We tested Lexus’ moderately modified IS compact luxury sedan in 2020, a rear-wheel-drive contender to luxury heavyweights such as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It was a decent cruiser with a smooth ride, albeit not particularly athletic, with a cramped interior and outmoded interior design that was in desperate need of more power. With the new 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance, Lexus addressed one of those difficulties by replacing the 311-horsepower naturally aspirated V-6 with a genuine 5.0-liter V-8 engine that produces 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque.
This appears to be an odd anachronism in a world when practically every carmaker is abandoning V-8 and even V-6 engines in favor of heavily boosted turbocharged four-cylinder engines (heck, Toyota even ditched V-8 engines for its new 2022 Tundra pickup truck). Given its age and competition from newcomers like the Genesis G70, Acura’s all-new TLX, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, and the Cadillac CT5, “anachronism” isn’t a horrible word to describe the IS lineup. So, does give it a huge V-8 help it stands out against newer, more current small luxury car concepts?
As the world progresses toward electrification, the V-8’s days are tragically numbered, but we’ll continue to appreciate it for as long as we can — and one real reason to love one is the sound it makes. When you press your right foot in the IS 500, the sounds pouring from the quad tailpipes are delightfully sonorous in ways that no amount of EV spaceship soundtrack can match.
I simply wish the forward thrust matched the boom coming from the rear. Yes, the IS 500 accelerates faster than the IS 350, but it still lacks the immediacy we’ve come to love and expect from other competitors, who almost all now use forced induction. The 0-60 mph time has been recorded at 4.4 seconds by Lexus, but my spin in the IS 500 on public roads near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, didn’t seem that quick. It’s completely quiet and collected in everyday driving, only delivering a powerful punch when you specifically want it to. Even in its most sporty mode, the power delivery lacks urgency, just as it does in the smaller IS 350. The massive V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission appear to be optimized for smooth, consistent power flow rather than dashes between bends.
When such turns finally appear, the IS 500 F Sport does not appear to be any more capable than the IS 350 F Sport Performance I drove. Even when using the higher sport options on the drive mode selector, the steering remains light and lifeless, with little in the way of athletic feel or input. It has the same Dynamic Handling Package and adaptive variable suspension as the IS 350 F Sport Performance, as well as the same Yamaha rear performance damper. Given that it has basically the same suspension and is just 143 pounds heavier than the V-8, I think it should handle like the IS 350. With a compliant and somewhat forgiving ride, light and easygoing steering, and soft brakes for pedal feel and performance, the IS feels like the grand touring model of the compact luxury sedan competitive set.
I was unable to test one on the neighboring Road America circuit track, where I sampled the IS 500 at the recent Midwest Automotive Media Association Fall Rally, due to the IS 500’s interior headroom being so limited that I could not sit in it with the requisite helmet. Still, given the lack of bite in many of the IS 500’s controls, I didn’t feel compelled to take it to the track – it seemed more suited to giving a countryside grand touring experience than a track day romp.
The IS 500 features the same interior changes that Lexus delivered to the IS 300 and IS 350 in 2021. The new multimedia screen, which does away with the dreaded mouse-controller-joystick combo, is a step in the right direction, but the rest of the interior still needs a big makeover to compete with the best in the business. From the nonlinear automatic gearbox shifter to the gimmicky gauges and outmoded data panels, there’s a lot of old-school Lexus in here. It’s also quite cramped in the front and back, with a narrow interior with no knee or headroom and seats that are clearly meant for smaller people. However, the interior is available in a variety of striking colors, the fit and finish are impeccable, and the material quality, from the dash to the doors to the seat materials, continues to impress.
The trouble is, there’s a new kid in town: the Genesis G70, which shatters all of the desired sports sedan characteristics. After a long drive in the IS 500, I hopped into the newly redesigned 2022 G70 Launch Edition with the optional 365-hp twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6 and sport suspension, and it was fantastic from start to finish. It put the outmoded, cramped, old-school IS 500 into true perspective by being fast, modern, beautiful to look at, and sensationally rewarding to drive.
Brian Normile, the editor of Cars.com News, spent more time in the IS 500 than I did, including a trip down the highway. However, when it came to the dynamics of the IS 500, his opinions essentially reflected mine. “It sounds great,” he comments, “which is always a strong feature of a 5.0-equipped Lexus.” “This feels like what the GS F and RC F should’ve been, and what the F Sport package should be moving forward: certain performance upgrades like a higher-output engine, but not pretending to compete with the actual BMW Ms, Mercedes-AMGs, and Cadillac Vs of the world.” As a result, it comes in at a lesser price than real performance rivals.”
That, I believe, is a good summary of the IS 500. It’s an old-school player in a new-school world, updated with additional horsepower in an equally old-school manner, and clinging to life until Lexus spends some real development money to modernize it… or, more likely, completely eliminates it, given that the entire world now appears to prefer compact luxury crossovers to compact luxury sedans. However, if you’re one of the few who still wants a compact luxury sports sedan, the IS 500 — which starts at $57,575 (plus $1,075 destination) — may deliver some nostalgic joys, but there are better modern sports sedans available.