While we love forced induction, there is always something to be enjoyed about naturally-aspirated V8s. A large-displacement V8 brings us back to an era of raw horsepower and a pure, wild driving experience. Lexus has been one of the automakers that are constantly evolving, even replacing their big V8 in their LS 500 with a highly-advanced twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The move made us believe we will never see a V8 in their lineup again, and the era of the IS F is long gone. To our surprise, Lexus introduced the IS 500 F SPORT Performance. While it looks like a normal Lexus IS 350, the hood bulge says this car is packing some heat. Thanks to Lexus and their commitment to serving the enthusiast, we now have a V8 Japanese compact sedan. The question is, will the IS 500 give you the wild ride offered by other V8s, or did they tame the big engine to compete with the luxury compact sedans?
Text by Bassem Girgis // Photos by Joe SingletonDSPORT Issue #238
On the Road
Initially getting behind the wheel of the Lexus IS 500 feels just like any other Lexus: comfortable. The car feels luxurious, smooth, and safe as per Lexus’ standards. Press that start button, however, and you will hear a roar you never thought an IS was capable of producing. It’s deep and throaty with a high fun factor when revved. On the road, the IS 500 gets some getting used to before the animal is unleashed. In normal driving, the transmission feels lazy. It shifts too quickly for fuel consumption purposes, and the quicker it shifts, the less power you have since peak horsepower is at the top of the RPM range. When we put the IS 500 in manual mode and used the paddle shifters., that’s when the V8 came to life. Having the freedom of shifting whenever you want allows you to rev the IS 500 to where it thrives. It won’t spin the tires or fishtail, but this Lexus will let you know you’re piloting a V8. The fun zone for the Lexus IS 500 is in the higher RPM range. Suspension could be both extremely comfortable, or stiff enough to keep the car flat through the twist and turns. Braking is simply outstanding in the IS 500. The car’s brake system is track-ready out of the box. All in all, the IS 500 is a pleasure to drive, you just have to drive it like you stole it.
Under the bulging hood sits a 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine. Despite the more powerful, larger displacement engine, the vehicle weighs in at 3,891 pounds, gaining only 143 pounds of additional weight over the standard IS 350 F SPORT.
Making the move to the larger displacement engine didn’t mean becoming raw for the IS 500. This platform is as technologically-advanced and luxurious as any other IS in the lineup. It features all of the safety features, like the pre-collision system, frontal collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection. Handling has been engineered with confidence in mind. The Dynamic Handling Package includes the Adaptive Variable Suspension and Torsen Limited Slip Differentials. The limited slip differential helps maintain straight-line stability, while the adaptive variable suspension improves traction around corners. This also allows the IS 500 to maintain its comfortability when in Normal mode, and stiffen the suspension in Sport and Sport + modes. Improvement over the IS 350 has been made in terms of brake cooling, with functional vents and larger brake rotors for out-of-this-world stopping power.
The dynograph for the 2022 Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance is fairly smooth and linear with a slight dip around 5,000 rpm before continuing upward. The 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8 ultimately delivered 382.73 horsepower to the wheels at 6,400 RPM. That’s about 450bhp, over 20 more bhp than rated.
The torque peaks at 350.30 lb-ft at 6,300 RPM. Power delivery is smooth and predictable, with most of the fun coming on in the middle to higher RPM range. Lexus claims straight line performance of 0 to 60 MPH in 4.5 seconds.
(L) The analog clock in the dash is stylish and adds a touch of luxuriousness to the interior. (M) The IS 500 shares an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission with the RC F. (R) The sporty two-tone black & gray front and rear seats are trimmed in Ultrasuede.
The Bottom Line
The IS 500 is a massive step forward for Lexus to be taken seriously in the performance automotive world. The Japanese luxury automaker finally has a V8 that doesn’t fall under the supercar category. There are some improvements to be made; however, keep in mind our tester was a prototype and not the final production vehicle. The IS 500 simply needs some wildness. Since we’ve built a Lexus 5.0-liter V8 engine before, we know this engine is more than capable, which makes it clear that transmission tuning could use some work. It seems like the IS 500 falls in a grey zone between trying to be comfortable and luxurious, while also trying to appear wild and crazy. It seems like it takes too much work to unleash the wild side of this vehicle. However, once unleashed, the paddle shifters will simply make this platform a tough competitor for any. So, who is the Lexus IS 500 right for? This car is for the enthusiast looking for a performance daily-driver. Whether the transmission mapping is tuned or paddle shifters are used, we can say the IS 500 offers the best of both worlds.