Dethroning the Teutonic trio of luxury sedans has proved difficult for luxury brands. The 2019 Lexus IS brings a few traditional Lexus virtues to its aid: excellent features, safety, subtle but appealing styling, and strong value. In the end, however, the IS is let down by its powertrains and architecture.

Best Value

Usually value comes in the form of a lower trim, but not so with the IS. The engines and transmissions of the IS 300 aren’t as dialed-in as those of the sportier IS 350. In fact, the IS makes for compelling value in its top trim: the IS 350 F Sport. The engine is a gem, a 3.5-liter V6 pumping out 311 horsepower. It’s best in rear-wheel-drive form with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The IS 350 F Sport includes adaptive dampers, a limited-slip differential, and a performance driving mode. It's a few thousand dollars cheaper than an equivalent BMW 340i and a reasonable entry point into the world of luxury sport sedans. It’s not quite as dynamic as the Germans, but handling is still sharp, and the IS will likely hold its value better.

Lexus’ options list can get pricey, so we’d keep things simple:

  • Model:2019 Lexus IS 350 F Sport
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Output:311 hp / 277 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain:Rear-wheel drive
  • MPG:20 City / 28 Hwy
  • Options: None
  • Base Price:$46,150 (including the $1,025 destination fee)
  • Best Value Price:$46,150

Performance

Lexus IS

The primary virtue of the Lexus IS is handling. The steering is smooth and direct, and the suspension is pleasantly firm. The short wheelbase is a little less dependable on rough pavement, but it makes up for it with agility. The IS offers three distinct engine configurations, and two are strong. The IS 350’s 311-horsepower V6 is the best of the bunch, but the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the rear-wheel drive IS 300 is powerful enough for most.

Paired with the smaller engine, however, the eight-speed automatic transmission is easily confused. The all-wheel-drive IS 300 is worse, employing a detuned version of the V6 with 260 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque. It requires heavy revving, and the six-speed transmission is even less sophisticated. Fuel economy is disappointing as well – the rear-wheel-drive IS 300 is the cleanest at an EPA-estimated 21 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway, and 24 combined. Especially compared to rivals with hybrid and diesel options, the IS lags behind the pack.

Style

The exterior of the IS has some compelling elements, most notably the athletic stance and smooth shaping curves, but the interior is even better, where a high beltline and a tiered dashboard let you know it means business. Seats are firm and supportive, and the materials feel deserving of the premium price tag. Base features are strong, including active safety tech that helped the 2019 IS to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick award.

The sour spot is an infotainment system that feels dated against modern rivals. The mouse-like controls are frustrating, and even more perplexing, the system is compatible with Amazon Alexa but neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto. The rear seat resembles a coupe more than a sedan, with minimal leg and shoulder room. And while the exterior shape is pleasing enough, the front end struggles to integrate Lexus’ loud spindle grille.

The Best and Worst Things

A Lexus with precise handling is a force to be reckoned with, but we can’t overlook the dated infotainment system and cramped cabin.

Right For? Wrong For?

Lexus IS

The Lexus IS will suit drivers looking for a luxury sedan that prioritizes value. The engines and technology still aren’t as compelling as the Germans, but the Lexus is luxurious, safe, and cheaper at a given trim level. As long as you don’t routinely have to carry four adults, the Lexus is a pleasant companion.

Drivers who like the latest and greatest may still be disappointed. The IS can’t offer modern efficiency or even a modern infotainment system, and the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz still have more options and a more polished package.

The Bottom Line

The 2019 Lexus IS makes a valiant effort at one-upping the competition, and it nearly succeeds. Value is strong, and the handling is a surprising standout, especially in F Sport form. But a narrow cabin, elderly infotainment system, and thirsty powertrains prevent the IS from fulfilling its mission. It might be right for some drivers, but for now the establishment reigns supreme.