2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport First Drive | A charismatic outlier

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For 2022, the Lexus IS is getting a V8, the first time since the last IS F was built back in 2014. But instead of an uncompromisingly sporty successor to the IS F, Lexus has created something a little softer and more civilized, and given it a similarly watered-down name: IS 500 F Sport. And in our time with the sedan, it's an apt name, since it's not a real competitor for the M, AMG, RS and Blackwings of the world. But what it is isn't bad, either. It's a characterful sport sedan that makes for an interesting alternative to similarly softer and more civilized choices like the BMW M340i or Audi S4. It is hampered by some familiar Lexus problems, but it has enough to like that the right buyer can happily overlook the shortcomings.

Before diving too deep into the driving impressions, let's go over what was done to create the 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport. The lynchpin is the 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8. It's a unique feature for a class full of turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines. It sends 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque to the rear through an eight-speed automatic transmission and a standard limited-slip differential. Lexus clocks the 0-60 time at 4.4 seconds, which is on par with the rear-drive M340i. Of course, the BMW has 90 fewer horsepower.

It sits on a sport-tuned adaptive suspension and gets bigger brakes with better cooling, but that's about it for mechanical upgrades. It's all wrapped in a body that looks almost exactly like the IS 350 F Sport except for the quad exhaust, exclusive Enkei wheels and the power bulge that raises the hood by 2 inches. It's great for keeping a low profile, but nodding quietly to those in the know that, yes, this is the fast one. The interior also gets leather and faux suede upholstery, a thick F Sport steering wheel and other F-related trimmings.

As with every Lexus so equipped, the IS 500's V8 is a true treat that makes up for whatever disadvantages it might have on paper with endless character in person. It's spectacularly smooth and demure most of the time, but when asked, it delivers a raucous intake growl and a just right amount of exhaust noise. And it does so without needing to have the artificial sound enhancer turned on (it's adjustable from nothing to 100% via a scroll wheel on the dash). It's eager to rev and will do so to a little past 7,000 rpm. Peak power lives up there, but it has enough mid-range grunt to keep it entertaining even when you're not making the most of every gear. Throttle response is a little sluggish in normal drive modes, but switch it into Sport+ and it wakes right up.

Fuel economy isn't unreasonable considering the power. Full numbers aren't available, but Lexus says it will get 24 mpg on the highway. A BMW M3 will get 23 on the highway, but as we've already mentioned, that's not really the goal line here: the M340i and its turbo inline-six can break 30 mpg on the highway. That more cylinders results in worse fuel economy shouldn't be a surprise.

The eight-speed automatic is the same one that's been used for years in V8 F cars, and it feels like it. On the positive side, it's got old-school smoothness with ratio changes that melt together when left in automatic mode. On the downside, it's noticeably slower than the latest transmissions from the Germans, and in manual mode, it can be a little rough changing gears. That's particularly relevant as you'll want it in manual when driving really hard. While the transmission is better at holding gears and downshifting in Sport and Sport+ modes, it's not always as aggressive as we'd like for driving hard. But cruising around town, automatic shifting in Eco or Normal modes works great.

When you get to the corners, there's mild body roll, and not a huge amount of grip. It's also a bit heavy, and is more reluctant to change direction than the competition. The steering is quite numb, but well-weighted and it builds resistance progressively. Switching into the sport modes does stiffen the suspension slightly, but not by much, and it just adds weight to the helm rather than feedback. But because it's not a track weapon, it's supremely comfortable in most other driving situations. It glides right along, unflappable over crumbling asphalt. And in the same way it doesn't affect handling much, the stiffer suspension mode doesn't hurt the ride much, either.

Inside, the IS 500 looks and feels good, at least until you get to the infotainment system. The interior design is still stylish and unique, despite being broadly the same as what debuted eight years ago. The sliding instrument bezel over the digital instruments is still fun to see, and a lot of the materials look and feel good. The volume and tuning knobs in particular have a high-end HiFi feel. The IS 500 in particular gets leather and faux suede upholstery which looks good and provides good grip. There are a few lower-rent plastics that show up, such as the stitched pieces ahead of the passenger that keep it from being a class leader, but it's still a solid cabin. The front seats are reasonably deep buckets, but without especially huge bolsters, another sign of a more grand-touring nature. They're generally comfortable, and there's plenty of room for front occupants in all dimensions. The back seat is quite snug, but adults could be housed back there without too much complaint for even medium-length trips. So, pretty march par for the segment.

As for that infotainment system, it has been improved, as we've touched upon before, thanks to a bigger screen that now accepts touch functions. This means that you can bypass the sluggish and tiresome touchpad on the center console. It's most appreciated when using phone mirroring apps such as Apple CarPlay. However, the underlying operating system and menu layout is the same as it ever was, and they look a bit muddy and dated, and it's not terribly responsive. In terms of functionality and appearance, it's well behind the competition, and is easily the low point of the car.

Pricing for the IS 500 hasn't been announced and it's hard to say where it will land given its atypical mix of high-output engine and somewhat mild personality. The car's character seems to line it up with things like the M340i, Genesis G70 3.3T, Mercedes-AMG C 43 and Audi S4 among others. And pricing for those ranges from the mid-$40,000 range to the mid-$50,000 range. The Lexus comes in at the top of that price range, starting at $57,575 for the base model, and the top Launch Edition starts at $68,475. To continue with the benchmark BMWs, it fits right between the M340i and the more serious M3. It would be a more compelling package if it were a bit cheaper, since compared with some of the aforementioned competitors, the Lexus has a number of disadvantages: worse fuel economy, no all-wheel-drive option and a dated infotainment system mainly.

And this leads us to the conclusion. The IS 500 is a pretty cool machine. It has one of the greatest V8s you can still buy, and it's packaged in a crisp wrapper. It's also fun enough to drive with gusto, while also being lovely for daily driving. But it's showing its age with an old transmission, interior and infotainment system, while falling short of its competitors' feature content and fuel efficiency. That leaves the 2022 Lexus IS 500 as a car you buy for its burbling engine, balanced chassis and good looks. That's just fine.

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