Review by James Bergeron, photos courtesy of Lexus

In January 2007, when Lexus unveiled the 2008 IS F, it set the automotive world abuzz. First they were in denial: “But Lexus makes boring, safe and reliable luxury vehicles, they cannot make a performance machine…” was pretty much the sentiment of the day. But as journalists drove the car they realized that Lexus had done something right by adding a 5.0L V8 engine into their small car platform.

However, the IS F was never that popular on the sales chart, always overshadowed by the benchmark BMW M3. In 2010 Lexus launched an exotic sports car, the LF-A – this vehicle was meant to prove that Lexus was capable of producing a true performance machine, attempting to ignite the brand. But LF-A was a million-dollar supercar, not a car that really resonates with the typical luxury buyer, so in 2012 production ended and Lexus took their ball and went home, keeping to the tried and true recipe of safe luxury automobiles ever since.

But behind the scenes designers were let loose to be bolder in their exterior designs and engineers were told they need to make the new IS line not only look more sporty but handle better and perform better, while keeping the luxurious feel and the reliability Lexus is known for.

When Lexus launched the 2014 IS in March of 2013 I was there and I was impressed. I even wrote a very bold statement that day from the 2014 Lexus IS First Drive – Lexus set out to beat the Germans at their game, and while the changes to the new 2014 Lexus IS may seem slight on the surface, the sum of the minor changes to the suspension, steering, chassis dynamics and interior refinements add up to what feels like a giant leap forward in sophistication, sport and luxury and a huge blow for the German mainstays.

I stand by that statement to this day and another day at the track with Lexus trying to prove that they are now ignited with passion further solidified this in my mind. It was a wet day at ICAR, a racetrack just outside Montreal once home to the Mirabel airport. The track is flat, but concrete makes it a challenging surface to drive on in the rain.

Lexus brought out most of their F Sport lineup as well as the RC F coupe. Lexus gave us free reign to drive all the vehicles on the track for a couple of hours. Present was a GS 350 F Sport AWD, an IS 350 F Sport AWD, RC 350 F Sport (both all- and rear-wheel drive), as well as the aforementioned RC F in both Carbon and standard trim. The F Sport name is a little confusing for those not familiar with Lexus’s lineup and branding. The F Sport is simply a package added to a standard Lexus vehicle – each model gets different F Sport treatment, but for the most part it’s cosmetic, with some performance upgrades in the suspension and engine management options.

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