by: TOYOTA MOTOR COMPANY, USA - Subtle touches like the unique fender flares on hint at the performance potential of the 2014 Lexus IS F.Through a quirk the production schedule at Lexus, you have a last chance to buy one of the true sleeper performance cars on the market today — the 2014 Lexus IS F.

Lexus completely redesigned the compact IS sedan on which the F model is based for 2014. But it continued producing F versions of last year's IS for some reason only known to the in-house number crunchers. That's a good thing, because this generation IS F is a true wolf in sheep's clothing — a killer compact luxury sports sedan that only hints at its potential with subtle front fender flares, twin dual exhausts and small carbon fiber-like spoiler. The grill is even the small one, not the huge bowtie-style version on the new models.

But don't be fooled. The 2014 IS F is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque, enough to thrust it from zero to 60 in under five seconds. The power flows through an eight-speed automatic transmissions with two manual shift modes, one using the shift lever in the center console and the other with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Pressing the Sport mode button on the steering wheel makes it even faster. And it comes with big Brembo brakes to keep everything from getting out of control.

Our test car came with ultra-low profile summer tires that made the ride a little stiff — especially when it was set in the Sport mode.

That's not unexpected for a sport sedan, of course, and it improves handling, which is why everyone's willing to pay more them. A sticker in the window cautioned the tires might not get more than 15,000 miles, however, which sounds like a big replacement expense just around the corner.

Inside, the IS F is tricked out with red and black leather seats, and metal gas and brake pedals, along with a metal rest plate for the driver's left foot. The trim pieces look like carbon fiber. Because it is a compact, headroom is a little compromised in the front, more in the rear seats. But once the driver squeezes in, the immediate impression is one of seriousness. Press the start button and the V8 snaps to life with a snarl, which reinforces the impression.

But the IS F is remarkably easy to drive gently. In fact, I originally wondered if it had somehow been equipped with a V6 when I took off for the first time. It wasn't until I pushed it a little bit that the full potential of the V8 became apparent — and then it was off to the races.

The Lexus F marque represents the high-performance division of cars produced by Lexus, which is Toyota's luxury wing. The F refers to Flagship, an indication of just how serious Lexus wants its performance cars to be taken. The company fully intends to compete against the likes of Mercedes' AMG, Audi's S/RS, Cadillac's V-series, and BMW's M division, which is heady company indeed.

But the 2014 Lexus IS F is up to the challenge, offering an impressive level of performance beginning at around $60,000. Or substantially-optioned test car was priced at just over $68,000, which is reasonable, compared to the competition. It will be interesting to see how the F version of the new IS turns out next year.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 IS F.

• Manufacturer: Lexus.

• Class: Compact luxury sport sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door sedan.

• Engine: 5.0 V8 (416 hp, 371 lbs-ft).

• Transmissions: Eight-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 16/23/18.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $60,000 ($68,990 as tested).

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