Even if your everyday reality requires you to drive a ‘practical,’ four-door sedan, you can now own a really fun, high-performance car that meets that criterion too. Case in point, the Lexus IS-F. To paraphrase another automaker’s slogan, This isn’t your mother’s Lexus. The IS-F is almost the antithesis of a Lexus. Yes, it has numerous technological and luxury features, but the ride and performance are more sports car than smooth-riding sedan. Other than a small rear spoiler, subtle fender flares and an air outlet behind the front wheels, the IS-F looks like a normal IS. But this is a true sleeper car. Pull up next to a Mustang or even a BMW M3, and you can shock the heck out of the driver when you pull away with a throaty roar.
Even the interior is geared toward performance. The highly bolstered, front-heated leather seats hold you tightly in place during spirited driving. The two rear seats are well bolstered to keep the cheap seat occupants in place, as well. Back seat passengers will be more comfortable if they’re not too tall, as head room and leg room are what you’d expect in a small sedan. The trunk, however, is surprisingly large, with a long-object pass-through in the rear seat, even though the opening is small because of the sharp rake of the rear window.
As a Lexus, the IS-F offers all the luxury goodies you’d expect, including a sunroof, keyless entry with push-button start, carbon fiber trim, and a navigation system that doubles as a back-up camera, really useful for reversing. The audio and dual automatic climate controls are also operated through the navigation screen, but fortunately it’s by touch screen, which I find easier to use than a remote scroll knob. My tech-savvy teenage son co-piloted these systems during the test drive and declared them easy and efficient.
As nice as the interior is, however, performance and handling are where this car really shines. The 416 horsepower, 5.0 liter V-8 drives the rear wheels with a nice even torque curve via an 8-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Unfortunately, a true manual transmission is not offered. Even with the automatic, it can sprint from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds. Gas mileage is 16 city, 23 highway on premium gas.
Handling is superb. Both the steering and suspension are nice and tight, which combine to deliver excellent road feel. When the optional sport mode is engaged, these attributes are enhanced even more, reaching true enthusiast levels. The car stays flat as a pancake during hard cornering. Large Brembo brakes combine with ABS, traction control and stability control to bring the IS-F back to earth and keep it pointed in the right direction.
According to Dennis Breheny, sales manager at Plaza Lexus, “The IS-F offers speed and comfort in an ultra luxury sedan. It has great handling ability, yet can be driven like a normal luxury sedan as well.” The IS-F starts about $57,000 and goes for about $61,000 with options, which is competitive with cars in its class.
Another fun-to-drive sedan is the Honda Civic Si. Finally available as a four-door, the Si was one of the original ‘pocket rockets’ that started the import tuner craze. Wrapped in sporty, if not aggressive, styling, the Si at least has a rear spoiler to let people know it’s a serious driving machine.
On the inside, well-bolstered fabric seats have Alcantara® on the side bolsters to further help hold you in place during vigorous driving. The dash is different, with a tachometer front-and-center in the gauge cluster, but the digital speedometer in a recessed panel near the coolant temp and fuel gauges. Similarly, the parking brake moves fore and aft instead of up and down. Radio and climate control switches are all straightforward and easy to use. A sunroof adds an airy feeling to the cabin, and the rear seat is unusually roomy for such a small car. The trunk is also surprisingly large, and cargo carrying capacity can be increased by folding down the rear seat.
Driving the Si is a blast. With plenty of power, especially at higher RPM, quick steering and decent brakes, this light, small car is a lot of fun to toss around. The 2.0 liter, 16 valve DOHC i-VTEC 4 cylinder engine pumps out 197 horses to the front wheels with almost no torque steer, thanks in part to a limited slip differential. Appropriately, a 6-speed manual is the only transmission offered. The clutch is light and easy to use, and the short throw shifter is a pleasure. Mileage is 21 city, 29 highway. Steering response and handling are both top notch. ABS, stability control and traction control are all nice safety features.
According to Beth Guard, Internet sales manager at Huey’s Honda, “The Si offers the best of both worlds: It’s fun and sporty, yet offers the practicality of a four-door sedan, which makes it great for families or singles.” And all this fun and practicality is available at the very reasonable starting price of around $23,000.
Robert W. Paster is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.