Photography: Courtney Carra
The 2007-14 Lexus IS-F is the Japanese automaker’s BMW fighter; aimed directly at the M3, the IS-F is the first true Japanese muscle car, touted to make 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft of torque from its 2UR-GSE 5.0-liter V8 powerplant nestled snugly within the IS chassis. There’s plenty of performance packed into the platform, and as the aftermarket has gotten a handle on the engine tuning – and produced a variety of performance parts – the IS-F has become sought-after within the import performance community.
One area where the IS-F benefits greatly from the aftermarket’s influence is the aforementioned engine calibration area, and when coupled with well-thought-out exhaust improvements, the gains seen on the dyno – and by the butt-o-meter – are substantial and grin-inducing.
This particular IS-F showed up at Gear One Performance in West Chester, PA, with an eye on a package developed by IS-F specialist and engineer Rafi Raban of RR-Racing.
Care is taken to protect all painted surfaces.
The package includes a set of PPE big-tube headers, which help to uncover a large performance enhancement; this improvement is vastly increased by the ECU calibration provided by RR-Racing. This pairing of components from RR-Racing is sold as a package, with Gear One Performance tapped as the installing shop in the PA/NY/NJ/DE area.
The Gear One Performance install team, led by Tom Lang, set about installing the pipes to go with one of Raban’s remapped engine control units before heading to the dyno, and Front Street Media was there to document the process.
One of the most popular upgrades for IS-F owners is the RR Racing Ultimate Steering Response System (USRS), consisting of a bushing & housing system designed to eliminate dynamic alignment changes of the front suspension under cornering and braking. To further improve handling, RR-Racing – working in conjunction with Penske Racing Shocks – has developed a double-adjustable race-derived coilover suspension that is equally capable and comfortable on the street.
The Parts Details
Prior to selecting the PPE Engineering headers for his power package, Raban evaluated the available products on the market to determine which best fit his purposes to provide his customers with the power gains they expect.
The PPE headers have a larger tubing diameter when compared to the stock cast-iron manifolds. By optimizing tubing length and joining all four ports into a 15-degree parallel merge collector, exhaust gas flow is improved. A merge spike is also welded into the collector to promote better airflow and reduce turbulence, and direct the exhaust flow to the center of the collector, which helps to develop better port scavenging.
The headers are constructed from mandrel-bent 16-gauge tubing, which is TIG-welded to the cylinder head flange with silicon bronze filler rod to reduce the chance of distortion during the welding process. This helps to ensure that the headers fit properly when they are removed from the jig.
The steering shaft must be removed to gain enough clearance to remove the factory manifolds.
Both cylinder head and outlet flanges are 3/8-inch thick to provide a solid sealing surface; the head flanges are sanded flat after the headers are constructed, while the head-to-pipe connection area is ported to ensure there are no restrictions. The headers are delivered with new Lexus 60mm outlet gaskets and a dipstick relocation bracket.
Optional weld-in high-flow stainless-steel catalysts are available; off-road pipes are also available, as used in this application. The standard header finish is a polished ceramic coating, and they can also be ordered with an optional black ceramic finish.
Tuning up the ECU is a breakthrough that Rafi Raban is very proud of; RR-Racing, in conjunction with Fabspeed Motorsports’ Steve Pearson, is the very first company to have cracked the IS-F engine management system.
Here you can see where the steering shaft has been marked – a corresponding mark is on the shaft itself.
“Since its introduction in 2008, the Lexus IS-F has had a strong following, but ultimately the inability to tune the ECU left many Lexus enthusiasts switching to other brands,” says Raban.
“Tuning and making additional power out of a modern naturally-aspirated V8 is a challenge, as modern engine management systems are highly advanced and able to optimize engine parameters under a wide range of conditions. By understanding the complex control strategies for the IS-F’s direct and port fuel injection systems, variable cam timing, fueling, ignition, and knock control strategies, RR-Racing has pushed the IS-F’s Yamaha-built 2UR-GSE V8 to the magic 100 horsepower per liter mark.”
PPE header on the left, restrictive factory manifold on the right.
Of particular note during the mapping process is intimate control of the direct and port injection systems, along with the various ignition control strategies. The IS-F has ignition maps for base, cam timing, and knock correction, each of which must be managed down to the smallest level in order to provide rock-solid drivability.
The IS-F’s 2UR-GSE engine also has independent variable camshaft timing for both intake and exhaust camshafts, which Raban has developed to provide the largest increases without hindering stop-and-go, real-world performance. In addition, he’s been able to enhance the throttle response by working out the details of mapping the torque to throttle settings.
By performing each of these steps during the remapping process, RR-Racing is able to offer the IS-F community a smooth, linear power curve, which has excellent mid- and upper-RPM power improvement.
Removing the cat-back exhaust from under the car in one piece.
Install Pitfalls And Notes
The team at Gear One – in their partnership with RR-Racing – has worked with these products multiple times on the IS-F, and has figured out all of the installation challenges that are encountered in the process.
“The biggest thing to worry about is marking the location of the steering shaft on the steering rack, since that has to come out,” says Lang.
“We lock the steering wheel inside the car to make sure it doesn’t move around while we’re working underneath the car. After the headers are installed, lining up the dipstick tube can also be tricky. We use two people, one underneath the car and one on top. You have to snake the tube through the header, and make sure it seats, but you can’t see it. You have to feel for it, and make sure you don’t nick the O-ring in the process.”
Oxygen sensors are prone to freezing into the bung; a liberal application of penetrating oil is applied prior to removal.
In order to install the headers, the rear four mounting studs on both sides of the engine need to be removed – the fit of the headers is so tight in the engine bay that the flanges can’t sneak past the studs during the install process. Remember, the non-F IS model of this vintage is fitted with a physically-smaller four-cylinder engine, which offers much more bay clearance than the 5.0-liter V8 in the IS-F. In fact, Lang says that the majority of the header installation is done with quarter-inch ratchets and sockets.
“You can’t see where you’re going, so you need to feel for those holes, and feel that you’re threading the studs in without crossthreading – and then torque the studs into place. Torque wrenches are bulky, so it’s a challenge,” says Lang.
At this point, the Gear One gang has the header install down about six hours – if nothing goes wrong.
But there are other concerns to be aware of during the process.
“The IS-F is prone to frozen oxygen sensors, so that always presents another potential issue in that we need to try to get them out to get the customer home – a lot of our IS-F customers are coming from New York and elsewhere,” says Lang.
In this case, header wrap is applied to protect the sensitive underhood components.
“We’re working through what the common failure points on this car are; it’s not very common, and there isn’t a lot of information out there about them – there are very few shops that do performance work on the IS-F.”
Although the headers are constructed from stainless material, Gear One wraps them with two-inch-wide Titanium header wrap from DEI.
“The clearances are so tight, making sure you wrap the runners isn’t necessarily a performance thing in my mind. There are so many sensitive components that you just don’t want to melt, making sure there’s a good solution for heat shielding is a must,” says Lang.
To access the bottom side of the engine bay, the subframe must be removed from the car. While this part of the process isn’t terribly difficult, Lang says that care must be taken when reinstalling everything, as the rear bushing for the front control arm also locates the subframe within the chassis. There are two bolts on each side here.
Every bolt on the subframe should be started, but not locked down, to help align the subframe within the chassis. If any of the fasteners are locked down before they are all in position, it can present issues with wheel alignment once the header installation is complete.
As far as wheel alignment goes, Lang says that the IS-F has toe adjustments front and rear; the alignment is straightforward unless the vehicle is lowered with camber arms.
The install of the PPE tubular headers and RR-Racing remapped engine control unit provided this customer with improved underhood aesthetics and, most importantly, a performance improvement that can truly be felt, every time the throttle is tickled. This unassuming IS-F is ready to go hunting for new M3 victims.
The dyno results shown above are from a similar IS-F, which has RR-Racing’s tuned intake also installed. RR-Racing says gains of 60-70 horsepower over stock are possible with the PPE headers, remapped ECU, and their Bazooka exhaust installed.