The 2022 Lexus IS500 Is a Fun V8 Sports Sedan Big on Pragmatic Nostalgia
Lexus finally stuffed a V8 into its current-gen compact sedan. It was worth the wait.
Hot take: The Lexus IS is, purely in terms of exterior design, the best-looking car in its segment. Not as hot a take: This V8 variant—officially known as the 2022 Lexus IS500 F Sport Performance—should’ve happened, like, a decade ago.
And it definitely could have come out then. Fundamentally, nothing about this car didn’t already exist when the third-gen IS first launched way back in 2013. The chassis is the same, the interior is mostly the same, and the engine—a glorious naturally aspirated 5.0-liter that sounds the absolute business—is essentially the same one that came in the previous-generation IS F.
But it’s here now and, ultimately, I’m grateful because the IS500 is quite a good car. Is it the sharpest-cornering, quickest-shifting, most Nordschleife-ready sports sedan out there? Nah. It does, however, look great, sounds even better, and is pleasantly, palatably enjoyable to chuck around on public roads. And if the people who buy cars like this are truly honest with themselves, isn’t that all you really want?
2022 Lexus IS500 F Sport Performance Launch Edition Review Specs
- Base price (as tested): $57,575 ($68,475)
- Powertrain: 5.0-liter V8 | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 472 @ 7,100 rpm
- Torque: 395 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,891 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 10.8 cubic feet
- EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city | 25 highway | 20 combined | 18 observed
- Quick take: Sleek, sonorous, and sufficiently satisfying to drive, Lexus’s hottest sedan is the car it should’ve made sometime before 2016.
- Score: 8.5/10
The underlying chassis may be old but Lexus gave its compact IS sedan an extensive exterior refresh in 2021 that I enjoy quite a bit. Its surfaces are all sharp, aggressive, clean, and creased. Its proportions are that of a classic sports sedan—none of that four-door coupe nonsense here—with bulbous rear fenders that give it the vibe of a sports car that’s been merely adapted for lite-family duty.
IS500-exclusive aesthetic parts include lighter, 19-inch Enkei wheels, a small lip spoiler, darker window trim, and a more aggressive rear diffuser that houses stacked quad exhaust tips. These are actually attached to pipes, by the way, and not a phony bumper garnish like on the old IS F.
The car tested is a limited-production Launch Edition which means the standard Enkeis are replaced by even lighter, matte black BBS wheels. There’s Ultrasuede on the seats, door cards, and center armrest, and Silver Ash wood on the steering wheel. Painted exclusively in glossy primer Incognito, just 500 Launch Editions will be made and this one happens to be number 19, according to the wooden plaque on the center console.
Inside, the 2021 refresh wasn’t quite as drastic, so the general cabin design and layout remains extremely similar to that of the IS that came out almost a decade ago. Just because something is old, though, doesn’t mean it’s bad. The overall design borrows heavily from the LFA supercar: basic controls are done via simple, easy-to-find buttons and knobs, the moving digital tachometer is as cool as ever, and I am indeed a sucker for the suede and silver wood that lines this Launch-trim 500. The most significant interior change that came as part of the 2021 IS refresh would probably be the 10.3-inch, Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-equipped touchscreen infotainment system that eliminates the need to use that dumbass touchpad (which remains onboard as a redundancy).
Par for the Lexus course, this car’s 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system sounds pretty great while a heated steering wheel is standard but only heats up the sides of the wheel.
As a four-door, five-seat device for carrying people, the IS’s front seats are quite comfy and well-positioned but don’t expect adults to remain all that happy stuffed into the back row for extended periods of time. Rear headroom is certifiably tight, even by compact luxury sedan standards. Rear outboard legroom, meanwhile, is okay but a large center hump on the floor means even less room for any middle-seat passengers. The Lexus IS is a sedan, sure, but I wouldn’t consider it a family sedan.
Pissed-Off Dinosaur Noises
But who needs family when you’ve got a massive, naturally aspirated V8? (Dom does. Dominic Toretto does.)
Predictably, the best part of the IS500 is undoubtedly its engine. By now, we know this V8. You probably know this V8. Around since the IS F days (so, 2007), rocking Yamaha-designed cylinder heads, and going on to serve in the RC F, GS F, and LC500, it makes 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque in the IS500. Lexus says it helps the sports sedan get from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, matching the rear-drive BMW M340i with which it directly competes. In Sport+ mode, throttle response is fairly immediate and hooks your foot up to some properly grin-inducing speeds.
This engine’s defining feature, of course, is that it makes pissed-off dinosaur noises when you step on the gas. While most other V8s play up the bass and burbles, Lexus’s unit is sonorously shrill. Its tone feels artistic and deliberate and, from behind the wheel, pretty damn glorious.
There’s a physical dial near the driver’s left knee that adjusts this car’s Active Sound Control, amplifying the same noise the engine already makes organically through speakers. It doesn’t sound terrible but, in the interest of authenticity, I had this turned off for the majority of my time with this Lexus.
The IS500 may be a dinosaur with a voice to match but, when faced with corners, it’s actually closer to the light and agile velociraptor than it is a lumbering stegosaurus. Its steering feels light and crisp. Not as millimetrically precise or as viscerally chattery as, say, a Kia Stinger (or, I suspect, that car’s more luxurious Genesis G70 twin) let alone Toyota’s own GR86 sports car but it weights up with a luxuriously substantial-yet-athletic personality and is quite enjoyable to operate. This car’s 3,891-pound curb weight may sound like a lot but it’s not that much heavier than the rear-drive IS350 which already tips the scales at 3,748 pounds or that aforementioned BMW M340i which weighs 3,849 pounds without xDrive.
A Torsen limited-slip differential is standard while brakes—14.0- and 12.7-inches front and rear with additional cooling compared to the IS350—never feel fussy. Ditto re: the Adaptive Variable Suspension which is never harsh but, like, unexpectedly communicative. I could feel little cracks and even paint markers in the road but at the same time, it’s a cushiony champ over speed bumps and potholes.
At the end of the day, the IS500 is not a full-on Lexus F car so it isn’t quite as aggressively grippy as the company’s more hardcore RC F Fuji Speedway Edition (also known as the Track Edition here in Canada), let alone the stylistically-questionable-but-dynamically-dominant M4 Comp from BMW. But the IS feels… softer-edged and friendlier than those cars. Straight-up more enjoyable to hustle on the street than that RC F (and, for that matter, an F-Type Jag), it’s also unsurprisingly way more delicate than a Hellcat-ified Dodge Charger if we’re going to talk muscly V8 four-doors.
Lexus’s eight-cylinder sports sedan feels smooth, sorted, and exhibits a relatively calm, stable deftness that’s really satisfying. If the IS500’s engine is the star of the show, then its chassis is the quietly reliable number two on the call sheet. Balanced, talented, and lighter-feeling than you might expect.
It’s not all good news, delicious exhaust notes, and surprisingly poised handling, though, because the IS500 does have one noticeably weak link: the transmission. It’s an eight-speed automatic with a lockup torque converter—the same unit found in the RC F—that may feel fine around town but actually holds the car back quite bit when you’re caning it. Paddle-requested manual shifts are both slow and jerky and not in the cool, theatrical supercar way. The shift paddles themselves also feel plasticky and cheap; although, given the fact that the best way to enjoy the IS500 is to not touch these at all, this was probably a prudent cost to cut.
As a commuter, the IS500 is—bar fuel economy—not any less dailyable or comfortable than a regular IS350. Highway cruising feels stable and solid while road and wind noise are well-isolated—just the right amount of insulation for a Lexus sports sedan, actually. Never uncomfortable but still genuinely engaging when you’re on it. Natural aspiration means having to dig a little deeper into the accelerator for quick passes but doing this rewards with a helluva better noise than a torquier turbocharged six while still providing more than adequate acceleration.
Yes, the 2022 Lexus IS500 F Sport Performance is, mechanically, quite an old car. The engine is old, the chassis is old, and—new touchscreen infotainment notwithstanding—the interior is quite old. But what’s wrong with old? Isn’t the refrain of the Car Enthusiast essentially “they don’t make ‘em like they used to”? Good news, Luddites. They still make ‘em like they used to. You just don’t want to pay new car prices for it, especially not this late in the game.
The IS500, by the way, starts at $57,575.
No, its handling heights may not be quite as lofty as something like a Genesis G70, a 3 Series BMW, or even Acura’s TLX Type S, and the gearbox is indeed kind of a drag. But its endangered-species 5.0-liter V8 lets it stand pretty tall as an adaptably livable, decent-driving performance sedan. That superior V8 audio, the relative rarity, and the fact that it will probably age better mechanically (and its existence more appreciated) than its rivals more than make up for its more lax dynamic demeanor and gear-related shortcomings.
I still resent Lexus a little for making us wait this long for the IS500 but, like a high school crush who only came around after you both turned 30, at least it was worth the wait.
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