Lexus has been producing luxury sport sedans for quite some time, and the IS 350 is a member of the three-model compact group. Promising plush comforts as well as sporty road behavior, this V6-powered four-door competes against the BMW 335i, which essentially dominates the compact sport sedan category. With the IS sedans, Lexus strives to meld traditional luxury values with a more youthful aura. Lexus added the other two versions for 2016: the rear-drive IS 200t with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and a revived IS 300 with all-wheel drive. The IS 350 comes with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
What's New for 2017
Formerly optional, the Lexus Safety System is now standard on all IS models, including a pre-collision system, lane departure alert with steering assist, “intelligent” high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert remains optional. Appearance changes for the IS 350 include a new grille and revised bumpers and lighting. Cupholders have been modified, and the navigation system carries a larger touchscreen.
Choosing Your Lexus IS 350
Both the basic IS 350 and its performance-oriented F Sport sibling contain a 3.5-liter V6 that develops 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive (with six-speed automatic) is an option. Fuel economy is estimated at 19 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway (22 mpg combined) with rear-drive. The highway figure drops to 26 mpg (21 mpg combined) with all-wheel drive.
Both transmissions include paddle shifters, and the eight-speed gets G-force Artificial Intelligence that aims to “choose gears intuitively,” according to Lexus. 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.
Priced at $42,345 (destination charge included), the rear-drive IS 350 has 10 airbags, leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton start, and power front seats. Those seats are heated in all-wheel-drive models. LED headlights now are standard, along with LED daytime running lights, a sunroof, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The Display Audio system features a 7-inch screen and provides HD radio with traffic and weather updates, as well as Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity. Lexus Enform Safety Connect telematics (for crash response and concierge services) is included.
The standard Driver Mode Select system has Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. All-wheel drive also includes a Snow mode, and adds $2,165 to the IS 350 price.
Options include intuitive parking assist, a heated steering wheel, and a backup camera. Premium, Premium Plus, Luxury, Navigation, and Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio packages are available. The navigation system features a Remote Touch Interface system (essentially, a point-and-click controller) and includes a new 10.3-inch multimedia screen.
Differences between the basic IS 350 and the $45,500 F Sport are largely cosmetic, but the “F” does add an adaptive variable suspension system with Sport S and Sport S+ modes. Styling is considered to be more aggressive and sporty, led by a distinctive grille and front fascia, even though performance changes little. Standard equipment includes a perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum pedals, a black headliner, twin projector LED headlights, a backup camera with dynamic grid lines, and heated/ventilated front seats. Instruments were inspired by the gauges used in the Lexus LFA supercar, and an intake sound generator is included.
Choosing which IS to buy is mainly a matter of picking one of three engines, and deciding whether all-wheel drive makes sense. Options tend to be bundled into packages, which can send the total price of an IS 350 into more difficult financial territory. If you're tempted by the F Sport package, remember that it doesn’t change the IS 350 nearly as much as its racier exterior might suggest. Little changes mechanically, except for the addition of an adaptive suspension.