Distinct small sedan with a V8 heart
THE GOOD
  • Looks good inside and out
  • Blends Lexus comfort with high-revving V8 vigour
  • Value-priced
THE BAD
  • Cramped back seat
  • Fussy touchpad interface

Lexus’s IS sedan might be getting on in years, but it’s still a looker.

And now it’s a real goer, too, with the brand dropping a 472-hp V8 under its bulging hood. Just like that, the 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance has been thrust into legitimate super-sedan territory, but don’t expect AMG-like brutish antics. While the rear-wheel-drive IS 500 is quick and engaging, it’s sophisticated – and still very much a Lexus.

Styling: 9/10

The Lexus IS was reskinned for 2021, getting marginally wider and longer while benefiting from slimmer headlights, a larger spindle grille, and cleaned-up lines. It’s a stylish piece made all the more desirable in V8 guise.

The IS 500 rides on 19-inch Enkei alloy wheels that are lighter than the standard 19-inch F Sport wheel. The raised hood, lengthened front bumper, and wider fenders are there to accommodate the V8. Out back, the IS 500 gets a revised rear diffuser, lip spoiler, and stacked exhaust tips – and this time they’re real. The IS 500 comes in the choice of eight exterior colours: Ultra White, Atomic Silver, Cloudburst Gray, Iridium, Caviar, Infrared, Grecian Water, and Ultrasonic Blue Mica.

Safety: 8.5/10

The 2022 Lexus IS 500 comes with a standard suite of safety features that includes full LED lighting with automatic high-beam headlights, lane-departure alert and lane-keeping, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, and forward collision warning with pedestrian and bicycle detection. A new junction assist system uses cameras and radar to keep an eye out for fast approaching vehicles when making a left turn, and will apply emergency braking if necessary.

The adaptive cruise control includes a new feature that allows for smooth overtaking of slower vehicles. Once the driver engages the turn signal, the system will provide an initial increase in acceleration in preparation for changing lanes, and after the driver changes lanes the vehicle continues to accelerate until it reaches the original pre-set driving speed.

There’s also blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view system, automatic windshield wipers, and low-speed automatic emergency braking in the back.

Practicality: 6.5/10

We don’t for a minute expect IS 500 buyers (“guests,” in Lexus-speak) will be overly concerned with practicality; there are crossovers – and a few wagons – to answer that call. However, when compared with its competitors, the aging IS sedan is quite cozy and doesn’t offer up a whole lot of rear seat room or trunk space.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Last year’s IS refresh made restitutions for Lexus’s imprecise touchpad infotainment interface by giving us the option of largely ignoring it all together. Yes, the pad’s still there aft of the shifter, but the 10.2-inch dashtop screen sits closer within reach of the driver and offers touch capability. This means that just about every function previously resigned to the touchpad can now be done by poking the screen icons. The menu structure is logical and response is quick.

To Lexus’s credit, there is also a host of well-marked analogue controls for HVAC, seat climate, and audio functions. Especially welcome is the tuning knob that makes cruising through the satellite radio station list a breeze. A large rotary selector on the console makes selection of sport and sport+ modes when on the move an easy task, and the shift selector, with its traditional P-R-N-D, works with expensive precision.

Nonetheless, this infotainment system is heading out to pasture as older Lexus models get phased out or replaced. There is an all-new system debuting in the 2022 Lexus NX that, while featuring considerably more digital real estate and fewer hard buttons, is next-level when it comes to connectivity and voice control.

Features: 8.5/10

While the American market gets a base IS 500, we Canadians have but one trim, and it’s loaded. The 2022 IS 500 launches with heated and ventilated front seats, an excellent 17-speaker surround sound system, navigation, powered rear sunshade, heated rear seats, a power sunroof, driver’s seat memory, heated mirrors that are auto-dimming and adjust with the seat memory settings, and a heated steering wheel. The cabin is trimmed in supple faux leather, meanwhile.

Power: 9/10

The IS 500 F Sport Performance is all about the 5.0L naturally aspirated V8 lurking within its fetching snout. This eight-cylinder may be more than a decade old but it’s still a honey, delivering its urge in a linear and scintillating rush to its lofty 7,200-rpm redline.

In this time of forced-induction engines delivering prodigious torque just off idle, this 5.0L, with nary a turbo or supercharger in sight, is decidedly old-school and somewhat charming. One must essentially wring its graceful neck to find the juice. Below 5,000 rpm the IS 500 doesn’t feel particularly potent, but cross that threshold and this polite little Lexus turns into a stormer. As confirmation, the tachometer’s outer ring switches from white to yellow at 5,000 rpm, signalling your arrival at base camp. From there it’s a howling rush until the next gear in the IS 500’s eight-speed automatic transmission is selected.

The exhaust note plays this game, too, staying resolutely muted and polite until the tach turns yellow. Even so, there’s still no unruly popping coming from those quad tail pipes. Lexus claims a zero-to-100 km/h time of 4.6 seconds.

Comfort: 9/10

The IS 500 is first and foremost a Lexus, and as such, it rarely strays from the marque’s core mandate of comfort, refinement, and silken operation. So when hammering along a deserted winding desert road, the resulting linear and lateral G-forces handily cross that barrier of brutality, but even in sport+ mode, where the adaptive suspensions it buttoned down to its tautest, the IS 500’s ride quality is never anything short of quiet and creamily compliant. In fact, you could drive around all day in sport+ and never feel your feathers ruffled. Factor in serene highway cruising and terrific sport seats that hit the magic combo of coddling and firm support, and you have the Lexus of V8 small sport sedans.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

The Lexus IS has always shone when it comes to dynamics, and here the rear-wheel-drive chassis gets it due with this marvellous naturally aspirated V8. The underpinnings are optimized with the F Sport Dynamic Handling Package (DHP) that includes adaptive dampers and a limited-slip differential (LSD).

The IS 500 also utilizes the Yamaha Rear Performance Damper used in other Lexus performance models. This damper control absorbs minute distortions and vibrations, contributing to enhancements in stability and comfort. The brakes are beefed up for additional aerodynamic cooling and sport larger 14.0-inch two-piece aluminum front rotors and 12.7-inch rear rotors.

All this tech combines to give the IS 500 a fluid and highly refined feel when unravelling a winding road. Steering feel is excellent, and its front-engine, rear-drive layout lends a sense of purity to the proceedings. Even in sport+ mode the 500’s suspension is pretty compliant, and that translates to more lean and dive than in its more hardcore rivals – the Mercedes-AMG C 63, BMW M4, and Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing in particular. And so Lexus finds its corner of this miniscule niche. The IS 500 is not a dedicated track weapon but a swift, comfortable, and scintillating sedan that doesn’t so much chase numbers as work its way into your heart.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

NRCan fuel consumption numbers for the 2022 Lexus IS 500 are 14.1 L/100 km city, 9.3 highway, and 11.9 combined – premium grade fuel, of course. While this is not exactly parsimonious, for a V8-powered compact sport sedan it’s pretty good – mainly because what few rivals it has are either supercharged or turbocharged.

Value: 9/10

The base price of $72,900 seems like an absolute bargain for this fully kitted, beautifully crafted V8 sedan (that price doesn’t include the non-negotiable freight fee, mind you, which hasn’t been announced yet). Granted, that price puts it up against rivals that in many instances are quicker – and some of them use twin-turbo six-cylinders instead of thunderous V8s. But you can count the number of V8-powered sedans like this on one hand, and the number of rear-wheel-drive ones on two fingers: this Lexus and the Dodge Charger, which can be had with as much as 797 hp.

The Verdict

The 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance is a rare piece, and one that the brand certainly didn’t have to make. But we’re glad it did.

The tiny IS proves to be a beautiful home for this terrific V8 engine. The initial batch of 50 cars coming to Canada will be the $77,650 IS 500 Launch Edition that gets special paint, lightweight BBS alloy wheels, and a suede-trimmed interior. And it seems this halo piece is not to be a performance send-off. Lexus brass tell us the IS 500 F Sport Performance “is just the beginning.” I guess we’d better stay tuned for what’s next.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 5.0L   Model Tested 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Engine Cylinders V8   Base Price $72,900
Peak Horsepower 472 hp @ 7,100 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 395 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm   Destination Fee N/A
Fuel Economy 14.1 / 9.3 / 11.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $73,000
Cargo Space 311 L  
Optional Equipment
N/A