I personally found the IS F’s design to be uninspiring in 2007, but after seeing how things took an unpleasant turn to favoring spangly LED running lights and hyper-aggro design today, the Lexus’ understated looks are refreshing. But also maybe because I’m not a teen anymore. Really, if you weren’t paying attention, an IS F could easily pass you by and you’d be none the wiser. You’d just have to look for the bigger wheels, beefier front bumper and stacked exhaust tips.
Even the eight-speed auto was decent. Yes, it’s a shame a manual was never made, but at least the car came with paddles so you could shift some stuff on your own.
The IS F was also Lexus’ first production car to wear its performance-line F badge. Lexus knew that to properly compete with the Germans, it needed its own AMG and M division. The LFA soon followed, but the IS F will always have a place in my heart because it was first.
And it was nicely put together, too. If you closed the doors, they’d give you a nice and heavy thunk. The leathers were soft and the wheel felt substantial in your hands.
All of that, objectively, should have meant that the IS F would be an easy home run. But it wasn’t. How do I know this? Because I hardly hear anybody bring up the IS F today. In fact, I’d wager that the only mistake Lexus made with the IS F was launching it alongside the BMW M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. That poor timing made it the true underdog.
Those two specifically grabbed headlines because it was the first time an M3 was moving to a V8. It had a dual-clutch transmission. A sky-high redline. And the C-Class underwent a vicious transition from the sedate body styles of the earlier 2000s to the mad and angular flavor it still carries today. AMG stuck a nasty 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 under the hood, which gave the C63 more power than the IS F. Of course people were going to fawn over them.
On top of that, I’m not certain that Lexus had quite the go-fast credentials then that it does today. People were still warming to the idea of a luxury performance Lexus sedan in 2007. Yet, the IS F needed to happen when it did in order to get Lexus where it is today: uttered in the same sentence along with Audi, Mercedes and BMW.
IS Fs aren’t grossly expensive right now, either. A quick spin through Cars.com shows them averaging prices between the mid-$20,000 to lower-$30,000 range. Which ain’t bad for a comfortable, quality-made sedan with a V8.
And besides, everyone has a C63 and an M3 anyways. You see those things everywhere. Aspire to stand out by being understated. Somewhere, there’s an IS F calling your name.