Think of this column as a sign that a change is going to come. And while this is happening far from the firms in Munich, Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, etc., they will be the ones affected in the long run. The outcome of this will be a truly worldwide offering of some superlative cars as the outer limits are explored and developed.
A few months ago, I had lunch with a recently retired honcho who has a firm grip on German automotive reality and is still on the company payroll as a consultant. This is the usual manner of keeping the inner circle loyal and not allowing that knowledge to end up in a competitor's camp. As we walked out to the parking lot, I was surprised to see him getting into a new Lexus LS. "Hey, what are you doing in that POS?" was my comment. His reply was a revelation: "It's a great car and I don't have time to deal with any issues."
Anyone who has doubts on how Lexus has become the new standard should have heard the rest of the conversation. But the one area where Japan has not made an impression is with a true supercar. The Acura NSX may be a great driver, but fails in almost every respect when pressed over a long haul as a true exotic. Porsche purchased one right off the showroom floor. When testing at Weissach, the brakes caught fire after the eighth lap.
Japan has also never produced a truly worldwide competitor to go up against Audi's S and RS cars, AMG and the mainstay M cars from BMW. Until now. Occasionally, european car receives invites from the Rising Sun to inspect their wares. Normally we answer with a polite 'no thanks.' But this was different. This offering will have an impact on the world we cover.
Yukihiko Yaguchi is a chief engineer at Lexus. A small, compact, thin-framed, intense-looking individual who could easily be a stand-in for a Gokudo action film, Yaguchi-san considers himself a car guy first and an engineer second. His resume over the last 30 years at Toyota ranges from the turbo Supra to the GS and LS models of flagship division, Lexus. He simply wanted to build a car he would want to drive. He had been lobbying for some time with the board to develop a sports branding that was not simply a badge. Rebuffed, he went to work in his own time, developing his concept of what he felt a full-performance Lexus should be.
The new Lexus IS F is a lot more than a big V8 stuffed into a small chassis. Yaguchi-san is well aware of that learning curve. The normal IS tub was deemed strong enough that the F model would not require the usual strengthening to accommodate all the specially developed sport parts. A 5.0-liter engine putting out 400-plus ponies and with 371 lb-ft of torque sounds more Roush than Munich, but the eight-speed direct-shift paddle gearbox is closer to Maranello than Tokyo. Yaguchi-san and his small hand-picked team tested the IS F on tracks all over Europe as well as at Fuji.