Lexus is upping its game. The luxury brand has built a reputation over the years for elegant luxury vehicles, reliability and customer service. But now Lexus has made aggressive design and performance a priority and the changes are striking. The new design direction is most noticeable with the new spindle front grille that immediately grabs your attention and gives the vehicles a much sportier look. But buyers looking for even more aggressive design and performance packages will look to the Lexus F Sport lineup which now covers six of its vehicles. Buyers choosing the F SPORT packages will get increased handling along with unique design cues that set the vehicles apart.
I was on hand at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as Lexus took the opportunity to show off the F SPORT lineup with challenging autocross and track courses. The idea was to push each vehicle in standard drive mode and then run the same route again in sport mode. The cars handled fine in standard mode but then became very impressive in sport mode, gripping the corners as we powered through the turns. With its F SPORT lineup Lexus offers worthy competitors to the top sport sedans on the market, along with designs that will attract the attention of younger buyers (and those who are young at heart).
We had the entire F SPORT lineup on hand at the track, including the IS 250/350 sport sedan, the GS 350 luxury sedan, the LS 460 flagship luxury sedan, the CT 200h premium hybrid compact, the IS 250/350C hardtop convertible and the RX 350 luxury utility vehicle.
We also had the two stand-alone F performance vehicles – the LFA supercar and the IS F performance sedan. These are completely distinct models built for optimal track performance.
The day started for our group on the tight autocross course with four F SPORT models – the CT 200h, the IS 250, the IS 350 AWD, and the GS 350. The course had plenty of quick and tight turns, and with each model we drove it in standard drive mode for one lap and then switched to the Sport or Sport+ mode for the second lap with a very impressive improvement in handling and stability around the corners. We could push the cars even harder as we got accustomed to the course.
Then we moved over to the big track where I got to drive the new IS 250 and IS 350 F Sport, the GS 350 F SPORT and the LS 460 F SPORT. This track had long straightaways and plenty of curves to put these models to the test, along with our own driving skills as we all worked on hitting the apex on each turn. Naturally, as I worked my way up to the bigger engines and then the flagship LS 460 F SPORT, then fun level and the tightness of my grip on the steering wheel increased as I had much more power at my disposal. The LS 460 in particular offered up a beautiful combination of power and handling but all of them performed well. I love cars with more power so I’d always choose the IS 350 over the 250.
Next I drove the 2014 IS F, which raised the performance bar even higher. This car sits on the last-generation IS platform and doesn’t have the newer styling cues like the front spindle grille. But it’s a beast with its 5.0-liter V8 engine and 416 horsepower that can go from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. I felt like I was launched in a rocket as I powered the IS F around the track. Frankly, I did a little better job handling the LS 460 F SPORT as I hit the turns but this one definitely gave me an adrenaline rush as I powered through the track. Fortunately, I was already familiar with the course by then so I could be a little more aggressive. Some purists might quibble that these models offer paddle shifters as opposed to a manual option with a stick shift on the floor, but everyone else looking for performance and style will find an impressive lineup with the F SPORT and F vehicles.
Pro driver drifting the IS F in a circle
Finally, we got to experience how a pro driver would attack the track as we got to ride shotgun in the LFA with 5-time Rolex 24 Hour of Daytona Champion Scott Pruett at the wheel. That was a real treat as Scott showed what this supercar can do on the track. The LFA has a 552 horsepower engine that hits a top speed of 202 miles per hour, and is constructed primarily with lightweight carbon fiber materials. The LFA can hit 0-60 in 3.6 seconds and it handled flawlessly on the track. This amazing car can provide thrills on the track and then you can drive it home. Lexus has built just 500 of these amazing cars. We also got to experience hot laps in the IF CCS-R (Circuit Club Sports Racer) with Ken Gushi behind the wheel, which offered a somewhat different experience as there was much more drifting around the corners.
Having experienced the F and F SPORT models on the track, I can see how these vehicles will have a positive impact on the Lexus brand. The new 2014 IS is already selling with a 40% mix of F SPORT models, with over 50% on the West Coast, with buyers that are the youngest in the luxury segment. I suspect this trend will continue. Any buyer looking for performance cars in the luxury segment should check out them out.