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Launch Story

12 Nov 2008

IF the new Lexus IS F takes your fancy, then get in quick because the plummeting Australian dollar may soon set its price soaring.

Currently kicking off from a sensational $126,500 without a sunroof (or – as revealed last month – just $129,000 with one), the performance flagship of the IS compact sports sedan range could cost thousands of dollars more after the initial batch of vehicles are delivered to Australian buyers in the first quarter of next year.

According to Lexus Australia chief executive John Roca, the keen launch price for the IS F is coming under intense pressure as the value of the Australian dollar weakens against the Japanese Yen and American dollar.

“The IS F price is right up until about January or February,” he revealed. “We do not have an issue at this stage, but for how much longer – we just don’t know. After that, we can’t say.”

The Lexus boss agreed the slowdown of luxury vehicle sales in Australia and globally might delay price rises for the time being, with parent company Toyota likely to be amenable to negotiation as it seeks to sustain sufficient IS F sales volumes worldwide in 2009 - but a hefty hike is inevitable.

Of course, the IS F pricetag is coming off a low base. Lexus caused a stir in the elite compact high-performance sedan segment since it announced the IS F would undercut its nearest four-door competitor – Mercedes-Benz’s $144,365 C63 AMG sedan – by almost $18,000.

All 40 vehicles allocated for 2008 have already been accounted for, with a further 20 sold during a customer drive day last month, when Lexus invited potential buyers and current owners of competitive models such as BMW’s M3 coupe and the (now discontinued) Audi RS4 to a racetrack meeting to sample the IS F.

During the IS F’s Australian launch this week at Phillip Island, Mr Roca said Lexus’ intentions are to “shake up” the class in the same way that the LS400 turned the upper-luxury sedan market upside down back in the early 1990s.

Three key objectives are to usher in younger buyers to a marque, bring a performance hero model to the brand and encourage greater sales interest in the more garden-variety IS250, which underwent a facelift and model range realignment last month.

Coupled with the arrival of the IS250C coupe-convertible, revealed at last month’s Paris and Sydney motor shows and due here in August next year, the IS F should help revive the model’s fortunes in Australia.

Lexus expects to sell around 40 of the former and 10 of the latter each month.

“The IS F… brings a strong competitive force to the performance sedan market,” Mr Roca stated.

According to Toyota Australia product planning chief Peter Evans, the IS F was initially due to go on sale last August, before Lexus decided to wait until the updated model year 2009 IS upgrade arrived, with its revised trim and minor cabin upgrade.

“Australia was initially going to be one of the first countries to receive the IS F,” Mr Evans admitted. “We’re now the first in the world to get the (MY09) changes.”

Lexus has sold around 6700 IS Fs worldwide in the 12 months since being launched in Japan, Europe and North America.

Meanwhile, chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi, who helped develop the 1996 Toyota Supra coupe, as well as the 1991 Mk1 Lexus GS/Toyota Aristo and both LS400 generations from 1989 and 1994, refused to deny reports that a lightweight high-performance ‘BMW M3 CSL-style’ IS F may be in the pipeline.

“In the future there may be a possibility,” he said through an interpreter, adding that overseeing the launch of the regular IS F is the first order of the day.

Following in the BMW M3 Convertible’s footsteps, an IS F version of the IS250C coupe-convertible may also eventually see the light of day, particularly as Mr Yaguchi declared that – after the intense difficulty of convincing management to green-light the creation of a high-performance version of the IS in the first place – Lexus’ management are pleased with the IS F.

“The board are very happy with the IS F,” he said.

Mr Yaguchi led a small band of dedicated car-enthusiast engineers in an unofficial ‘skunk works’ within Lexus to create an alternative the M3, C-class AMG and RS4.

The go-ahead was only given in 2004, after a first-generation IS300 shoehorned with a 5.2-litre V8 from the Supra GT was presented to Lexus management about a year earlier.

With the help of outside suppliers like Technocraft Yamaha (engine development), Brembo (brakes) and BBS (alloy wheels) as project partners, the IS F began to take shape from “… such modest beginnings”.

Dubbed ‘Project F’ (for nearby Fuji Raceway – which TMC has owned since 2000) or ‘Yaguchi Go’, some 300 personnel worked on the IS F, described by Mr Roca as leading to the most ‘blood, sweat and tears’ of any Lexus program ever.

Lexus was basically limited to using ‘off the shelf’ parts, so features such as adjustable suspension (via electronic dampers) or an electronic park brake (instead of the controversial foot-operated device) could not be developed for this first-generation model.

However, future F versions are expected to have greater mechanical, body and interior differentiation from their more mundane IS siblings.

The IS F’s main developmental base was at Fuji, but testing was also conducted at Nürburgring in Germany, Paul Ricard in France, Belgium's Zolder circuit and Laguna Seca in California, as well as in Australia.

The Phillip Island circuit and Winton Raceway were employed in addition to Japanese, European and North American circuits to hone the Lexus’ dynamics.

Furthermore, the company flew in a disguised IS F prototype to Double Bay, to “…test its ride” over the affluent Sydney suburb’s notoriously uneven roads.

At the heart of the IS F is a 4969cc 5.0-litre V8 developed from the 2UR-FSE quad-cam direct-injection V8 that powers the LS600h hybrid limousine.

Known as the 2UR-GSE, it boasts a Yamaha-developed “G-type” higher-flow cylinder-heads with electronic “VVT-iE” inlet camshaft actuation, a wider included valve angle, larger titanium inlet valves, higher-lift camshafts, roller rockers with maintenance-free lash adjusters, D-4S direct fuel-injection and a stainless steel dual exhaust system.

As we revealed back in August, also exclusive to the IS F’s Euro IV emissions-compliant 32-valve V8 is a dual air intake system, tuned-length surge tank, scavenge oil pump, water-cooled oil-cooler and an offset fuel pump with sub-tank to suit racetrack driving. Compression is 11.8:1.

The result is 311kW of power at 6600rpm and 505Nm of torque at 5200rpm (LS 600h: 290kW and 520Nm), helping to hurtle the IS F to an official 0-100km/h acceleration time of 4.8 seconds.

This compares to the current BMW M3 M-DCT dual-clutch coupe’s 4.6-second sprint-time (using a 309kW/400Nm 4.0-litre V8), while the 336kW/600Nm 6.2-litre V8 Mercedes C63 AMG shaves another 0.1 second off that result.

The 1700kg IS F (which features 53/47 per cent front/rear weight distribution) is mated exclusively with a heavily reworked version of the world-first eight-speed AA80E automatic also found in the LS and GS Lexus sedans.

Fitted with an air-cooled fluid cooler and breather, the IS F’s eight-speed “Sports Direct Shift” automatic transmission even runs the same tall (2.93:1) final drive ratio and cooling-finned differential with electronic brake-actuated limited-slip function as the LS, but features full torque converter lock-up in all but first gear in M (manual-shift) mode, as well as in sixth, seventh and eighth gear ratios in D (auto) mode.

Lexus says that the gearbox is highly adaptive, has an automatic throttle-blip function during downshifts in manual mode, shifts gears in 200 milliseconds and features larger steering wheel shift paddles than the latest IS250, which can also be activated in D mode.

The eight-speed automatic contributes significantly to the IS F’s ADR 81/02 fuel consumption figure of 11.4 litres per 100km (M3: 12.4L/100km C63 AMG: 13.5L/100km).

Numerologists take note: ‘270’ is both the IS F’s (electronically-controlled) top speed in kilometres per hour and its grams per kilometre carbon dioxide emissions output.

The IS F uses a heavily modified version of the rear-wheel drive IS250’s double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension systems, which feature a unique calibration via stiffer springs and anti-roll bars plus larger-diameter monotube dampers.

A Lexus engineer revealed to us that more suspension modification is in the pipeline, as the company seeks to address ride-quality criticism. Expect a number of running changes over the next two years.

Upping braking performance is a Brembo brake package featuring monobloc aluminium callipers – six-piston items gripping 360x30mm pillar-fin ventilated discs up front and twin-piston units with similar 345x28mm discs at rear.

Rounding out the mechanical upgrade are unique, staggered-size, 19-inch BBS forged alloy wheels, with a chamfered multi-spoke design specially devised to extract brake heat.

The 19x8.0-inch front wheels are claimed to be 30 per cent lighter than the 19-inch cast alloy LS wheel and wear 225/40-section Bridgestone Potenza RE050A directional tyres, while larger 255/35-section Bridgestones are fitted to the 19-inch rear wheels.

The IS F features a switchable Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) system that links the VSC stability/traction control and anti-lock braking systems with the engine management and electric power steering systems.

The latter features 2.91 turns lock-to-lock, VDIM modes include Sport, Normal and Snow, and the system can be fully disabled by holding the button for three seconds while stationary.

A four-seater, the IS F is fitted with leather-upholstered sports seats brandishing power adjustment, while blue speedometer and tachometer needles, machined aluminium instrumentation surrounds and a 300-Watt 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system (specifically designed for this car) are cabin highlights.

Other features include radar-operated active cruise control (ACC), the Lexus Pre-Crash System (LPCS) and eight airbags including front knee airbags and full-length side curtains).

Distinguishing the IS F from the IS 250 are a redesigned front bumper with mesh grille and F-shaped lower air inlets, a bulging aluminium bonnet, side skirts, a small rear spoiler, wing mirrors that eschew the facelifted IS model’s repeater-equipped items and a deeper rear bumper with a pair of vertically-stacked oval-shaped chrome exhaust outlets (in a figure ‘8’ formation) on either side.

Finally, the IS F has an aerodynamic drag co-efficient of 0.30Cd, and was subject to an intensive aerodynamic testing program that led to a redesigned underbody.

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