The Lexus IS F moves closer to the BMW M3 thanks to a proper limited slip diff

What is it?

The 2010-model Lexus IS-F. Besides upping the price on the car and throwing some extra no-cost options at it, Lexus has made one significant change to this car’s mechanical make-up. And neatly enough, it was a change that we asked them to make.

Autocar’s 2008 road test on the Lexus IS-F contained the following sentence: “Better suspension control and a limited-slip differential would revolutionise what’s already a very entertaining car.” Congratulations to Lexus, then, for introducing a 2010-model year IS-F fitted as standard with a mechanical limited-slip differential.

Otherwise the IS-F’s got the same 417bhp 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8, the same eight-speed automatic gearbox and, rather regrettably as we’ll go on to explain, the same chassis settings.

What’s it like?

Better, if still some distance from being a class-leading car.

If nothing else, that LSD should make the IS-F a more common sight at track days. Without a proper slippy diff, the old car could be a bit erratic on a circuit. Exiting slower corners it would often spin away its 400-odd horsepower via an inside wheel. Going faster, at the limit of grip, it also had the capacity to be a bit, well, unpredictable.

Owners of the revised car won’t experience the same problems; you don’t even have to go on track to tell. Venture out of a quiet T-junction with enough gusto and you’ll feel the benefit of the improved traction that the LSD generates. The car’s stability control system allows a little throttle steer for those who want it, and if you knock the automatic gearbox into manual mode, you’ll also get full transmission lock-up and full control over when that eight-speed ‘box swaps ratios.

It’s a shame, however, that Lexus didn’t do something about the IS-F’s damping while it was in the mood for improvement, because this chassis still lacks control and subtlety. It’s fine during normal, day-to-day use, if a little restless. During faster driving, though, it’s still short on bump absorption and composure, and doesn’t fill you with confidence in the consistency of its connection to the road.

It’s also a shame Lexus didn’t do anything about this car’s overly high driving position. You perch high up in the IS-F, with the top of the steering wheel too far away from you. A lower-set seat, together with a more adjustable steering column, would be better, especially for taller drivers.

Should I buy one?

Depends what your priorities are. The IS-F has a likable and intriguing character; it’s more 21st-century Japanese muscle saloon than out-and-out performance four-door, but you’ll like it if you like the idea of lots of wheelspin and bombastic V8 exhausts noise, all tied up in a very upmarket, well equipped, usable everyday package.

As a driver’s car, however, it still falls short – especially given that Lexus is now asking for more than £56k for this car. At that price, the IS-F will set you back a good £5000 more than both Mercedes’ C63 AMG and BMW’s M3 saloon.

It’s also within £5500 of the price of the brilliant Jaguar XFR. And the plain truth is, this car still isn’t good enough to justify that kind of billing, limited-slip differential or not.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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kcrally 19 April 2010

Re: Lexus IS F

a toyota for 56k ? toyota have obviously lost their way in lean production / just in time / etc etc. toyotas strength was cheap and reliable. now look at them, loosing billions. and i read today that mitsubishi is busy posting record losses as well. quite strange considering the huge market of asia is right on their doorstep.

VX220EDDIE 3 November 2009

Re: Lexus IS F

this car has nothing appealing to me! bmw m3 and merc c63 amg all the way

simonali 3 November 2009

Re: Lexus IS F

"Meantime, some existing foibles remain. Lexus has reinforced behind the dash area to up body stiffness and sharpen the steering, but IS F ultimately still lacks the crispness and feedback of an M3 at the helm." - AUTOCAR Lexus ISF first drive

"The first is the Servotronic steering. In ‘light’ mode, the wheel moves more easily but there is little sense that it is connected to the front wheels. In fact, the same can be said about the heavier sports mode. So there is little or no feel, but it is accurate and pleasantly quick-geared." - AUTOCAR M3 road test