Editor’s note: We don’t often hear stories about auto manufacturers seeking outside, independent opinions when creating new models. But interestingly enough, as Jean-Jacques Cornaert—one of world’s foremost auto journalists—recently reminded us, this is part of Lexus’ car-development process, and a major reason why Lexus vehicles reign supreme.
CIRCUIT DE MORTEFONTAINE, north of Paris.
Between the lap I’ve just come from and the one I’m now facing, the 417 hp V8 needed only a few hundred meters to thrust the Lexus IS F beyond 120 mph. The track is narrow, and it wouldn’t do to put a wheel on the moist grass that lines it.
But the directional stability of the IS F encourages me to keep my foot down for a few more milliseconds before throwing myself on the brakes and downshifting with one of two paddle shifters under the steering wheel.
The six-piston calipers clamp down on the enormous discs. The dip of the body is almost imperceptible, but I can feel the weight shift through the car onto the front axle, and I imagine that the wheels are creasing the asphalt carpet of the circuit.
The smooth, precise action of the brake pedal lets me relieve the pressure very precisely, until the huge tires regain their equilibrium, and I launch the IS F into the curve. One nudge of the steering wheel is enough. The response is immediate and the steering transmits with high-resolution clarity the physical forces being experienced by the front tires.
Bursting from the curve, the 5.0-liter V8’s scream fills the cabin again, each gear following the last without the slightest break, and I am amazed.
The car is a masterpiece, the result of several years of thought about what a Lexus can be.
It’s also a car that, even through high-speed turns or blistering straights, reveals core values shared by every Lexus. In short: it’s fluid and highly attuned to the driver. And I’m honored to say I have had a small part to play in helping to develop it, along with many other Lexus vehicles.
Several times each year, Hirokazu Koga, the former longtime Project General Manager of the Lexus Development Center, requests my opinion on Lexus cars in development, or in the final phases of adjustment, because he insists on getting an independent, outside opinion.
This vision allows him to put his finger on fastidious details and then fine-tune. I don’t need to say how very proud I am that such a man would lend an ear to my comments. But I have always been, above all, always very happy to meet him and share ideas on the evolution of automobiles.
I remember a discussion I had with him back in 2004. We were here, on the Mortefontaine circuit, evaluating the prototype of what would become the GS. I suggested to him that confidence behind the wheel was indispensible to fast driving. He reminded me recently that he not only obviously agree with this statement but also had made it a way of thinking.
All Lexus cars should be easy to drive, their reactions the logical conclusion of the gestures of the driver. But I never thought he would be able to put this idea into practice on a sedan as powerful as the IS F.
When Koga asked me to meet him for trials of the first IS F, six months before its official launch in 2007, one of the performance targets was the Porsche 911 (the 996 type). Yukihiko Yaguchi, Chief Engineer of the F Project and an accomplished driver in his spare time, knew exactly what he was talking about when he explained to me, the night before, what importance he attached to sport, performance levels, and driving pleasure.
Over the years, Koga and I found a sort of complicity that made these meetings particularly enjoyable. He is passionate about beautiful automobiles. He loves driving and is curious about what others are doing, never hiding his admiration for well made cars, even if it’s another manufacturer that made them.
This natural sense of fair play and open-mindedness have been key to the successful evolution of Lexus, an automaker that finds inspiration in the best there is to offer, while still creating its own image.
Comfort and silence are today the intrinsic qualities of models branded with the Lexus logo, as are safety and quality. These prerequisites are written into the specifications of each Lexus, with an imperative on the highest possible results, for which there is no possible compromise.
This also applies to sport models of the caliber of the IS F, a car that knows how to punch hard and corner accurately, as well as how to be effortlessly accessible on a daily basis.
And this is why Lexus customers always feel at home, whichever continent they find themselves on, and whichever model they are driving.
Article by Jean-Jacques Cornaert, Photography by Hristo Shindov