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Lexus tries again with IS F chassis

IS Finessed: Due on sale here by October, Australia's 2012 IS F scores new wheels and upgraded suspension.

Changes continue for Lexus bad boy as engineers finetune IS F’s ride and handling

Lexus logo16 Aug 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

LEXUS is set to give its hard-edged IS F sports sedan its third chassis tweak in as many years as it strives to engage its German competitors on equal terms.

Praised for its 311kW V8 performance but criticised for its ride quality when it was launched in 2008, the Lexus answer to BMW’s lauded M3 will get a new set of hi-tech low-friction dampers and revised springs to add some suppleness to its track-bred suspension set-up.

As well, a wider front wheel/tyre combo – growing from 8.0 inches to 8.5 inches – aims to provide improved steering turn-in on the revised model that has just gone into production in Japan ahead of its showroom debut in Australia about late September.

Lexus Australia – which is preparing to double its 'F' models from two to four over the next couple of years – says the annual modifications to the IS F since it was launched in 2008 represents Toyota's famed 'kaizen' at work – the system of continuous improvement.

Suspension modifications were mooted by Lexus right from launch, with the first batch coming last year in the MY11 model.

Now, Toyota's prestige brand has looked to Germany for further refinement by adopting low-friction, low-viscosity dampers made by Sachs to improve initial bump compliance while at the same time slightly stiffening the springs all round to ensure flat cornering.

Lexus engineers say the new set-up – which will be introduced on other Lexus models including the all-new Lexus GS large sedan to be launched at the famed Pebble Beach Concours in California this week – also improves high speed response to steering inputs.

31 center imageThe IS F's under-carriage changes will coincide with a number of visual tweaks, including new 14-spoke BBS alloy wheels, a red-and-black leather interior – replacing the orange-black option – and a new exterior paint colour, Mercury Gray.

Pricing will remain unchanged at $126,800, which is $12,200 cheaper than the BMW M3 sedan and $26,000 less expensive than the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan.

Lexus is expecting to get its usual deliveries of about 10 to 12 IS Fs a month, although that supply has been severely inhibited for much of this year by Japan's earthquake and tsunami.

In the seven months to July, IS F sales are down 25.7 per cent to just 52 units, while IS sales overall have slipped 18.7 per cent to 1659 units, compared with 2043 to the same time last year.

Lexus Australia chief executive Tony Cramb told GoAuto the earthquake had been devastating for Lexus sales in Australia, but that supplies were returning to normal.

He said Lexus dealers had particularly large order banks for the IS350 and IS250, as well as a queue waiting a couple of months for the IS F.

“We don't sell a lot of IS F, but it is a hero car that people aspire to,” he said.

Lexus Australia marketing director Peter Evans said IS F owners tended to upgrade their cars, and that the newest revision was likely attract these customers back to the showroom, especially as supply would be restored by September.

He said the softer F Sport packages – available on lesser IS models and the CT200h hybrid – now comprise one in four Lexus sales, with 43 per cent of IS buyers opting for the F treatment on the IS250 and IS350 six-cylinder models.

Mr Evans said sportscar buyer awareness for the Lexus 'F' branding was now running at 18 per cent, which he said was excellent for a vehicle line that had only been around in small numbers for a few years.

He said Lexus was preparing to launch more F Sport models. Although he and Mr Cramb declined to name them, buyers can expect sledgehammer versions of the new GS, the LS limousine and RX SUV.

The IS range is expected to get a full-model change in 2013, although a redesigned IS F is unlikely to be available from launch.

Until then, the IS F will remain in production with the same 5.0-litre 311kW V8 that produces 505Nm of torque and can push the sedan from zero to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.

The engine is mated to an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The IS F will cease to be the toughest kid on the Lexus block from October, when the LFA supercar arrives in Australia for just nine cashed-up buyers.

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