The 2021 Lexus IS 500 is a massive middle-finger to the Mercedes C-Class
Jason · Feb 28, 2021 11:00 AM
Downsizing. It is a dirty word to many car enthusiasts, but apparently unavoidable. Even purveyors of large engines, Mercedes-AMG, recently announced that its venerable 4.0-litre, twin turbo V8 engines will be replaced with hybrid 4-cylinder ones. Quite a shock to the system, yes.
If you, like me, lived through the late 1980s and entire 1990s, you'd know that premium and performance cars of that era mostly came with large-capacity engines. 2.0-litre engines? That was the minimum entry ticket back then.
Nowadays, 2.0-litre engines are the magic mark for downsized engines. They're so commonplace that it has spawned jokes everywhere (only milk and juice come in 2 litres *chortle chortle*). Lexus, however, has uncharacteristically decided that the world needs more banzai and bestowed upon us, the majestically-named Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance (let's just call it the IS 500, shall we?).
I also lived through an era where badges denoted engine sizes (BMW 528i meant it had a 2.8-litre engine, Mercedes E300 packed a 3.0-litre underneath). Today? Your BMW 330i, Mercedes C300, and Lexus IS 300 are ALL 2.0-litre, four bangers. Is the Lexus IS 500 a similar deception?
Gloriously, the answer is NO. It is powered by a 5.0-litre, naturally aspirated V8 (472 PS, 535 Nm). Transmission? A torque converter 8-speed automatic. 0-100 km/h? Who the hell cares?! What you need to care about is, that the IS 500 is unapologetically REAR-WHEEL-DRIVE and comes standard with a Torsen limited slip differential. This is how you do a sports sedan. Take note, BMW M340iand Mercedes C43.
A big 'up yours' to convention
Remember how I was musing about how car enthusiasts are never happy with their lot? Well, I'd wager that they have little to complain about the IS 500's recipe. Beyond just having a great, hulking V8 in front (which gives the front bonnet the most gorgeous 'power bulge'), you just know that this car will drive well.
Why do I say this? A man that goes by the name of Morizo (more formally, Akio Toyoda), Master Driver (yes, that's a thing) of the Toyota and Lexus empire. Don't know his credentials? Read here to find out more. He is a big reason why the current crop of Toyota and Lexus cars drive so exceedingly well. I can almost guarantee that his input was all over the IS 500.
It is also a very ironic role reversal between the competing performance carmakers in this segment. A decade ago, nobody would have imagined that BMW would ditch its sonorous V8 in the E90/E92-generation M3 for a turbocharged inline-6 (this is still ok, given Munich's record with this layout).
Nor would we imagine Mercedes going down the same route, but replacing 8 with 4 cylinders (the horror, the sacrilege). While we know Mercedes-AMG makes weapons grade turbo 4-cylinders (AMG A35 and A45), can you accept such an engine in a AMG C-Class, or E-Class? I know, that's pretty much a rhetorical question.
So, if you haven't processed the magnitude of what Lexus is doing here, let me tell you that this is a monumental achievement. Lexus is basically giving enthusiasts everywhere, what they've been clamouring for this whole time. Big, naturally aspirated engine? Check, Rear-wheel-drive? Check. Perfectly balanced chassis? Check.
Last I heard, the IS 500 F Sport Performance is only available in LHD format and sold exclusively in North America only. I kind of understand, seeing that RHD countries are a bit more averse to big-engined cars. But wouldn't it be wonderful to see a right-hook version of this refreshingly brilliant car?
I have but one small gripe with this car. The name. It's pretty much a Lexus ISF in all but name. Perhaps Lexus is saving the really really good stuff for the proper, cooking ISF. With Morizo at the helm, chances of that happening is very high.
It is my sincere hope that enthusiasts will walk the talk and buy one of these. It's common knowledge that EVs are the future, so a car like the Lexus IS 500 is worth celebrating. A small win, is still a win. Thank you, Toyoda-san, for this masterpiece. We enthusiasts have much to look forward to as long as you're around.
Jason's foremost passion is all things automotive, where he spent his formative working years as a Product Planner and Trainer. An Advanced Driving Instructor by training and an all-round enthusiast, Jason loves going into intricate details about driving dynamics. Will drive anything with 4 wheels and a steering.