When we are lucky, good things don’t change, much!
This week’s luxurious example is the Lexus IS350 F Sport, a certified BWM 3 Series fighter, and a near identical luxury sport sedan to one I drove two years ago, right down to the Atomic silver color.
Not much has changed, which is mostly good. If you were to look back at my previous review you’d see the same pluses and minuses, so the only downside is that the negatives have not been addressed. Still, they aren’t deal breakers.
Essentially the IS350 and BWM 325i are dimensional clones, just one reflecting the more luxurious leanings of its Japanese maker, while the German make stresses performance. Lexus began challenging the iconic BMW in 2005 as it tried to lure more young executives away from the German make with its new IS sedan.
The current model though draws a distinct line in the styling sands by delivering an edgy style that BWM would, apparently, never attempt. The Lexus boasts a big in-your-face grille and crisply creased body. As I said before the IS looks quick even as it lazes at the end of the driveway.
But make no mistake, the IS not just about super-model styling paired with a soothingly quiet interior, although it has both. The 350 is a powerhouse packing a smooth linear powertrain that consists of a 306-horse, 3.5-liter V6 with direct and port injection along with variable valve timing. Press the accelerator and the 8-speed automatic, which includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel, slickly moves the sedan to highway speeds, but without a deafening roar. This baby is civilized!
In fact, Lexus gives you four power modes, from Eco to save gas, to Sport+ boosting the V6’s revs and firming its ride and handling to be racetrack worthy. The Normal setting splits the difference between economy and power, providing the sedan plenty of oomph for daily driving. Drive modes are adjusted by a dial on the console between the front seats, plus the Eco button. There’s also a Snow button to engage in winter, giving you better starting ability when roads are slippery.
Power is no problem, nor is handling. Handling is responsive, but not overly sensitive. Steering effort is moderate to slightly on the heavy side. You can throw the IS into a corner and it’ll hug the road with no body roll, allowing you to press it as hard as you want and it’ll stay planted. The test car’s18-inch summer-rated tires deliver excellent grip too.
Those are part of a $3,155 F Sport package that dolls up the exterior and interior. Along with the tires are F Sport split 5-spoke wheels, plus a Sport front bumper and spindle grille, and F Sport suspension. Inside the package adds a fancy projected instrument cluster, heated and ventilated F Sport seats, black headliner, aluminum pedals and perforated heated and cooled leather front seats.
That sport suspension can make the IS350 fun to drive on winding and off-camber roads, but the double wishbone front suspension and rear multi-link are decidedly firm. With our roads continuing to degrade in southeast Wisconsin, the ride can become pretty stiff. Those with a delicate derriere best test drive this one before making a decision.
Braking is impressive with big discs and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, anti-locks, brake assist and stability and traction control. These make starting and stopping highly effective.
The interior is sharp, sporty and comfortable, in look and function. And I like the dark red leather seats that add style to the car’s interior. Thankfully not all black as in most sport sedans.
The aggressive F Sport performance seats offer tight-fitting back and hip bolsters that help keep you planted if pushing the car very hard on the highway. These feature multiple power adjustments with the driver getting an adjustable lumbar support. While a modest sized sedan, four adults will fit comfortably too. Legroom is somewhat modest in back, but if no one up front is too tall, that’s not a problem.
The test car’s dash was black leather with fake carbon fiber (sort of a herringbone pattern) trim on the passenger’s side and atop armrests. Other trim is matte silver, such as around the air vents. The steering wheel was a manual tilt/telescope model, a bit surprising that it was not powered at this price.
I felt too that the round wheel made for a tight squeeze getting in and out as I didn’t have the wheel at a high angle. The IS, as I’ve said before, screams for a flat-bottomed (D-shaped) steering wheel to allow more leg clearance entering and exiting.
The main dash instruments are easy to see and use, plus a button allows you to reconfigure the dash gauges into a second mode with the main speedometer moved more to the right side. I prefer the standard mid-cluster speedo, but choices are good, right?
Most dash buttons are small with moderate sized radio knobs, but my continuing complaint is the touchy mouse that controls the radio/navigation screen functions. This sits on the console near the shifter and is awkward to use while driving. Imagine playing with a mouse to click on the proper radio station, or worse yet, trying to magnify or zoom in or out on the navigation screen. Frustrating!
Long-time readers know I demand sun visors that either slide or have extenders to help block side sun. While the Lexus has thick, large visors, they still do not slide, nor include extensions. And this is a luxury car, really?
Overhead though there’s a power sunroof with shade and the car adds a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. This is a $600 add-on, and again, I’d expect this as standard equipment on a luxury sport sedan.
The audio upgrade package also adds an awesome Mark Levinson premium sound system with surround sound, 15 speakers and 835 watts of power. It rocks.
On the practical side, the Lexus has a 13.8 cubic foot trunk, good for one large and one mid-sized suitcase. Two large ones won’t fit. I tried.
For folks considering their driving costs, the Lexus IS350 gets moderate gas mileage and prefers to drink premium fuel. It’s rated at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I got 24.1 mpg in about 70% highway driving. That was a touch lower than my previous drive, but some time was spent in highway backups, thanks to all the road construction in our area.
Pricing covers a wide range.
The base IS200t starts at $38,820 and is rear-drive and features a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 making 241 horsepower. It’s rated at 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. The test car started at $41,370, plus a $995 delivery fee. With its five options, this week’s car hit $49,579. An AWD model of the IS350 also is available, starting at $44,530. Some competitors start even higher.
FAST STATS: 2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport
Hits: Excellent power w/4 drive modes, sporty precise handling, distinctive looks, plus heated/cooled seats, sunroof, big nav/radio screen and quiet interior. Full complement of safety electronics.
Misses: Stiff ride, needs D-shaped steering wheel, silly mouse-controlled nav/radio screen and visors don’t slide.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 3.5-liter VVT-i V6, 306 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 3,593 lbs.
Wheelbase: 110.2 in.
Length: 184.3 in.
Cargo: 13.8 cu. ft.
MPG: 19/28 (EPA)
MPG: 24.1 (tested)
Base Price: $41,370
Dealer’s Price: $39,469 (includes delivery)
Blind-spot monitor w/rear cross-traffic alert, heated outside mirrors, $600
F Sport package (F Sport front bumper & spindle grille, 5-spoke wheels, summer tires, TFT instrument cluster, heated/cooled front seats, F Sport seats, perforated leather steering wheel, black headliner, aluminum pedals, F Sport suspension), $3,155
Nav/Mark Levinson audio system (surround sound, 15 speakers, 835 watts,10.25-inch display, remote touch interface, Lexus Inform Destinations, app suite, voice command, Lexus Insider, auto-dimming mirror), $2,835
Body side moldings, $199
Illuminated door sills, $425
Test vehicle: $49,579
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage