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The Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance contradicts itself (and me)

The Lexus IS 500 F Sport is the last of the naturally aspirated V-8 sedans. It's not perfect, but can the engine alone save the IS?


Do you know why I have an M3? Car reviews and comparisons. It’s true – in the 90s and early 2000s, Car & Driver would always pit 3ers and 5ers against everything from a 911 to a Cadillac, and they would win. Along the way, something like this Lexus IS 500 would easily be vanquished. Issue consumed and tossed – also-ran cars forgotten.

But now I’m on the other side – working diligently to find the soul in every vehicle. The IS 500 has a big one, and if you give me 2,000 words, I’ll explain why it’s not the best, yet so very lust-worthy in spite if it.

In other words, I’m going to contradict myself a lot. Just trust me.

Lexus IS 500

2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance Quick Take

Get one:

The engine as art. Looks sharp enough to cut you. Well-built and comfy (once you’re in). Are you not entertained?

Don’t get one:

A transmission that hates to transmit. A suspension that wants to remember bumps long after they’ve passed. Dated in some ways. Tight inside.

Soul Score: 9

Love is never rational.

The 2024 Lexus IS 500 overview

Lexus IS 500

I wasn’t lying. Remember the IS-F? Sure you do – the E90 M3 killed it in, yup, a Car & Driver test. I pretty much agreed with that assessment, because the IS had the guts to compete, just not that overall sense of the entire machine working as one.

Now here we are 14 years later. Imagine if BMW still made the S65? That’s essentially what Lexus does – the IS-F’s V-8 survives to this day in the IS 500 (only better). But this isn’t an IS-F – it’s an F Sport Performance model. Softer. Not as hard core. It’s confusing though, because full-on F models like the RC-F Coupe use the same engine. That means it’s missing things like a wider body, upgraded brakes, and toned suspensions. Fun fact: this car is only sold in North America, making it one of the few cases where we do get the good stuff.

Lexus IS-F
The IS-F is the IS 500’s vaunted predecessor.

A regular IS is a fine enough thing, and the car remains quite good-looking even after being introduced in 2021. You probably see IS 350s all the time. Not this car though. I’ve only seen one on the road before it landed in my driveway.

Why do you think that is? Let’s see.

Performance Score: 7. Cross my heart, hope the IS doesn’t die

Lexus IS 500
Much improved over the IS-F, but lacking in some ways to modern competitors.

This car’s driving experience is dominated by a naturally aspirated 5-liter V-8 that sounds like sexy time if you connected your phone to an arena’s stadium and hit play on the naughty video.

Ohh wait, that’s me making those sounds every time I punch the throttle?

Problem is, the IS is more than an engine. Still, gotta start there…


Lexus IS 500
So satisfying to push and bring the V-8 to life.

Turbocharged engines have gotten really good over the past decade. There’s lag, but it’s so hidden and covered up by computers and transmissions that most of the time, it’s forgotten.

Then you hop into this car, with its Yamaha heads (sigh), titanium inlet valves (grunts), VVT-iE inlet camshaft actuation (weeps) – you get it, the 2UR-GSE V-8 has all the goodies you’ve come to expect when an engine doesn’t have a snail or a lump with a belt attached to it. There’s really good juice here: 472 horsepower at a stratospheric 7,100 rpm. That’s up 56 from the IS-F, so progress has been made despite the engine not being available in the IS for over a decade.

Loaf around town in comfort, and you’d be none the wiser – there’s still nearly 400 lb-ft of torque. In fact, this Lexus IS 500 loafs around a bit too much, so put it in Sport mode right at start up.

Lexus IS 500
A quick rip to redline make the big tach a necessity.

Dip your toe into the throttle, give the transmission about five seconds to kick down (I’ll explain in a minute), and then be rewarded as the intake bypass opens around 2,800 rpm. Is that…induction noise? It is! I’m not crying, you are. From there, the car is fast – you’ll pull to 80 much quicker than you’ve anticipated. It’s so smooth, no dead spots in the tach like in a turbocharged car.

What does it need? Intake. Exhaust. That’s it. Don’t touch it otherwise. What a howl this thing makes once that bypass opens. Unmatched by anyone.

Lexus IS 500
The only giveaway is a power dome hood.

Understand that this isn’t like driving an IS-F in 2024. The IS 500 is a new car, with modern build quality and tech. It’s Third Eye Blind coming out with Jumper 27 years after they were supposed to.

Sorry, sorry. I know you get it. Now comes the hard part.


Lexus IS 500
Confusing to shift, unpleasant to experience.

The IS’s driving experience is let down by an eight-speed automatic transmission that I must say is tuned about as poorly as I’ve experienced.

What this car deserves is a DCT, but understanding that Toyota doesn’t have one lying on the shelf, I’d be happy with ZF-type behavior. Instead, we get unruly. The IS refuses to kick down, so give it more gas to induce it, and then it’s holy shit, Mike. Too much. Back off and start all over again. As you do, the car bucks and clunks and exhibits some un-Lexus-like behavior.

As a result, that V-8 can feel a little neutered. Shifting manually is okay, but you’re not going to drive around with paddle shifters clacking all day. Even the shifter itself – the gate is oddly shaped, so shifting from drive to reverse sometimes requires a look down. Unnecessary.

Steering and Chassis

Lexus IS 500
The steering itself is pretty good.

Good news: there is a suspension. I think.

Let’s start by grabbing the smooth thin-spoke steering wheel. It feels great – there’s more to work with here than a G80, and it allows you to be precise as you slice through the fools ahead of you. Can be a bit light, but it’s not the only sports sedan to commit that crime.

The suspension, right. The IS 500 is rear-wheel drive only, with an F Sport–tuned Adaptive Variable Suspension and unique rear dampers from Yamaha. Select drive modes of Comfort, Sport, or Sport Plus via a knob in the cockpit to inject Viagra into the IS’s veins.

Lexus IS 500
How did it escape the Lexus facility tuned like this?

In Comfort the IS is too soft, yet also harsh as it clangs and bounds over bumps. Rebound is rough – hit a bump, the car dips, and then it dips again, as if every rut in the road sends you a forget-me-not. Sport mode is better, but the limits here aren’t very high – we’re talking F30 levels of grip. The all-season-tire kind. It’s not a car you’d want to track. There’s also more body roll than I’d like.

Lexus IS 500
Turn this to Sport mode immediately.

Some blame might go to the Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires Lexus selects. I’m not a fan either, and I wonder how much better the car would feel with a set of PS4s hugging those optional BBS wheels.

But here comes the contradiction. Despite all that, I liked how the IS handles – somewhat old school. I can feel it moving at 50 MPH, and that’s fun. The M3 might be more composed at 100, but it feels much more boring at pretty much every speed. As the car leans, I can begin to feel the rear letting go, or the front-end sliding into understeer. There’s some work to get the desired results, and it made me smile.


Lexus IS 500
I can’t explain it, but they work really well.

This car simply has the best brakes I’ve ever used.

In front are 14.0-inch vented discs that aren’t quite as aggressive as what comes on an RC-F, but I must say that pedal feel and feedback are perfect. I can modulate easily, and that builds confidence. Dig deeper, and the pedal firms up quickly.

Some potato head cut me off on the FDR Drive in Manhattan while in the IS, and the car stopped so well that I almost came up too short. Loved them.

Lexus IS 500
The exhaust tips are real, unlike the IS-F.

The result of all this is a car that simply isn’t on the same level of performance as a V, an M, or even a full-on F. Yet once behind the wheel, it’s magic. The Lexus IS 500 is more than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s the engine, maybe that body roll, the brakes, or a combination, but fun isn’t always something you can provide firm reasoning for.

Utility Score: 6. Sweet seat

Lexus IS 500
Very good – once you’re in.

This is an intimate car with a sexy, sloping roof line, so my 6’1 frame did not enjoy ingress. But once inside, the IS feels wrapped around you in the best ways.

We’ll start at the bottom – the seats give excellent support and are some of the best I’ve sat in, but the bottom cushion is a bit short for me. I also found the door sill crowding my left arm, and I couldn’t quite put it out the window how I’d typically like. At least the chair will motor all the way back when you get in and out.

Lexus IS 500
The trunk is very accommodating, despite the car’s smaller size.

The rear seat is again on the tight side, though fine for kids or shorter people. This probably couldn’t be a family car if you’re family has two teens that require their meals measured in tons, but everyone else would be just fine.

Lexus IS 500
The IS has a useful back seat, but larger families might not be thrilled.

The trunk is actually terrific – a wide mouth means my roadie case fit inside with ease, so despite it being a smaller car than a 3 Series, it’s nearly as useful.

Fuel Economy: 10. You heard me

Lexus IS 500
Same as a turbocharged engine.

Hello. I’m Mike. I like to drive. I like to drive fast, revving the engine quite often. Despite the flogging, this Lexus IS 500 averaged 18.4 MPG. The EPA says 20 when you drive responsibly.

An M3 Competition – 19 MPG. My stick – 18.7. And this is with the Lexus’s odd transmission programming. Plop a ZF in there and I bet it gets better. Yes, I know, the S58 is more powerful. I wish I could say I gave a damn.

Can’t hear you over the sound of my awesome V-8 bro.

Lexus, please don’t let anyone tell you to stop letting this V-8 slide into the IS’s DMs. It’s no better or worse than a turbocharged car.

Features and Comfort: 7. The bad with the good

Lexus IS 500

Here again I will provide some contradictions. The IS is pretty ancient inside, with a smaller touch screen, no HUD, and the cruise control buttons from my 1997 Mitsubishi 3000GT.

But it’s nicer in some ways than a Mercedes, and it has everything you need to survive in 2024.

Where Am I?

Lexus IS 500
Hope you like buttons.
Lexus IS 500
The mouse isn’t easy to use – I think these are all going away soon.

There are a lot of buttons in here. The weird part in the IS seems to be that they live all over. Headlight controls live on the stalk, but auto high beams are a button on the dash. The cruise control is activated by a stalk that doesn’t light up at night, so that’s pretty much impossible to use if you don’t know the car that well.

There’s no HUD. I need to plug in my iPhone for Apple CarPlay.

Is that a CD player?

Lexus IS 500
You learn where everything is quickly.

But look past that and you’ll find an interior with excellent build quality. Opt for red NuLuxe, and you’ll get matching door cards, even the plastic bits (which are softer to touch than anything in a Cadillac). Also peep the heated and cooled seat functions, sunroof, and cup holders that actually hold cups instead of eight ounce sippies. I need coffee with my V-8.

Lexus IS 500
The IS has excellent detail and quality throughout the cabin.

The HVAC is simple, but with so many buttons all over, it can feel a bit haphazard in layout.

I love the old school clock in the middle of the dash, along with the chrono-inspired dashboard that slides over (à la the Lexus LFA) to reveal…a different way of presenting useless info. Whatever, it’s fun. I will say that the gigantic real estate left for idiot lights flanking the dials is confusing. I can see just fine, but maybe using some of that space for a bigger speedometer would have been nice.

Tach is front and center no matter what though. Good boy.

Lexus IS 500
The infotainment system is perfectly usable.
Lexus IS 500
The clock is a wonderful detail.
Lexus IS 500
No carbon roof means you’re free to enjoy this without judgement.
Lexus IS 500
The tach sits in the middle of a vastly empty dash, but touch a button and…
Lexus IS 500
It slides over like in an LFA.

Not many Fs given

Lexus IS 500
Premium trim gets triple beam headlamps.

What a great-looking car. I admit that I’ve always liked Lexus’s Toyko-future themed styling, and the IS has gone from funky Toyota Altezza rebadge to a super model in its 20 years.

Lexus IS 500
The L theme is everywhere.

You know what’s not here? Carbon fiber. That’s fine with me, because despite festooning the M3 with it, I admit I’m just not a huge fan. Feels so pretentious. “Looka me, I’m hella fast.”

Instead, the gloss black trim is an asset instead of a liability – looks great, and replaces the silly chrome trim on lesser IS.

Lexus IS 500
BBS wheels replace the standard Enkei.

Painted a shade called Incognito (a color much more pretty and complex than Brooklyn Grey), the car looks tough set against black 19-inch BBS wheels, a $2,450 option. The standard Enkei wheels seem fine to me too. Opting for the Premium trim will give you Triple Beam headlights and a very good Mark Levinson audio system.

Lexus IS 500
Badging here is subtle – I think there are less than ten F’s on the entire car.
Lexus IS 500
The gloss black treatment here isn’t overboard.
Lexus IS 500
The color – Incognito, is stunning. But..not the one I’d pick.

Permit me one note – Ultra Sonic Blue Mica. It’s perhaps my all-time favorite car color, and its available on the IS 500. But I can’t find a single used one for sale, and apparently Lexus makes very few in the shade. For me, it would be a non-negotiable.

I’d rather daily this Lexus IS 500 than almost any other car

Lexus IS 500

Have you ever used a bottle of AMMO? If you have one, take a look at the back and read through the directions. You’ll find what’s called “romance copy” weaved in, and it goes something like this:

“Rolling lazily through dunes. The sound of pebbles clinking the undercarriage. Windshield is all sky, then all sand. Pitching back and forth until you reach a deserted road. She takes your hand. Downshift, head for the horizon. No destination, just the sky and her smile.”

Lexus IS 500

I write those for Larry, and if you’re reading this review, you probably understand the point. A car is a part of your perfect day, no? It should be as much fun getting to your destination as it is to be there. When I write them, I have cars like the Lexus IS 500 in mind.

It is a flawed soul. You shouldn’t get one if you intend to track it. Every other competitor around it is faster, more modern, and more capable. But if that’s all you care about, shouldn’t you just be in a Model 3 Performance? No, the Lexus IS 500 is my kind of car. You must drive it, I mean really drive it, to experience it.

Lexus IS 500

A small sedan with a naturally aspirated V-8 once stole my heart. Now, this IS has done it again. I wonder if I can snag one before it’s too late.

2,223 words by the way. I mean 2,227. Nevermind…

Lexus IS 500

Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance Specifications


Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger, four-door sedan


Base: $63,370
As tested: $66,970


5.0 liter naturally aspirated V-8
472 horsepower @ 7,100 RPM
395 lb-ft @ 4,800 RPM


Wheelbase: 110.2 in
Length: 187.3 in
Width: 72.4 in
Height: 56.5 in
Curb Weight: 3,891 lbs


20 combined / 17 city / 25 highway

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