If you were looking for some edgy styling updates to go along with the new 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance model’s 472-horsepower V8 engine upgrade, this probably isn’t going to be your next ride. Unless Lexus decides to push out an even more aggressive IS F trim before an all-new model arrives in a couple of years, this IS 500 F Sport is the brand’s new four-door muscle car now that the mid-size GS F (and the entire GS line) has departed.
As it is, Lexus refreshed the entire IS line for 2021, and therefore sees no need to bulk up the elegant compact luxury model’s bodywork with extra scoops, whale-tail wings, or any other types of go-fast add-ons to attract more buyers, although they did slightly widen the fenders. Thus, this only marginally muscled up saloon might be the best new sleeper on the strip.
The sharply angled four-door wears a broadened version of Lexus’ now fully acceptable spindle grille, fully blackened out of course, its corners complete with a revised set of multi-lens LED headlamps that don’t dazzle with as much bright metalwork within either. The lower front fascia is deep and divided too, with nice black vertical brake vents to each side (or at least they look like brake vents), while the hood overtop gets a fabulous dome at centre to make way for the 5.0-litre V8 stuffed below.
All IS trims received the same body sculpting down the sides, extended fenders aside, with even the two-tone mirror housings identical to those found on lesser models. Likewise, for the rear end’s UX-inspired LED taillights, which feature a narrow reflector strip visually tying them together. A subtle spoiler hovers over top, and again it’s no different than what you’d find on a regular IS, while the diffuser-infused lower bumper cap is only a departure because of the extra two vertically stacked exhaust tips poking through.
As it is, the IS 300 and IS 350 are already the sportiest Lexus sedans available, so they were mostly de-chromed before this IS 500 arrived. In fact, some 2021 trims are even darker due to grey-painted alloys, the V8-powered model’s 10-spoke, 19-inch Enkei lightweight wheels finished in glittering metal, just like the chromed “L” badges at each end and aforementioned exhaust pipes. The IS 500’s most obvious differentiators are darkened side window trim bits instead of Lexus’ usual polished nickel.
All of the interior changes are from the usual F Sport order sheet too, including black “F SPORT” insignias on the door sill plates and steering wheel, the latter which is heatable and leather-clad, of course, while the metal gas pedal, brake pedal and dead pedal have been upgraded to F Sport specifications too. The startup animation in the mostly-digital gauge cluster’s multi-information display is special to the IS 500, mind you, and serves as a quick reminder of the menacing power available at from a little right foot application.
Along with its 472 horsepower, Lexus’ big V8 puts 395 lb-ft of torque down to the rear wheels, which is almost as much output as found in the gorgeous LC 500 sports coupe and convertible, this IS version actually increasing horsepower by a single digit while dropping a mere three lb-ft of twist. Either way it represents a serious improvement over the next-best IS 350 that only sends 311 horsepower and 280-lb-ft of torque to the ground below. Even the mighty 2014 IS F, as impressive as that super sedan was for its time, wouldn’t be able to compete at 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft of torque. Of note, the only major change other than widening the front fenders was the need to move the radiator forward to accommodate the larger engine.
If you’re shopping in this category, a handful of challengers are worth mentioning, including the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio that puts out a mind-blowing 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque; the BMW M3 that pretty well created this super-fast sedan segment and still offers up competitive performance thanks to a 473-horsepower turbo-six in base form or 503-hp Competition trim; the Mercedes-AMG tuned C-Class that comes in 385-hp AMG C 43 form, 469-hp AMG C 63 guise, and lastly with 503-hp AMG C 63 S tuning.
Unfortunately, Audi doesn’t offer an RS version of its directly competitive compact luxury sedan, but four-ringed buyers can option up from the 349-hp S4 to similarly sized RS 5 Sportback that makes 444 hp (the A5 Sportback is Audi’s version of BMW’s 4 Series Grand Coupe (none are available for 2021), albeit the Bavarians don’t provide an M version of what is arguably their prettiest four-door). Additionally, Cadillac is set to enter this category with its new 2022 CT4-V Blackwing, which gets a standard manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, and 472-horsepower worth of twin-turbo V6.
A few honourable mentions include the Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered model that puts out 415 hp from a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in-hybridized four-cylinder (and can also be had in V60 wagon form); and the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 that puts out 400 hp, as its name implies. This story would be incomplete without noting the top-tier Tesla Model 3, which is good for 480 electrified horsepower, plus 471 lb-ft of instantaneous torque.
As noted earlier, the IS 500 pushes all of power down to the rear wheels through the same swift-shifting eight-speed Sport Direct automatic transmission as used in the model’s V6-powered rear-drive IS models. It also features Custom, Sport S and Sport S+ engine and transmission mode settings, with the latter adjusting EPS steering assist and shock damping force as well. The end result of a good driver utilizing the most sport-oriented settings is 4.6 seconds from zero to 100 km/h, no doubt accompanied by “ferocious” sounds from the four tailpipes that “perfectly amplify the new V8 engine,” or so said Lexus in a press release.
Bridling all that power is Lexus’ standard Dynamic Handling Package, which also underpins the US-specification IS 350 RWD F Sport (AWD is standard north of the 49th). The upgrade boasts an Adaptive Variable suspension setup featuring Yamaha rear performance shocks plus a Torsen limited-slip differential, while the IS 500’s standard braking system is improved with two-piece 14-inch aluminum rotors up front and 12.7-inch discs in the rear, while special cooling ducts help to enhance performance at the limit. Despite the upgraded equipment and larger engine, the new IS 500 only adds five kilos to the IS 350 AWD F Sport’s curb weight, mostly because of its rear-drive layout, the V8-powered model hitting the scale at 1,765 kilograms.
If you’re considering a performance SUV, I have four words of advice: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Despite being compact in size, or maybe because of it, the feisty Italian is one of the fastest production utilities ever created.
How fast is it? It’s evenly matched against Mercedes-AMG’s similarly sized GLC 63 S off the line, both holding title to quickest in their compact luxury SUV class, while it edges out the segment’s second-fastest BMW X3 M Competition by 3 km/h at 283 km/h (176 mph) compared to 280 (174). Possibly more important from an all-round performance perspective, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio has earned more fastest lap records than any SUV available new today.
It doesn’t hurt that it shares racing pedigree limelight with the aforementioned three-pointed star brand, even if Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN is no Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. Afla’s just older, wiser and cooler than Merc, the Italian brand having been formed in 1915 compared to Mercedes’ 1922 (a technicality, but it’s F1 and I’m running with it). Likewise, I’d rather hang out with Alfa’s older, wiser and cooler driver and F1 champion Kimi Räikkönen than seven-times world champ Lewis Hamilton too. Kimi’s chill and hilarious, while Lewis is always so serious, and so political… but I digress.
Or did I? After all, when we buy a premium branded car, especially a performance model with awesome street cred, most of us buy into the company that builds it as much as the vehicle itself. Whether we want to admit it or not, branding sells, and while Alfa Romeo doesn’t reach as many luxury buyers are Mercedes-Benz, I’m willing to wager a bet the majority of those who buy into Alfa do so with more enthusiasm. Maybe it’s an Italian thing. Alfa is all about red-blooded passion.
That Alfa Romeo is infused with more racing pedigree than most of its competitors doesn’t hurt matters either, the brand even fielding a Formula One team, which can’t be said for all of its key competitors except Mercedes-AMG—Aston Martin’s larger and much pricier DBX isn’t a direct competitor. You don’t buy one of these things because you’re being practical. Sure, a Stelvio is easier to stow things inside than a Giulia or any other premium sedan, and it seats four large adults in comfort or five in a pinch, but you can do that in a RAV4, and go pretty quick to boot, if it’s the new plug-in hybrid.
Pretty quick is one thing, but the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s top track speed is only beaten by Aston Martin’s new DBX amongst SUVs, the little Alfa managing 283 km/h (176 mph), as noted earlier, with the Aston whisking past at a heady 291 km/h (181 mph). The Quad is actually quicker from standstill to 100 km/h, leaving the exotic super-SUV behind as if it’s standing still, the two brands’ official 0-100 km/h times claimed to be 3.8 seconds to 4.5. That’s not even in the same ballpark, let alone on the same track (although the DBX looked fabulous pulling up behind the Merc, Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, AlphaTauri, Alfa, Alpine, Williams, Haas, and yes, Aston F1 cars as the official medical car at the Bahrain GP last weekend).
Aston will likely follow up the current DBX with a stronger performing version at some point, just like Porsche does with its various Cayenne trims. The German brand’s Turbo S E-Hybrid is monstrous, while Bentley’s massive Bentayga Speed completely defies physics, but at least for now we can’t deny the hard numbers. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is even quicker from zero to 100 km/h than those just-noted uber utes. It’s not the quickest of all, mind you, this honour going to Lamborghini’s phenomenal Urus, which is capable of jettisoning from standstill to 100 km/h in a ferocious 3.4 seconds, while independent testers have claimed even quicker times.
I’ve driven some of the above and each were crazy fun, but all said there’s something extraordinarily special about the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. It feels lighter and nimbler than most, and the music made from its snarling sextet of pistons and rambunctious quartet of tailpipes is like nothing else this side of the fabulous Giulia Quadrifoglio. Combined with accompanying G forces bashing my backside into a perfectly formed leather- and Alcantara-covered driver’s seat, not to mention similar forces trying to expel me beyond that seat’s sizeable side bolsters when pushing the envelope through twisting backroads, this SUV is shockingly good.
Trust me, I did my best to drive slowly. I truly did. In fact, I more or less succeeded in maintaining posted limits around the city and along rural highways, especially where joy-sucking regulation enforcers have been known to drink coffee and eat donuts while poking radar guns out windows of less inspirational Ford Explorers, but I failed miserably when beyond my city’s outer perimeter, where ideal strips of perfectly aligned pavement stretched diagonally across farmland to connect minuscule communities with circuitous secondary backroads and even quicker-paced byways. This is where Alfa’s Quadrifoglios were designed to run freely, and where I quickly learned how otherworldly this little utility is to drive.
Spin its DNA drive selector to the “d” position for sportier Dynamic mode, or turn it one position farther for “RACE”, which results in even more intense performance, and prepare for ridiculous levels of speed, not to mention one of the most enticingly exhaustive snap, crackle and pop cacophonies to ever emanate from the rear of a vehicle.
Alfa Romeo wraps a beautiful set of 20-inch alloys in 255/45R20 front and 285/40R20 rear Pirelli P Zero performance rubber, which can cling to most any kind of road surface. The specially-chosen tires combine ideally with a smartly sorted chassis that feels as if it could run rings around any competitor.
My driving position was excellent. Alfa slightly squared-off the Quad’s leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, which was just large enough to feel substantive without being cumbersome. It features nicely formed thumb spats for a good grip, these just ahead of long alloy paddle shifters that are attached to the steering column instead of the wheel. This means they’re always where they’re supposed to be, even when the wheel’s rotated in a given direction multiple times. The steering column’s tilt and reach adjustability is generous as well, with the latter matching excellent seat adjustment. My long-legged, short-torso frame fit in well, not always the case with some rivals, which resulted in good control and much-appreciated comfort.
No wonder Alfa Romeo’s team of professional drivers have had no issue setting global track lap records. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio leads every SUV made at Britain’s famed Silverstone (2:31.6) racetrack, not to mention Donington Park (1:21.1), and the Indy Circuit at Brands Hatch (55.9), but to be fair I must admit its record-setting 7:51.7-minute lap around the Nürburgring Nordschleife was recently broken by the aforementioned GLC 63 S, the hyper-Merc laying down a wickedly quick lap time of 7.49.369 minutes.
Both are faster in one lap of the 20.832-km mountainside racetrack than the next-best Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, however, which did the deed in 7:59.7 minutes, while the Range Rover Sport SVR could only manage the course in 8:14 minutes. Until one of the previously mentioned super-SUVs chooses to take these two little compacts on at the ‘Ring, they’ll likely remain top of the “Green Hell” podium.
Back to my need for fairness, the Urus nabbed the title from this Stelvio Q at one of my favourite racecourses, California’s Laguna Seca. It makes sense for the 641-horsepower super-ute to beat the little Alfa, especially when factoring in the latter SUV’s comparatively bargain-basement price, but its 1:40.9-minute record lap wasn’t all that much better than the Stelvio’s 1:43.5-minute trip around the ultra-challenging track.
It doesn’t matter which premium branded super SUV you opt for, its interior will come stuffed full of contrast-stitched leather with ultra-suede accents, brushed and polished metals, plus glossy carbon-fibre trim, and more, while high-grade pliable composite surfaces are used where one of the above coverings won’t work. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is no exception. That said, at just under $100k it’s not going to blow away a Bentayga owner, but its interior design is nevertheless alluring, quality of workmanship excellent, and overall sense of luxury impressive.
I was happy to learn of its updated infotainment system too, the interface more user-friendly and graphically inspiring than a four-cylinder Stelvio I drove before. Its drag and drop tile/widget design made it more customizable too, while it can do most anything its competitors can, plus compile performance statistics via various “pages” showing boost, torque, lateral Gs, etcetera.
I was surprised, but not disappointed that a fully-digital gauge cluster wasn’t included, being that the analogue dials and sporty circular shrouds looked fabulous and worked well. A large speedo and tach bookended a big high-definition multi-information display in the middle, this screen complete with the usual functions.
Along with the impeccably finished cabin and outrageous performance, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is plenty practical too. It’s an SUV after all, and therefore came with a comfortable, sizeable second row with three seatbelts across, as well as three-way outboard seat heaters, two USB-A charge ports on the backside of the front console, great rear ventilation, and overall refinement as nicely finished as the front seating area.
The cargo compartment was similarly impressive, and roomy enough for the majority of peoples’ requirements. An especially useful 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatback expanded on its cargo carrying capacity further, while Alfa also included an smartly engineered aluminum track system for strapping down items that might otherwise fly about (for those moments when you temporarily forget you’re supposed to be carting cargo and start driving like Mario).
Alfa Romeo is currently offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero-percent, by the way, so be sure to check out our 2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Canada Prices page where you can also configure your Stelvio with every available colour and option. A CarCostCanada membership will also provide information about available manufacturer rebates when available, plus dealer invoice pricing that can make sure you pay the lowest price possible during negotiations. Learn how the CarCostCanada system saves you money, and remember to download our free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store so you can have all of this critical info immediately available.
To reiterate, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is up against some very worthy premium competitors, but the fact that you’ll need to spend more than $250k in order to get something capable of outrunning it says everything you need to know. Mercedes’ fastest GLC is a more direct match and should be up for consideration, but its twin-turbo V8 doesn’t provide the same kind of high-strung audio track as Alfa’s 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, making the Italian more like watching (and listening to) classic F1, and the Merc more akin to today’s fast yet dull sounding hybrid machinery.
We also need to consider standard features and options. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio comes mostly loaded up with features, other than approximately $4k worth of add-ons, whereas the AMG GLC 63 S can be had for slightly less in base form, but the German model needs to be optioned up with more than $26k of extras to come in line with the Italian SUV. This probably makes the Stelvio Quadrifoglio the wiser choice financially, even though you probably won’t care what it costs once behind the wheel.