Thunder toward the corner, and grab the left shift paddle
under hard braking. In the blink of an eye, the eight-speed transmission blips
the throttle and lands in third gear. Feed power to the Lexus IS-F's 5.0-liter
V8, and soak in the bellowing exhaust note while firing out of the corner, with
a hint of opposite lock applied to correct slight oversteer. When you pull the
right-hand upshift paddle, the gearbox needs only a tenth of a second to grab
Yes, indeed, if the IS-F is a prequel to future Lexi, the V10-powered LF-A will be one hell of a machine. Lexus is taking the performance game seriously, and this sports sedan is a perfect example. With a year still to pass until the company launches the LF-A supercar, this is the perfect time to pit head-to-head the two most powerful cars that Japan offers today, especially considering that both will be available to U.S. customers.
The tranquil mountains on Japan's Izu peninsula are home to some of the country's best roads, where pavement snakes up and down countless peaks and valleys. It's an enticing venue to test the two cars.
On paper, these machines represent different answers to the performance-car question. Lexus conceived a hot rear-wheel-drive sedan, Nissan a technology-packed all-wheel-drive coupe. Similarities between the two include their prices (the GT-R we drove was fitted with the Premium package and was thus more expensive than the base model) and a mighty thirst for gasoline, especially on these tempting roads.
The GT-R truly shines here, as expected. The car is built to
deliver you from point A to point B as fast as possible, no excuses. As you dig
deep into its capabilities, your confidence grows exponentially; the GT-R
easily absorbs everything you throw at it. The 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 is ready
to play at any point in the rev range; it responds instantly at your foot's
prod with almighty acceleration and no turbo lag.
As much as the engine impresses, the gearbox makes this car what it is and provides its character. Located under the rear seats, the dual-clutch six-speed transmission rewards every pull of the paddles with seamless, instant upshifts or sublime rev-matched downshifts. It makes itself heard with a distinct race-car-like whine. The adjustable Bilstein dampers, when set to "normal," work hard to absorb road imperfections but still allow the GT-R to plow through every twist at an alarming rate. Bridgestone's RE-070 tires offer tremendous grip, with well more than 1 g registering on the funky onboard display, both during lateral acceleration and under braking.
The IS-F works harder than the GT-R to stay on the pace. With sport mode activated, the Lexus offers sharper throttle response and heavier yet precise steering that allows drivers to get the most out of it. The 416 hp is great, but the midrange torque provides the most fun, with a healthy pull from anywhere above 4000 rpm.
The GT-R is the faster car, but it is not necessarily better to drive. With the cars hot-shoed back-to-back, the character of the Lexus makes up for its power and overall speed deficit. When you tickle the throttle in mid-corner, the rear end is in your hands, controlled easily as it helps you steer. The V8 begs to be revved and loves to be machine-gunned through the eight-speed 'box.
The suspension is really the only thing that disappoints in
the IS-F. Certainly, it performs wonderfully on a daily basis and around town,
but it lacks the composure and feedback desired for roads that enthusiasts seek
out. Ideally, Lexus would offer the active suspension, as Nissan does, giving
drivers a firmer setup for spirited drives. The Brembo brakes, at least, offer
more than enough performance.
In comparison, the GT-R takes things a step further, with far more brake feel and power. And still, although the GT-R is flat-out faster, the IS-F manages to be more satisfying to drive. Nissan describes its stallion as an "anyone, anytime, anywhere" machine, but the GT-R leaves you feeling like a secondary part of the man-machine interface.
As always, though, the game is far from over. If the IS-F is any indication, we expect the LF-A to be thrilling and demanding. As for Nissan, it is hard at work on its GT-R Spec-V, a more track-oriented version of the car set to go on sale in Japan by the end of the year.
2009 Nissan GT-R
ON SALE: June
BASE PRICE: $71,900 (Premium, plus destination)
DRIVETRAIN: 473-hp, 433-lb-ft, 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6; 4wd, six-speed dual-clutch
CURB WEIGHT: 3814 lb
0-60 MPH: 3.6 sec (mfr est)
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 18 mpg
2008 Lexus IS-F
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $56,765
DRIVETRAIN: 416-hp, 371-lb-ft, 5.0-liter V8; rwd, eight-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3780 lb
0-60 MPH: 4.6 sec (mfr est)
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 19 mpg