Sorting through the Lexus F marque
Little known fact: Lexus has only been around since 1989. Conceived by Toyota to take on European and American luxury car brands, Lexus launched with the ES 250 and LS 400 sedans at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show. Touting features comparable to big players at a lower price, Lexus quickly found success as a fresh alternative to vehicles from established companies.
However, as those companies built headline-grabbing and enthusiast-thrilling performance cars, Lexus stayed its course with plush and demure — albeit boring products. Lexus realized its offerings, while regarded for reliability and comfort, weren’t tearing at anyone’s heartstrings.
That changed when it launched the F Sport high-performance sub-brand with an approach similar to European competitors: take a standard car, upgrade the chassis, make it look cool, and cram a big engine under the hood. The F stands for Fuji Speedway, the Japanese racetrack where F develops and refines its vehicles. The shape of the F in the brand’s logo mimics the contour of Fuji Speedway’s first corner.
F’s initial foray was in 2007 with the IS F. Based on the IS compact sedan, the IS F attracted attention with unusual stacked exhaust pipes, fender vents, and a bulging hood. That enlarged hood wasn’t only for looks: extra space was needed to fit the five-liter, 400 horsepower V8. Connected to the engine was an eight-speed transmission (at the time an unprecedented gear count) which sent power to the rear wheels. While the IS F established F as a brand and achieved fanfare as a compact muscle car, Lexus only produced it for one generation, and hasn’t followed it up with a modern equivalent.
The next Lexus four-door F upgraded was the GS F. Starting with the GS midsize sedan, F added its signature fender vents and stacked exhaust to boost visual appeal. Huge six-piston brakes provide stopping power, while sport suspension and sharp multi-spoke rims wrapped in sticky tires maintain grip. 467 horsepower come from the five-liter V8, which, while not as much as some American or European competitors, is produced without turbos or a supercharger.
Lexus’ RC coupe is one of the most controversially styled vehicles on the road, and is made even more eye-catching in RC F form. Again the RC F wears a bulging hood, fender vents, and stacked exhaust, plus a slew of attention-grabbing paint colors to choose from. Mechanically it’s similar to the GS F, sharing the naturally-aspirated V8 that’s a unique offering in a forced-induction world.
Lexus F cannot be discussed without inclusion of the LFA. This was a car as improbable as it was incredible: improbable as a product of normally-placid Lexus; incredible as an achievement of performance technology. The long, low, and wide LFA was constructed entirely of carbon fiber, featuring techniques never before used on an automobile. Its body was developed in a wind tunnel and featured active aerodynamics to keep it planted at high speed. At its heart was a five-liter V10 engine that spun to 9,000 RPM, breathing through triple exhaust outlets. Carbon fiber, leather, and aluminum comprised the handmade interior. The 500 LFAs produced proved that Lexus was serious about the F brand, and had the chops to take on the world’s finest exotics.
While F cars are are built to provide a thrill, some drivers might find them a bit much for everyday use. That’s why Lexus offers the F Sport package on most of its vehicles: to bridge the gap between comfy commuters and hardcore track toys. F Sport vehicles feature stylistic upgrades on the inside and outside, plus chassis tuning — although no extra power — to sharpen up the drive. Lexus hasn’t created a full-on F SUV (yet), but an F Sport package is available on the popular UX, NX, and RX crossovers.
F is a relative newcomer in the performance car world, but has already carved out a niche for itself between more established manufacturers. Its vehicles combine the power and prowess of genuine sports cars with the value and reliability the Lexus brand is built on. That makes them just as good to actually live with as they are to take for a drive.