We recently tested the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F SPORT and were frankly wowed by the enhancements to the looks and performance, taking a really good car and making it great. And it reinforced all the talk from Lexus and Toyota being serious about performance was the real deal.
How real? Well Lexus has slapped the gorgeous naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 from the luscious LC IS 500 in the IS sedan, creating a new trim – F SPORT Performance – which is above F SPORT but below F models. Ok, a little confusing, but it sounds like a marriage made in heaven – but as we learned from the bachelorette, it can look good on paper, but you have to see what it’s like in the real world.
So, is this love that can last? Let’s look.
Looks That Mean Business
When the IS got a restyle last year, we thought it was gorgeous, taking the crisp lines of the current model, and just adding the right amount of menace to make it one of the best-looking sport sedans on the market.
At first glance, the IS 500 looks very much like our IS 350 tester, but scratch a little deeper and some interesting details come out.
The front is aggressive as ever, with the massive spindle grille that is now pretty much on every Lexus. Well, it at least it’s not as schnoz-olicious as the new BMW 4 series! The IS 500 makes a more powerful statement with a hood that’s been raised nearly 2 inches, while the front bumper and fenders have been lengthened to accommodate that lovely V8.
From the side, you can see a more pronounced power bulge in the hood, that goes along nicely with the muscular, bulging fender flares. The best part of the profile would have to be the special 19-inch, split 10-spoke alloy wheels made by Enkei. More than just stylish kicks, the wheels are one lb. lighter per wheel in front, and two lb. lighter per wheel in the rear than the standard 19-inch F SPORT wheel.
The rear also receives some subtle enhancements, with a revised lower diffuser hugging those signature staggered quad exhaust pipes, while a signature LED light travels across the width of the rear for a strong visual cue. Topping it off – literally – is an IS F SPORT rear spoiler. It might look a little overdone on lesser IS models, but it fits beautifully here. We also loved the bold blue color of our tester that Lexus calls Grecian Water.
Inside, the interior is much like the IS 350 F SPORT we tested – but we miss the bright red contrasting interior our 350 had. Everything is in its place, and the touchpoints are of high quality, but it is a mass of black materials, pushbuttons, etc. and it’s starting to show its age. It looks a little old fashioned.
There’s nothing old fashioned about comfort, and the front 10-way driver’s sport seat is superb, comfy with loads of support. Heated and cooled too. They’re covered in Lexus NuLuxe which isn’t leather but is lighter and more eco-conscious. You really don’t miss the cow. And you do get a little of hide on the heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, with IS F SPORT pedals and footrest letting your feet enjoy as well as your hands.
We still love the F SPORT gauges, with an 8-inch TFT display with center mounted tachometer, and a party trick where the entire display can slide over to reveal more information. There’s even an updated start-up animation unique to the IS 500. Good stuff.
On the center stack is a 10.3-inch infotainment system, with standard Navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, plus the suite of Lexus Enform goodies like Wi-Fi, Remote features and Destination assist. We also love the 360-degree overhead parking view.
It’s a good thing that it’s a touchscreen, because the other access point is the familiar Lexus touchpad behind the shifter, and it remains touchy and over-responsive, and you avoid it as much as possible.
There’s a definite coupe-like vibe to the cabin, which is great for those up front, while rear seat legroom is reasonable. A nice surprise, the rear seats fold down to serve up a very useful cargo area.
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble
Most of this stuff is found in the less expensive 350 F SPORT, but it’s the drive that makes a massive change. First of all, of course is the 5.0-liter, V8 under the hood. In a world of turbo V6’s, this is a treat, a quad cam, 32 valve normally-aspirated engine pushing out a jaw dropping 472 horsepower and 395 lb.-ft. of torque.
This is a pure gem of an engine. A “whump” on startup, a deep throated idle, but if you toe around gently it is Lexus-well-behaved, smooth, relatively quiet, and relaxed. But give it the boot, and the music of a finely tuned high-performance V8 fills the cabin. And as the rpms climb it just keeps sounding better and better.
And unlike many manufacturers that pipe in pre-recorded engine noises, what you hear in the IS is coming from that engine, and it is glorious. Spine tingling, grin-inducing, rev, redline and repeat glorious.
EV’s may be where the future will take us, but for now, we’ll gladly stay right here!
Transferring that power to the rear wheels is an 8-speed automatic, that, like the engine, will slur and smooth you along in Lexi-like comfort unless you really get on it. Then it will slam shifts with a big thump in your back (thank goodness for those sport seats) and a rush towards the horizon. We liked using both the shift lever and the paddle shifters to manually control the cog swapping.
In sheer numbers, you’re looking at 0-60 in just over 4 seconds, which may make the IS 500 a hair slower than turbo models like the BMW M340i. But they don’t sound like this. No, they do not!
Another point of departure is the Lexus-like ride and handling. Not a race car, but also not a land yacht, there’s a polished smoothness and comfort here that never goes away. Grip is plentiful, steering feel is excellent, and it is an easy car to drive very, very quickly. It’s really an ideal blend of everyday ease and hard-edged performance sedan when you want it.
The $62,000 Bargain
Okay, we’re giving away the story here, but you were probably itching to know. If you just love the looks and don’t care about ultimate performance, the IS 300 starts at $38,625. A nice piece of rolling artwork. We would at least step up to the IS 350 F SPORT that we recently tested (and loved), starting at $43,050.
Going for the V8 in the IS 500 F SPORT Performance starts at $56,150. Our tester was the Premium trim, which included 17-speaker Mark Levinson Audio, 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, and more for $61,000. Add in destination, and we rang the bell at $62,075.
Competition includes the BMW M340i coming in at $63,460. It may be a tad quicker than the Lexus, but its turbo V6 while lovely, doesn’t give you goosebumps like that V8. The Audi S5 would be attractive, but again, no V8 (you do however, get Quattro AWD) and at $67,395 it is a significant step up. And our gut tells us the Lexus will likely be much less expensive to keep up and running – especially as the years go by. (Hint: You’ll want to keep this one a long time)
The 2022 Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance is an incredible sport sedan. Gorgeous, with that spine tingling 472 hp V8, and everything that makes it a Lexus as well. From supercar to family car, it can do it all.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.