Toyota’s been on a roll lately. After president Akio Toyoda declared “no more boring cars” in 2017, we’ve seen a good number of hot, fun, and interesting vehicles roll in to showrooms. Not content to watch from the sidelines, Lexus has thrown their hat in the ring with the 2022 Lexus IS 500. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a V8 in the compact IS sedan – the 2008 Lexus IS F takes that crown. But with tightening fuel economy regulations and a move to both turbo V6 engines and electrification, it was surprising to see a five point oh stuffed under the hood once again.
The 2022 Lexus IS 500 doesn’t make much sense on paper. It’s not supposed to, really. It’s a tug at the heart strings kind of car, something you lust after and perhaps purchase because it makes you feel some kind of way when you see it, sit in it, and hear it. I had briefly driven the IS 500 last fall, but was excited to spend a week with it to see how one of the most emotionally-charged Lexus models performed as a daily driver.
What Is It?
This is a 2022 Lexus IS 500, and while the V8-plus-IS combination is new for 2022, neither the platform or engine are new themselves. Lexus’ current IS first launched for the 2014 model year and received its second facelift for 2021. I drove a 2021 IS 350 and generally liked it – largely thanks to the wonderful V6 and its exhaust note. I’ve also experienced the 5.0 liter V8 in some friends’ Lexuses over the years. The 2UR-GSE V8 was first introduced in 2008 for that Lexus IS-F, and has stuck around since in the RC F and LC 500. So then, it’s a no-brainer that Lexus would use that same V8 to make their brawniest IS.
Power-wise, the 2UR-GSE produces 472 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque. It’s a screamer, producing that power at 7,100 rpm (yes, really) and while the torque peak is lower, it’s still at an old-school 4,800 rpm. You will be working this engine to have your fun – but it’s worth it. Your dance partner is an eight-speed Aisin torque-converter automatic with paddle shifters, and power flows to a standard Torsen limited-slip differential at the rear axle.
Adaptive dampers are standard, but only firm up (alongside electronic power steering) in the tightest “Sport S+” drive mode. Lexus also installed a “rear performance damper,” built by Yamaha – think of a shock absorber installed horizontally – that helps with chassis stability.
Brakes are larger, of course, with 14-inch two-piece front rotors and 12.7-inch rear rotors to better dissipate heat. They’re covered by a unique set of 19-inch wheels, built by Enkei, that are a pound or two lighter than the standard set of 19s found on the IS 350 F-Sport. Less unsprung weight, even just a few pounds, is always very good to see.
Lexus also had to modify the nose of the IS 500 to fit the big V8 up there, but you won’t notice what they did unless you park next to a “lesser” IS. The front fenders and bumper are a hair longer, and the hood is raised about two inches, all in the name of horsepower.
MSRP of my Infrared 2022 Lexus IS 500 came to roughly $61,500.
Day-to-Day Driving in the 2022 Lexus IS 500
Many performance models of “regular” cars come with some compromises. Heavily-bolstered seats, too-stiff suspension, and shouty exhausts can all be tremendously fun, unless you need your car to simply be “a car” for the day.
For the most part, my feelings about the IS 500 mirror those of the IS 350. It’s a comfortable sedan that won’t beat you up if the roads aren’t perfect. The cabin is nice, albeit a bit dated and cramped. Mercifully, the IS 500 has no intrusion in the driver’s footwell from an all-wheel drive transfer case, given it only drives the rear wheels.
Washington, DC is fortunate to have some long tunnels, and I took advantage of them every time I could. Music off, windows down, transmission’s Manual mode in first or second gear (our speed limits in the city are low) and throttle as wide open as possible. The V8 makes some delicious noises, though they’re… almost too muted. You hear induction noise more than anything, but it’s all still so glorious as only a V8 engine can be.
Exit the tunnel, put the windows up, slip the shifter back to the right. Push the center of the drive mode dial to toggle Normal mode. Turn the Mark Levinson sound system back up and hit Auto on the climate control panel. The IS 500 mushes through gears and stays out of the shouty end of the tachometer, becoming an unobtrusive sedan. Were it not for my test car’s gorgeous red paint, nobody would notice the IS 500 slipping through traffic. And for some people, that’s a good thing.
Yeah, Yeah, What About the Back Roads?
The benefit of having a performance-tweaked “regular” car is that when you finally do break out of the city and find roads with fewer lanes and more curves, you’re behind the wheel of something competent. So naturally, I had to find out how the IS 500 handled actual driving, not just mushing around town.
My first impressions last fall left me a little indifferent. Despite Lexus claiming just 143 pounds of weight gain (for a total curb weight of 3,891 pounds), the majority of the weight seems to be on the nose of the car. The IS 500 was fun because it had a zingy, revvy V8, not because it was the most nimble on tight roads.
Those impressions held true in my longer test, too, though I warmed up to the car as I spent more time driving. With dampers and steering in their sportiest of Sport+ settings, I took to some local back roads with friends.
The IS 500 does a good job here, though transmission response is slow if you’re trying to control things yourself (it’s faster left in Drive) and you do still feel the weight added up front. Brakes are very good, despite a somewhat “wooden” pedal feel coming in after initial bite. Steering firms up and is accurate, if not the most talkative. Body roll, as reported by the friend behind me in his technically-more-superior BMW M4, was “uhhh, a lot.”
Despite the 2022 Lexus IS 500 not being “the most” or “the best” or whatever, I did come away from the day of hooning with admiration for the car. It’s competent enough when things get fun and delivers about what you’d expect from a twice-facelifted compact sport sedan with an automatic and 14-year-old V8 bolted to the front subframe. Rivals like the BMW M340i or Audi S4 will have more torque down low, make less power but charge from zero to sixty just as quickly, and be a touch more composed through a corner.
And even with that knowledge in the back corner of my brain, I didn’t really… care. The 2022 Lexus IS 500 is a brand new, low-volume sport sedan that manages to exist against the odds. On the surface, it makes happy silly V8 noises, and under a magnifying glass, it is so pleasantly old-school that you can’t help but like it for its charm. The IS 500 won’t appeal to people chasing statistics or wanting the most modern car in its segment. But it does hold a certain appeal for a certain buyer, and I am so glad Lexus has built it.