Home » The V8-Powered 2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance Makes You Wonder If Every Other Sports Sedan Is Missing The Point

The V8-Powered 2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance Makes You Wonder If Every Other Sports Sedan Is Missing The Point

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Fifteen years ago, naturally aspirated V8 sports sedans ruled the earth. From the enormous 6.2-liter V8 in the C63 AMG to the four-liter screamer in the BMW M3 to the 4.2-liter lump in the Audi RS4, the titans of the underground car park paired big displacement with high revs for devastating results. Fifteen years later, every compact sports sedan has gone downsized and turbocharged. Well, everything except one car. This is the Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance, and it’s the last naturally aspirated V8 sports sedan left on the market. What a title.

First, a disclaimer: This IS isn’t a full F car like an RC F. It doesn’t have all the heat exchangers for extended track work, nor a tricky torque-vectoring differential (a Torsen sits out back instead), but it’s still a performance sedan in old-school tradition — enormous V8 up front, drive to the back, job done. So, is this a formula we’ll all be missing in the future, as some cars with boosted sixes are quicker? Needless to say, I borrowed one to find out.

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[Full disclosure: Lexus Canada let me borrow this IS 500 F Sport Performance for a week so long as I kept the shiny side up, returned it with a full tank of premium fuel and reviewed it.]

A Different Shade Of Blue

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

On first glance, you quickly get the sense that the IS 500 F Sport Performance is Patrick Bateman wearing Bridgestones — it’s an axe murderer, but nobody believes it. Aside from some badging and an extra pair of exhaust tips, it seems identical to an IS 350 F Sport on a casual glance, which means it’s just a rakish compact sports sedan working with surprisingly old bones. If you look closely, you can find pieces of the 2014 Lexus IS in here, but the styling team’s given it Ozempic and shrunk its sheetmetal around its bones. It’s a package that works, just like how it works on every other IS.

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Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

However, look closely, and you’ll find that the entire nose of the car is a little bit longer than on an IS 350 just to shoehorn that five-liter V8 into a properly compact car. Subtle, but aside from the megawatt paint job, that’s the MO of this car. While the F badge, even in this moderate Performance trim, holds cachet amid JDM fans, but it’s not a badge regular people are craving. All the speed, all the violence, all the theatre of this car, it only exists for you. How wonderfully selfish.

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

Alright, maybe it’s not exclusively selfish, because this Blue Vector paint is bright enough to cause a sensation. Of all the blues ever sprayed on cars, this one has a plausible shot at the title of the most blue. Its brightness is assaulting in the shade, and in the sun, all the pearl pops and makes this sedan look like it’s bathed in blue Gatorade. It’s sensational, to the point where you almost expect someone at Porsche Exclusive to be fuming that they didn’t come up with this color first. We’re talking about a color so good, I’d spray random things with it, like patio furniture and desk lamps. Hey Lexus? I have a merchandising idea.

Step Inside

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While the exterior styling might look cutting-edge, the cabin comes off a bit last-generation (the IS dates back to 2014, remember), but not in a bad way. Sure, it might not feature the most sophisticated array of screens, but a touchscreen is a solid workaround for the old Lexus trackpad, and you get physical buttons for almost everything. Buttons for your heated and ventilated seats, buttons for pausing audio, a scroll wheel to the left of the steering wheel to turn off fake engine sounds. There’s even a CD player, how’s that for a throwback? Oh, and because there’s still a lot of last-generation stuff in here, the IS 500 F Sport Performance gets a physical bezel over its digital cluster that moves with the tachometer face as a nod to the LFA. Wicked.

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Besides, the real highlight of the interior is what you interact with the most. The Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance has, without hyperbole, some of the best seats I’ve ever experienced in a car. They’re pillow-soft yet incredibly supportive, well-bolstered yet not too tight. We’re talking about all-day thrones that won’t make you want to get out and stretch before you run through a whole tank of fuel.

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

Oh, and then there’s the 1,800-watt, 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. While it’s a Harman International system like pretty much every branded car stereo on the market, there’s something profound about 1.8 kilowatts of advertised power in a car the size of a Civic. While the system’s meek at lower volumes, crank that knob and this suite of audio equipment will beam you into another dimension with a balanced sound signature, deep-hitting bass, crisp treble, and clarity you wouldn’t believe comes standard in a compact luxury sedan. For context, I put on some live Pavarotti, and I could hear the string musicians adjusting their bows on a rest. You sure as hell aren’t getting that in a 3 Series.

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Leap Of Desire

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

Ah, now we get to the heart of the matter, the 2UR-GSE five-liter naturally-aspirated quad-cam V8. Pumping out a serious 472 horsepower at 7,100 rpm and 395 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm, it wants to be revved, as evidenced by a flap in the airbox that opens under all throttle conditions at 3,600 rpm, yet still produces solid cruising torque way down low. Slot the antiquated gear selector into drive, and you can lope around town barely ever cracking 2,000 rpm, all scored by a gorgeous, smoking-lounge-singer burbling backbeat.

However, rotate the giant silver knob in the center console clockwise twice to enter Sport S + mode and slide the gear lever into manumatic mode, and it’s like you unleashed The Hulk. Suddenly, you have a raucous, visceral rush of induction noise all the way to a 7,300 rpm redline, before you pull the well-damped, long-travel right paddle and the eight-speed automatic gearbox bangs off an upshift with rabid ferocity. While modern performance cars may have us jaded on how quick zero-to-60 mph in 4.4 seconds is, the V8 IS will never let you forget that you’re moving fucking quickly for a highly evolved ape strapped into machinery. It’s a shot of adrenaline directly into your aorta, the sort that reminds you exactly what it means to be human.

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

Granted, even if the engine is a superhero, the transmission has its off moments. When you have a chance to be properly on it, like on a highway transfer ramp, manual mode downshifts are sharp and quick enough to almost make you wonder if anyone needs a ZF 8HP. However, from 3,000 rpm down, expect arrhythmic stutter-step paddle-shift downshifts. Under those circumstances, this gearbox feels 15 years old, and while that should kill the entire appeal of the car, it really doesn’t.

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Even if the gearbox is being stupid, you can still be stupider. Unsurprisingly, the stock 265-section Bridgestone Potenza S001 rear tires really aren’t enough for this car. Sure, you can always dole out throttle position in the miserly manner of pizza at public school, but add some enthusiasm, and stability control shuts down the party. Kill that (you must be fully stopped to do so), prepare to party, and the results are predictably juvenile.

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

However, dial things back a notch, and you start to notice that this IS isn’t just a parlor trick. The brakes are decidedly un-Lexus-like, in that the pedal has urgency, and the pads themselves offer serious bite. The springs and dampers actually breathe with the road, providing a remarkably insulated ride in combination with solid body control. Even over some truly apocalyptic tarmac, it’s still supremely comfortable. If the rear seat weren’t so tight, you could perform open-heart surgery back there, no sweat. With the roll and pitch tuned into the chassis, you can pick up on subtle weight shifts on the street, all while being delightfully surprised by the steering.

Sure, other performance sedans may have faster and weightier helms, but the feedback in the steering of the Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance is like a dialogue with the past, alerting you to camber changes and cracks in the tarmac alike. It’ll proudly tell you when the front’s about to wash wide or when you’re about to be sideways before any loss of grip actually happens, a rarity in the segment today. Oh, and speaking of the segment today, it’s astonishing how the 3,891-pound curb weight of this V8 bruiser exists within spitting distance of a BMW M340i’s curb weight. By modern standards, it’s lighter than you might expect.

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The result is a package that’s utterly intuitive when you’re looking to have sensible fun, and a bit like operating a barbecue when you want to be silly — you decide exactly how much heat and smoke you want, and everything else is irrelevant. Oh, and because it’s a Lexus, it’ll let you fan the flames all day if you like. Keep in mind, this engine and gearbox date back to 2008 with a rock-solid reliability track record.

Okay, so other than the occasionally recalcitrant gearbox, are there any downsides? Well, the IS 500 F Sport Performance will make you quite aware of the difference between fuel economy and fuel consumption. Although it’s officially rated at 20 mpg combined, I managed 14.8, and I was taking it easy most of the time. Otherwise, this is an all-time gentleman’s hoon machine, an unassuming small sedan waging war with its rear tires while running a stream-of-consciousness monologue of exactly what its chassis is doing.

Reach Out And Touch Faith

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

On paper, the 2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance comes across as a curiosity rather than an actual contender. Aside from that thumping 472-horsepower V8, the chassis dates back to the 2014 model year, the gearbox is directly from 2008, the interior’s a bit last-gen, the rear seat is tiny, and all the German luxury brands offer quicker sports sedans. However, as I’ve said countless times, cars aren’t driven on paper. In the real world, with pockmarked roads and very real laws of physics, I’d take this Lexus over a BMW M340i, Mercedes-AMG C 43, or Audi S4. Hell, I’d even take it over an Audi RS5 or a BMW M3.

Sure, those cars may be quicker on paper, they may feature newer interior tech, and they may be more efficient, but they aren’t overflowing with larger-than-life character, utterly intuitive to use, or both supremely comfortable and properly engaging at the same time. The IS 500 is here to teach you that your heart should always come first, because it wants you to feel something all the time. It’s a belly laugh of a car even at low speeds, a properly riotous time that’s emotional enough to make you wonder if we’ve lost what makes performance cars great in an endless pursuit of numbers.

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Speaking of numbers, let’s talk pricing. In America, this V8 Lexus starts at $60,520 including freight, escalating to $65,020 for the Premium trim with the outstanding Mark Levinson sound system, upgraded LED headlights, 10.3-inch touchscreen navigation system, power rear sunshade, and 360-degree camera system. Admittedly, that’s more than a BMW M340i, which stickers for $62,820 when equipped comparably to the IS 500 F Sport Performance Premium, but it’s $3,700 less than what a comparably equipped Mercedes-AMG C 43 stickers for, and that Benz has half as many cylinders as the Lexus.

In Canada, the IS 500 F Sport Performance only comes with all the options normally found on the U.S. Premium trim, but adding the special Blue Vector paint and BBS wheels takes pricing up by $2,700 Canadian to $80,955 worth of Loonies. That’s more than $12,000 cheaper than a comparably equipped Mercedes-AMG C 43, which makes the Lexus a better deal in the Great White North.

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

By taking a weapons-grade old-school naturally aspirated V8 and fitting it in its smallest sedan, Lexus has built something magical. If there’s one way to firmly dispel allegations of a brand being a bit clinical, it’s by building a car like this long after competitors have moved on to more homogenous, less evocative formulas. It might not be the fastest thing in the segment, but it’s right up there with the most fun, and that’s what really matters.

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(Photo credits: Thomas Hundal)

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
8 days ago

Love that blue…great review! Pavarotti…oh, like on Seinfeld? (Paliachi?! Ha ha)
“KRAMER: I got two, I got two huh, Paliachi, who needs two, Pagliacci, come
on, the great tragic clown, come on, check it out, he laughs, he cries, he
sings, Pagliacci. Hey, I got two beauties right here, check it out all
right.”

Tsorel
Tsorel
15 days ago

Why this car isn’t available with a proper manual transmission is beyond me. Are all cars coming with grandma trannies these days? Sad.

Sivad Nayrb
Sivad Nayrb
15 days ago

Not bad for a bunch of cobbled together old parts.

I’ll take a CT4-V Blackwing with 6-speed Manual, thanks.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
15 days ago

Toyota makes the last small V8 muscle sedan. Crazy.

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
15 days ago

I was not aware that Lexus painted cars anything but white. I learned something today.

David Lorengo
David Lorengo
16 days ago

Love the blue paint, black wheels is a trend that needs to die.

Drvn 2 Wn
Drvn 2 Wn
16 days ago

Let’s be real, this is the spiritual successor of the the E90 M3. I had one and would love to have one of these as a second car. Both the E90 and this, however, have a fatal flaw – gas mileage. I dd’d my M3 for three years before going electric and was not in hoon mode most of the time. In mixed use, got 14mpg. Even if you can afford the gas, having to fill up every 180-200 miles gets old.

Drvn 2 Wn
Drvn 2 Wn
16 days ago
Reply to  Drvn 2 Wn

Oh yeah, forgot to mention – these are a bargain. My 2010 M3 Sedan had an MSRP of $71k with the premium packages that align pretty closely with what you get in the IS 500 F.

AMGx2
AMGx2
16 days ago

Get one now, because in a couple of years there won’t be any NA V8 anymore.

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