Only two versions of Lexus’s compact luxury-sport sedan were available last year, but the total has been raised by one. Each is differentiated by its engine. In addition to a new IS 200t with a turbo four-cylinder and a carryover IS 350, an IS 300 has returned to the lineup after a decade’s absence. Offered only with all-wheel drive, the new IS 300 is meant to attract shoppers who would previously have chosen an IS 250 (which has been dropped).
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2016 Lexus IS 300 Overview
What's New for 2016
The V6 engine is new, but otherwise, the IS 300 is essentially identical to its mates: the new IS 200t and carryover IS 350. Only all-wheel drive is available, whereas the IS 200t is rear-drive and the IS 350 comes either way. Lexus's signature spindle grille has been slightly revised to look more three-dimensional, within a chrome-plated frame. An optional Premium Plus Package includes a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers.
Choosing Your Lexus IS 300
Although the all-wheel-drive IS 300 occupies the middle point of the trio, its new 3.5-liter V6 engine has considerably less power than the same-size V6 in the IS 350. At 255 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, delivered from 2,000 to 4,800 rpm, it’s not much more potent than the new turbocharged four-cylinder in the rear-drive IS 200t. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission. Fuel economy is estimated at 19 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway (21 mpg combined), which is exactly the same as the estimate for the more powerful IS 350 AWD.
All-wheel drive was developed to respond to road conditions, varying the front/rear torque ratio from 30:70 to an even 50:50. Electronic power steering is derived from the larger Lexus GS sedan. A Drive Mode Select system has four modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, and Snow. Like the other IS models, the IS 300 can be fitted with an F Sport package.
Priced at $39,700, the all-wheel drive IS 300 has standard equipment similar to other members of the IS trio. Included are 10 airbags, leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton start, and power front seats. High-intensity-discharge headlights are standard, along with LED daytime running lights, a moonroof, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The Display Audio system provides HD radio with traffic and weather updates, as well as Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity.
Options include a pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a power rear sunshade, intuitive parking assist, a heated steering wheel, and a backup camera. Premium, Premium Plus, Luxury, Navigation, and Navigation/Mark Levinson audio packages are available. Lexus's navigation system features a Remote Touch Interface system (essentially, a point-and-click controller).
For an additional $2,145, the F Sport adds an adaptive variable suspension system with Sport S and Sport S+ modes. Lexus claims that its “deeper and more aggressive” styling, front and rear, yields a “more sporting personality,” even though performance changes little. Standard equipment includes different wheels, a perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum pedals, black headliner, projector LED headlights, backup camera, and heated/ventilated front seats. Instruments were inspired by gauges used in the Lexus LFA supercar.
Compared to the new IS 200t with its turbocharged engine, or the more potent IS 350, it’s hard to make a compelling case for the IS 300. The exception would be shoppers who emphatically favor all-wheel drive, but don’t need or want the additional power of an IS 350. If the F Sport is tempting, remember that it doesn’t affect performance, except for adding an adaptive suspension. Most F Sport extras are cosmetic in nature, or deliver greater comfort.