SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – If one were to squint hard enough, the 2022 Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance just might just appear to be this year’s version of the old IS F sedan.
Just to be clear, it’s not. This isn’t that. Still, the new car bears a strong resemblance to the old in several ways, from approximate size to performance and intent. So, while the IS 500 F SPORT Performance (which I’ll refer to as the IS 500 moving forward) does benefit from almost a decade’s worth of improvements, its IS F ancestry remains.
For those that may not remember, the Lexus IS F was marketed as the high-performance V8-powered model at the top of the IS range from 2007 to 2014. The car straddled second and third (current) generation IS models and received several styling and equipment changes during its run, but the powertrain remained the same throughout: 5.0-litre V8 paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Peak output was rated at 416 hp / 371 lb-ft, with a zero-100 km/h time of just under five seconds. Final MSRP: $73,900.
Fast forward seven years and the IS F legacy continues with the 2022 IS 500, a car possessed of the same high-performance ethos as its forebear, but in contemporary form. Despite their many differences, the two cars share the same powertrain and layout: V8, eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive.
In fact, the naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 is the same 2UR-GSE engine from the IS F, but this time around Lexus engineers have squeezed more performance out of it: 472 hp / 395 lb-ft with an estimated zero-100 km/h time of 4.6 seconds.
Like the IS F, the IS 500 represents the pinnacle of F Sport performance, so it therefore receives just about every piece of performance kit Lexus can throw at it. Among these is the Dynamic Handling Package which includes an Adaptive Variable Suspension and TORSEN Limited Slip Differential. Yamaha has also been tapped to supply a rear performance damper, which drums out structural distortion for better low-speed comfort and improved high-speed agility and stability. As one might expect, stopping power has been enhanced with massive brakes: 14-inch two-piece aluminum rotors up front, and 12.7-inchers at the rear.
Bodywork enhancements for the IS 500 include improved brake cooling, a trunk-mounted lip spoiler, quad tip exhaust finishers, a large black rear diffuser and unique 19-inch Enkei alloy wheels, which are 0.5 kg lighter each up front and 1 kg lighter per corner at the rear versus the standard 19-inch F Sport wheel. The IS 500 also sports unique front and rear bumpers, a raised (by 50 mm) front hood and dark chrome window trim. Of note, the IS 500 is just 5 kg (11 pounds) heavier than the IS 350 AWD F Sport.
Inside, the IS 500 carries the same refreshed dash-console layout as the rest of the 2021 IS lineup, but with a few additional changes. Standard kit includes a 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, eight-inch digital instrument cluster with sliding bezel, F Sport pedals and F SPORT Performance badging.
A Launch Edition is being offered, in limited quantities, for an extra $4,750 which includes unique styling details such as two-tone black/grey Ultrasuede-trimmed seating, door accents and centre console. The leather-wrapped steering wheel also has a unique Silver Ash wood finish, and each unit comes with a console badge plate with a serialized number. All Launch Editions are finished in Incognito (light grey) with 19-inch matte black BBS forged alloy wheels, which are two kg lighter per wheel than the standard 19-inch IS F Sport wheel.
For the drive, Lexus brought a U.S. pre-production IS 500 to the Arizona desert for media to sample. Before diving in, I should note that my seat time was limited to about 50 minutes and confined to public roads. Hopefully, I’ll get to experience it on track in the future.
One thing that stood out as soon as I climbed into the cockpit is how muted everything felt. For a range-topping model, the IS 500’s cabin is pretty ordinary. Lexus has included some F Sport Performance badging and extra equipment, but it didn’t stand out at first blush.
The larger 10.3-inch touchscreen looks great, but it can also be had on the IS 350 AWD, and apart from the sliding bezel in the instrument cluster found in the RC F, the interior feels pretty stock. For those wishing to liven the proceedings up a notch or two, red and white interiors are also available, both of which are more appealing than black, in my opinion.
Despite not being too jazzed about the cabin, I really like the look of the IS 500’s exterior. The flared, creased, and emotional bodywork mirrors the car’s performance character, and the fine details, such as the lip spoiler, quad exhaust and gorgeous Enkei wheels subtly hint at what lies beneath.
And the heart of the IS 500 is indeed legit. I spent a good amount of my drive on undulating two-lane pavement in “sport” and “sport+” drive settings, stabbing at the throttle, and then rolling in and out of it to gauge powertrain responsiveness and differences, and I find the setup to be quite willing.
The IS 500 isn’t much of a screamer, at least on public roads, but thrust from the V8 can be seat-pressing with a barking exhaust note to match, especially in sport and sport+. Peak output is stashed high in the powerband, but with so much power on tap one needn’t bury the needle to get the IS 500 to move. The big V8 offers plenty of oomph in the 3,000 – 4,000 r.p.m. range.
On-road handling feels nicely balanced, with good steering feedback, consistent and reliable corner rotation, and minimal understeer. These aspects really need to be evaluated on a closed course, but the IS 500 shapes up as a pleasing daily driver if one so desires, especially in less aggressive drive modes.
Overall, I come away impressed with the IS 500’s road manners and general aesthetic, even if the interior feels a little bland. The Launch Edition offers an interior more befitting of a high-performance car, but there are few available and come in just one colour. Given that styling choices tend to be easier to fix than mechanical ones, I am hopeful Lexus will eventually bring the cabin up to the same level as the rest of the car, because the IS 500 is indeed worthy.
The 2022 Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance will go on sale across Canada later this fall.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.