Lexus IS350 F Sport is a multi-talented and powerful luxury sedan
What is it?
The Lexus IS is Lexus’ answer to the likes of the Jaguar XE, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. The compact executive set. The IS brings distinctive styling, Lexus’ peerless build quality, a number of drivetrain and trim levels and relatively good value for money to this hotly contested market segment.
We’re testing the sportiest Lexus IS on sale – there’s no ISF in the latest IS line-up, remember – the Lexus IS350 F Sport.
What’s it cost?
The Lexus IS range opens with the Lexus IS200t $59,340 which is powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and concludes with the flagship Lexus IS350 Sports Luxury which is priced from $83,871 excluding on road costs and is fitted with Lexus’ lovely 3.5 litre petrol V6. A hybrid drivetrain is also available, which combines a naturally aspirated 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. The hybrid models have a CVT transmission, the other engines are paired to a conventional eight-speed automatic. Power is sent to the rear wheels in all models.
Lexus isn’t big on options, they never have been, so the way you’ll be able to really customise your IS is to choose the colour, bar the odd “Enhancement Pack.” Metallic paint adds a $1,500 premium.
The IS350 F Sport we’re driving is priced from a very reasonable $73,251, plus the metallic paint and government charges.
Don’t think they’ve scrimped on equipment. No sir. The Lexus IS350 F Sport features a Mark Levinson stereo, leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, a digital instrument cluster, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, LED headlights, a heap of airbags and much, much more. In short, you’re getting a lot of luxury, prestige and technology for your cash.
What’s it go like?
Well. Very well. The 3.5 litre V6 that lives under the IS350’s bonnet produces 233kW @ 6400rpm and 378Nm @ 4800rpm. As those figures suggest, the engine is extremely rev hungry, but it never feels infuriatingly sluggish at low engine speeds, something that can’t be said for the mental 5.0 litre V8 that powers the RCF.
And here’s the interesting thing: although the IS350 F Sport completes the 0-100km/h dash in 5.9 seconds, and the RCF blasts to 100km/h from standstill in 4.5 seconds, the IS350 feels quicker as a daily commuter. The engine feels more tractable, that automatic is quick and slick with its shifts and you never feel like you need to wring the V6’s to eke out enough performance, despite the high torque peak.
The engine is silky smooth too, with little to no vibrations making their way into the cabin and, like a number of current Lexus models, you can choose from a number of different drive modes to suit your mood, traffic conditions and driving style.
Economy Mode, for instance, shortens gear shifts and tweaks the driveline so it’s as efficient as possible. If you want to spice things up a bit, pick S+ mode, which’ll hold the gears for longer and amplify performance. We liked S+ a lot.
The only gripe we have with the engine is the noise it makes. It sounds as if Lexus has put in absolutely no effort at all into creating a throaty and alluring exhaust noise. Rather, it appears they’ve developed the engine, and as good as the power plant is, they’ve decided that “it’ll do,” and not bothered at all with exhaust noise. The end result is an exhaust note that is soulless, a little coarse and is crying out for some attitude that would match the rest of the package.
Average fuel consumption isn’t too horrific, either. Lexus quotes a figure of 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres on combined cycle. We averaged between 12 and 12.5 litres per 100 kilometres across a mix of freeway, city and sporty driving.
Handling is crisp and well-balanced. It’s not as engaging and sharp as a Jag XE, but there’s good feedback from that chunky steering wheel and turn in is always composed and at times entertaining.
Ride is generally firm, and we found that it could become a little too brittle at times, especially over poor inner city tarmac and tram tracks.
What’s it like inside?
The Lexus IS shares its dashboard with the RC, which means you get that angled centre stack, which in itself is an ergonomic joy. Everything falls to hand without taking your eyes off the road. Just as it should be. That Mark Levinson stereo will belt out your favourite tunes with unbelievable power and clarity. Your ears will fizz with joy.
Oh, that instrument cluster is rather nifty too. The digital speedo normally stays in the centre. But if you activate the satellite navigation, the dial will slide to the right, revealing another screen with nav info. Clever.
The seats are comfortable, well bolstered and supportive, and all materials are of excellent quality, both from a visual and tactile perspective.
However, while quality is excellent, too many of the switches are shared with Toyota models, which in turn degrades the car’s premium feel. And again, Lexus has opted against using a touchscreen infotainment system in the IS350.
Instead, you get a couple of shortcut buttons and a rectangular style mouse, a la Lexus RX. The infotainment system itself is easy enough to use, and a step up from the one fitted to the RC, but it would work to Lexus’ advantage to fit Apple CarPlay and Android Auto software.
Interior space is on the tight side. Yours truly enjoyed the driving position and feeling ensconced in the plush cabin. But my head often rubbed against the roof and although the backseat is designed for three, that high transmission tunnel means that it’s more likely to be the domain of two occupants, and even then head and knee room is a little limited.
What we like:
What we don’t:
- Lack of interior space
- Engine sounds dull
- Some Toyota switchgear
- Annoying infotainment system
- Ride can deteriorate over rough roads.
Sale or no sale?
Sale. The Lexus IS350 F Sport is striking to look at, pleasant to drive and decent value for money. It just lacks personality.