It was pre-tourist season on Martha's Vineyard, so I had the windswept oceanside roads of Aquinnah, Massachusetts, pretty much to myself. But the whole place might as well have been a giant parking lot for all the attention I paid to it. I was much more enthralled with paddle-shifting through gear after gear of the Lexus IS F, a four-door sedan with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It's the hot rod of the Lexus family, a real burner that appeals to the secret Grand Theft Auto-lover in all of us.
The IS F's V-8 engine is a thing of beauty. The car boasts an acceleration of 0 to 60 in just 4.6 seconds, and when the dual-path intake kicks in at 3,600 rpm, the engine's mighty baritone roars. Unfortunately, I had to leave it up to the weekend Dario Franchittis to verify its electronically limited top speed of 168 miles per hour. Still, the shifts -- and the tight corners -- came quickly on the deserted roads, and the IS F responded like a champ. The rack-and-pinion steering was true. It was easier to handle than a Wii controller. Though the IS F is a bit of a rebel (at least, as far as Lexus cars go), it doesn't skimp on luxury. It has a rich interior, with black leather trim and blue stitching, heated front seats, and subtle luminescent gauges.
$56,000; $62,160 as tested
Five-liter 416-hp V-8 engine; 371 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm; 16/23 mpg
The 19-inch aluminum wheels by BBS, which makes racing wheels for Formula 1 cars, lend the IS F some racing cred, and bucket seats in the rear ensure everyone has a comfortable ride. Although the optional 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo produces a rich sound, no musician makes sweeter noise than the engine.
It takes premium gas, so two fill-ups ran me $98. Also, the IS F has strong brakes, so it felt a bit jerky in heavy traffic. The chrome stacked quad exhausts are cosmetic.
"Who knew Lexus had such a wicked alter ego? Manual-only purists will be unable to resist the endorphin-releasing throttle blips while downshifting," says Michael Spinelli, editor-at-large of Jalopnik.com. "But eight gears? Really? I'd be fine with six."