You'll have to look very closely to see the on-the-surface differences made to the refreshed 2011 Lexus IS F, which is slated to make its world debut at this month's 2010 Paris auto show. In fact the only revision to the IS F's exterior are newly fitted LED driving lights, supposedly added to make the Lexus easier to spot at high speeds (and not to follow the Audi-led trend).
Working within a tight budget, chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi tells us that he was basically happy with the car's exterior styling and that he placed far more importance on "taking the IS F to the next level in handling and ride quality." Good idea, because the IS F was certainly in need of some next level work in that area.
With its throaty exhaust note, the IS F is a beast, packing a 416 horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 mated to an 8-speed, flappy-paddle gearbox. But pushed hard, the car's chassis would become unsettled, especially at the rear end.
That is not the case with the 2011 revision, which squats nicely in the corners and hangs on like an angry pit bull. Behind the wheel of a pre-production Australian-spec model at Fuji Speedway recently, we were more than impressed at the improvements that Yaguchi and his team have made to the car's high-speed cornering stability.
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Although the powertrain and the car's 3800-lb curb weight remain the same, the suspension settings have been totally recalibrated. The combination of spring rate revisions and dampers, fitted with new high performance valves in addition to reinforced suspension member connectors and bushes, permit more front-end suspension stroke yet firm up the rear end. This generates greater traction and stability at high speeds. An unexpected byproduct of this revision is the car's more compliant ride, which Yaguchi says "was a bonus but something we aimed for." Adjustments to the steering power-assist mechanism made for more precise and accurate turn-in as well as greater feedback through the wheel.
The results are that the 2011 IS F can now be pushed even harder into corners; it stays more composed under heavy braking, at turn-in, and while experiencing changes of road camber and elevation. The IS F also exhibits less understeer and more rear wheel grip and stability. In fact, the rear end is now so tied down that a slight enhancement of front-end downforce might generate even greater all-round traction and stability. The new model laps the 2.8-mile Fuji Speedway in 2 minutes, 3.4 seconds -- nearly two seconds faster than its predecessor -- thanks to Yaguchi's subtle, yet substantial, modifications.
To elevate the driving experience even further, Yaguchi completely rethought the instrumentation layout and borrowed design hints from well-known sports cars like Porsche and Ferrari. As a result, the IS F now features a large, centrally located tachometer which spins to a 6800-rpm redline, along with a newly added gear selector and speed gauge. To the right of the tach is a smaller analog speedometer, which Yaguchi says is "...a novelty, just there to show potential buyers that the car is capable of 300 kmh (186 mph)."
Another idea borrowed from Europe's hottest sports cars (ahem, BMW) is the newly fitted shift indicator situated inside the top half of the tachometer. While accelerating hard and concentrating on nailing the right lines around a track, a row of lights illuminate within your lower peripheral vision and make it far easier to sense on-the-limit engine revs than in the outgoing model. This new system lights one orange LED at 5000 rpm, another at 5500 rpm and a "shift now" red light at 6500 rpm. "And don't worry, we did not fit automatic up-shifts. The driver has to change gears, even bouncing off the redline," stresses Yaguchi.
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Yet another strategic addition (that you won't find on export models, unfortunately) is the 'circuit mode,' a la the Nissan GT-R. It may not mean anything to you, but it does illustrate just how much effort Yaguchi and Co. have put into the revised IS F. Now fitted with a hi-tech GPS sat-nav device programmed with Japan's 14 registered race tracks, the IS F will automatically disengage its 180 kmh (112 mph) speed limiter (all Japanese domestic cars come equipped with such a speed limiter) when the vehicle enters a race track. After the track session, and only if the driver so desires, the system will send the vehicle's lap times to a central dealer database accessible by all IS F owners, thus setting up a platform for bragging rights to best laps. Neat trick...
So, when will we see this bright-eyed, better-handling IS F? We'll likely know more during the Paris show press days (Sept. 30-Oct. 1), but we expect to see the revised model here soon. After all, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, an ardent racing fan who has piloted a Lexus LFA in the 24-hours of Nurburgring, says he wants to add more "fun" to his cars. And where better to start than with one of the company's highest performing vehicles?