Can Lexus Shoehorn A 5.0 Liter V-8 Into the Compact IS?

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Should they? Considering the performance capabilities of the current Lexus IS 350, the very idea of an IS 500 sounds a little dangerous. The 2007 Lexus IS 350 boasts 277 horsepower, and races from 0 to 60 mph in just over five seconds. The IS represents the entry level of the Lexus family, and these compact sport sedans could be described as smaller yet increasingly similar relatives of the high-performance Lexus GS series.

The IS 500 was recently spotted road testing in California’s Death Valley. A 500 badge indicates the addition of a V-8 engine that will displace five liters. This translates to a 3500 pound compact sedan powered by a larger engine than the 2006 LX 470 full size SUV. The LX’s 4.7 liter V-8 is currently the largest of any Lexus.

While it has been labeled the “500,” there has still been some dispute as to what the engine will be upon the 2008 release. The comparably enormous V-8 may be impractical for such a small sedan, as it would add considerable front end weight. This extra bulk might be difficult to counterbalance in the rear, and its nimble sport sedan handling would be compromised.

Another possibility may be the Lexus hybrid technology which can currently be found in the GS 450h sedan and RX 400h SUV. Lexus is about to utilize this power plant in the flagship LS series, and more cars are expected to follow. The GS 450h sports sedan is considerably more powerful that its gas-powered counterpart, the GS 430. The 450h has 50 additional horsepower. Thus, Lexus has demonstrated that hybrid drivers don’t have to tolerate frustrating performance.

If the next generation IS does offer a hybrid, it may use the GS 450h’s 3.5 liter V-6, which will then be boosted by an electric motor. Power delivery will be supported by a continuously variable transmission: a computer-controlled system which is freed from gear ratio limitations, allowing for smoother shifts. There is also some speculation that this engine will be paired with the LS’s new eight speed automatic transmission. The IS version will most likely include a paddle-shifter.

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