LFA Influences IS

How the Lexus LFA supercar inspired the next-generation Lexus IS

05/01/2013—When the 2014 Lexus IS debuted earlier this year, it didn’t take long for the world’s sharp-eyed Lexus fans to notice the overt connections between the LFA supercar and the redesigned IS sedan.

After all, there they were, in plain sight: the LFA-inspired 18-inch wheels in the IS F SPORT package, as well as the Y-spoke wheel design. Also apparent: the feature line that sweeps along the sides of both the IS and the LFA, from the rocker panel right up into the taillamps. Those IS taillamps, too, share a finely detailed nod to the LFA—discreet air spoilers molded into their respective lenses.

There are other evocations of the LFA in the 2014 IS—the latter’s aerodynamically sculpted door mirrors, for instance, and the driver-focused cabin architecture, notably the buttresses that rise from the center console to a broad horizontal dashboard and rectangular air vents, all reminiscent of the LFA. And in the IS F SPORT, you’ll even see a flash of aluminum on the pedals, as you do in the LFA, plus the accelerator pedals in both models are hinged to the floor.

But these aesthetic similarities represent more than visual bonds between Lexus performance vehicles. They’re actually elegant clues to a deeper fundamental LFA–IS connection that can’t be identified with a finger point, because it involves something more intrinsic.

To understand, it helps to know that every Lexus test engineer has a special license that governs which vehicles they can test, and how fast they can drive, at Lexus development facilities such as the Shibetsu Proving Ground. At the time the first Lexus models were being developed, Lexus bestowed four licenses: basic, intermediate, advanced, and S1. Less than two dozen engineers earned an S1 license in 1988 to test the early 4-liter V8 Lexus sedan and coupe models up to 155 mph.

When the LFA came along, requiring engineers to evaluate vehicle performance in new ways, the best—the S1 license—wasn’t good enough. About 200 engineers received driver training for a new, more advanced S2 license, and a select few engineers underwent even more stringent training in a variety of vehicles, including racecars.

These driving masters earned a new Lexus S2+ “super license” that allows them to test vehicles at speeds beyond 155 mph, and they’re the ones who helped fine-tune the driving experience of the LFA and other Lexus models with very high-speed capabilities.

Fast-forward to just a few years ago, when work began on the next-generation Lexus IS. LFA development was wrapping up, but the advanced knowledge and expertise remained. Those same engineers who honed the LFA now threw their skills into the 2014 IS experience, applying the supercar’s exacting standards to the IS and imbuing it with the LFA’s DNA.

Just one example of the elite engineers at work: a steering wheel that’s angled three degrees lower than the previous IS model’s, as well as improved, and sportier, seat bolsters in the IS for a more supercar-like feel.

They also influenced the IS steering wheel layout, which has two circular controls astride the central boss that are similar in look and feel to the round controls on the LFA wheel. On the left side of the IS wheel there’s an LFA-like mechanism that manipulates the IS audio system; on the right side of the IS wheel, the joystick-like button controls the multi-information display in the instrument cluster (in the LFA, it’s the engine start button).

In the IS F SPORT package, by the way, there’s another intriguing LFA-like similarity: a large central tachometer displayed digitally on a thin-film transistor screen. This tachometer, which contains a digital speedometer, can be moved over to reveal additional settings that you can customize. When you’re done, the tachometer returns to center stage.

It’s an intoxicating piece of LFA-led techno-cool—and a not-so-subtle supercar element that Lexus owners can try out this summer.

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