Scott Pruett smiles, looks over from the drivers seat of a bright yellow Lexus LFA, and says, nonchalantly, "138 miles per hour."
Pruett, a 5-Time Rolex 24 Hour of Daytona champion, is whipping me along the back straight of a track just in the shadows of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He's as casual as I might be driving at 45 mph. He's taking the LFA, one of just 500 examples of the car, through its paces. We hit 0-60 in under four seconds (it's good for 3.7 seconds from its 552hp engine), and slid effortlessly through the twists and turns of the course. At the tail end of the ride, Pruett hits the breaks, brings the LFA back down to everyday speed, flips it out of Sport Mode, and says, "see, this car is a totally awesome daily driver."
That's exactly what our dreams keep telling us.
Lexus will be 25 years old in 2014. The Toyota-owned luxury brand is known for calm, quiet cabins and comfort. Lost in translation, at times, is the badge's propensity for fun. Evolving to meet the desires of drivers, Lexus has refined its sporting potential since the launch of the IS F in 2008. Birthing Lexus' F designation, the sedan boasts 416 hp and a 0-60 of 4.6 seconds. The Lexus IS F was a change of pace for Lexus. In fact, Lexus chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi built the original concept "just for fun" as a method of expressing "true driving pleasure." That pleasure is a now part of the brand DNA, thanks to F-SPORT.
What is F?
F SPORT, a badging introduced in 2011, is Lexus' push to enhance driving dynamics. In laymen's terms: When you see the F Sport badge, think improved handling and balance. At the flick of a switch, you get to fulfill childhood race car fantasy…in the same car that can happily transport you to and from work, back and forth to the grocery store, etc., etc. The designation comes as part of a performance pyramid designed to push the brand forward and capture the energy and excitement of driving.
Tested on the 16-turn Fuji Speedway, Lexus F products have proven pedigree. Following the IS F, Lexus introduced its supercar, the LFA. In addition, the IS F CCS-R has rocked two straight Pikes Hill Hill Climbs with master drifter Ken Gushi behind the wheel. These are top level Lexus F vehicles and the cars that have inspired F SPORT.
F Sport captures the spirit of track and off-road racing and translates it to more consumer-oriented product. The packages are available on all Lexus models—most successfully on the IS and GS. These packages promise to "dial up engagement" by recalibrating suspension. Aesthetically, you get a more aggressively styled Grille and (in some cases) sport seats. Putting the "F" in a Lexus means making a perfectly comfortable ride a little more muscular.
On that note, Lexus complements its F Sport packages with an accessories line dovetailing with the brand's popularity in aftermarket tuning. Built to factory spec, the accessories (ranging from wheels and shocks to intake and exhaust systems) allow enthusiasts to modify their cars according to taste and budget. For peace of mind, F SPORT accessories are also covered under a factory warranty.
What else? F gives Lexus a new life and adds fun to a list of complements given the cars that once mainly consisted of comfortable.
Bonus fact: The F-Sport logo mirrors the shape of the Fuji Speedway.
As established, the top of the F pile sits the LFA and IS F. But, these aren't alone in Lexus' sportier offerings. In fact, every Lexus model (except the ES, GX, and LX) is currently offered with the ability to ramp up performance through F SPORT package.
Sounds good, right? But does it work?
After hitting the track with Mr. Pruett, we put F SPORT cars through the paces ourselves. On track, the IS F thrilling. It's fast, agile, and for the most novice driver (i.e. me) a perfectly balanced vehicle for getting aquatinted with motor sport. No surprise there. Where F SPORT did surprise was on an autocross course. Driving the CT, GS, and IS in succession (in regular and then SPORT mode), provided a sense of what the dynamics of the cars actually do.
Let's focus on the CT.
2013 Lexus CT 200h F SPORT
Power: 134 hp, 105 lb-ft.
Engine: 1.8L I4 + Electric Motor
Fuel Consumption: 42 combined MPG
Starting price: $33,050
The CT 200h is essentially the Lexus version a Prius. It runs 42 MPG, but has hot hatch appeal. With an F SPORT package, the appeal is reality. In its regular mode, the CT scooted admirably through the course. Flipping the switch, it turned into FUN. The beauty of F SPORT was revealed. While we expect drama in the IS and GS, the subtle shift in balance prompted by twist of a knob in the CT reveals the most about Lexus' F SPORT potential. This isn't so much about competing with Europe for in performance brand stakes, but repositioning the feel of the Lexus drive. Taking (we're biased and love hatches) a perfect family car and turning it into something that has some pizzazz while retaining super gas milage sound good? Let us state the answer clearly: HELL YES!!!
For the CT 200h, there is no boost in horsepower or change to the engine. F SPORT here is all about handling. It is about making a good car better, and it is about one core essential quality: FUN. Yup, that word again. We'd lie if we said we didn't have any on the course ... or if it weren't one of our reasons for driving in the first place.
F SPORT, in all iterations, gives capable cars the refinement to make them interesting cars. In the CT, it is particularly apparent. While not a triumph (yet), F SPORT's growth within the Lexus model line up suggests that what we've become accustomed to over the past quarter century will merge wth the brand's advances of the past five years to push something rather intriguing onto the world's roads.
Bottom line: F SPORT elevates the Lexus experience and balances the brand's reputation for quality with some BALLS.