The newest F Sport Performance version of the IS takes us back to the golden era of compact sports sedans with naturally aspirated V-8 engines.
About a decade ago, compact sports sedans offered naturally aspirated V-8s that absolutely ripped. Before everyone went turbo, the E90 BMW M3, the B7 Audi RS4, and the W204 Mercedes C63 AMG crammed in sweet-sounding V-8s to create experiences that we still remember fondly today. Now that we're feeling sufficiently nostalgic for those four-door screamers, we'll get to the point that Lexus apparently shares our passion for those cars, because the new 2022 IS500 is essentially a return of Lexus's V-8 compact sedan, the IS F.
There are no turbos under the IS500's hood. What is under there is closely related to the IS F's 5.0-liter V-8 from a decade ago. The engine—shared with the RC F—now produces 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque, or 56 more horsepower and 24 more pound-feet than its spiritual predecessor. In a turbocharged world, the V-8's horsepower and especially its torque numbers aren't at the level of the M or AMG models', so Lexus is setting expectations by positioning the IS500 as an F Sport Performance model rather than a full-blown IS F.
What does that mean for the IS500's driving experience? We can't quite say yet, but we did recently get the chance to ride in the passenger's seat of the IS500 prototype at an event at Eagles Canyon Raceway in Texas, near Toyota's headquarters in Plano. Professional race-car driver Townsend Bell was behind the wheel.
Keep in mind that the IS500 prototype we rode in wasn't exactly the same car that you'll be able to buy at Lexus dealerships later this year. Wrapped in an obnoxious neon-yellow and black livery, this car was specially prepped for the IS500's debut at Sebring International Raceway earlier this year. It wore an aftermarket exhaust, 20-inch wheels, and grippier Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires compared to the stock car, which will have 19-inch wheels and the same Bridgestone Potenza S001L summer tires as the IS350 F Sport with the handling package.
This means that our impression of the IS500's handling isn't exactly representative, but we weren't behind the wheel anyway. We can tell you that the 5.0-liter V-8 engine is a lovely addition to the latest IS and brings back a lot of those tingly V-8 memories. We're familiar with the glorious sound of this Lexus V-8 by now, and it makes itself known in the IS500. Although the prototype's aftermarket exhaust surely enhanced the auditory experience, we'd still rather listen to this characterful engine run up to its 7300-rpm redline than a BMW M3's twin-turbo inline-six.
Unlike the V-6-powered IS350 F Sport we drove that day on the test track, the V-8 has the grunt to shove you into the back of your seat, and the eight-speed automatic transmission upshifts and downshifts quickly. Lexus claims that the IS500 is 143 pounds heavier than a rear-wheel-drive IS350, and we assume that most of that weight is in the nose. Like the IS F that came before it, a noticeable hood bulge is the clearest sign that this is packing something special under there.
Thanks to the ability to completely deactivate stability control, the IS500 will play as much as you like—as Bell demonstrated by easily swinging the tail out wide for a satisfying drift. It also features the same torque-vectoring rear differential that's optional on the IS350 F Sport. But this car is not meant to be a track monster, and we felt plenty of compliance in the suspension tuning, with more body roll than you'd find in an M3 Competition or a C63, for instance.
We're enticed by the overall package that the IS500 promises to deliver, and we hope that the price is attractive enough to further increase its enthusiast appeal. Lexus has strongly hinted that it will be positioned closer to the M340i and AMG C43s of the world, meaning it could bring back a V-8 to the low-$60,000 range. If so, this could become the hidden gem of the sports-sedan world. Now all that's left is for Lexus to let us in the driver's seat.