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September 3, 2013

Ridiculously muscular Lexus IS F combines speed with elegance

If you're looking for a comfortable, quiet Lexus that would make your grandma happy, you can skip this one.

While it looks a lot like the IS sedan on the outside, what's under the skin makes this car — the 2013 IS F — a Lexus unlike any other.

And it's completely insane.

Lexus started with its basic IS sports sedan platform, which is small by luxury-car standards, and managed to squeeze a 5.0-liter V8 engine under the hood. That's the same displacement as a Ford Mustang GT, and its 416 horsepower can take this car from a standstill to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

Now that all 500 copies of the LFA supercar are sold out, that means the IS F is the best performing Lexus you can buy today. And the LFA's $375,000 price tag makes the IS F's sub-$62,000 price look like pocket change in comparison.

It's hard to overstate how different this car is from the normal, $36,000 IS 250 you see on the road all the time.

In addition to the monster engine, it's got freakishly big, cross-drilled brake discs to bring it to a stop, along with a suspension that was tuned to confidently handle some of the fastest racetracks in the world. That's important for a car that can reach 170 mph.

One of my favorite things about it, though, is its eight-speed automatic transmission.

Think it's crazy to put an automatic in a thoroughbred sports sedan like this? I did, too, until I drove it and felt how quickly and precisely it shifts — sometimes changing gears within a tenth of a second — to provide the same visceral thrill and instant gratification that I usually get from a manual transmission.

Overall, the driving feel isn't as raw as you get from a BMW M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG. I spent a few hours driving it on the Interstate and didn't feel fatigued, even with the firm suspension and sport-oriented seats with lots of side bolstering, which is a good sign for people who want to use this as an everyday get-to-work car instead of a weekend toy.

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