Lexus IS350 Review

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The Lexus IS has been redesigned, now bigger and in F-Sport guise, the most aggressive of the current Lexus lineup. The new trapezoid mesh-grille, jagged lights and trademarked LED Daytime Running Lights all signifies a more aggressive, more in-your-face Lexus. Demanding attention rather than hoping to get some after the game of Golf, the new IS is only available in a 350 engine derivative, but 3 different spec levels, E, EX and F-Sport, tested here. F-Sport would be comparable to BMW’s M-Sport and Audi’s S Line.

Engine and gearbox

Probably the biggest highlight besides the looks, and the gearbox, oh and the interior. Ok so not the biggest highlight, but damn near close, is the engine. It’s carried over from the predecessor but now produces 228kW and 375NM, and is more fuel efficient at 9.7l/100km, but I got closer to 13l/100km (more realistic).

The power and torque is a whole lot more accessible due to the new gearbox. It has silky smooth linear power delivery, and enjoys being revved. You’ll enjoy it too because the sound from the V6 is intoxicating, no thanks due to sound induction into the cabin, but I don’t really care - it sounds so good.

It really makes the whole car come alive, and sounds raw, making you forget you’re behind the wheel of an executive sedan. 0-100 it’ll smash in 5.9seconds and go on to upwards of 250km/h easily.

The gearbox is a massive, nay, gargantuan improvement on the previous unit. The new auto 8-Speed Sports Direct Shift box is superb. Left to do its own thing, shifts are effortless and smooth, but into Sport it will downshift before it senses a corner and hold that gear.

Even further, in manual with the paddles, shifts are quick and engage with a solid shunt. It’s a superb unit that brings the most out of this V6.

Drive and handling

Like the BMW and Audi, there are driving modes available, but in the Lexus they are standard. Eco, for a laugh at economical driving in a V6. Normal, Sport and Sport+, where the latter dials out the traction control and allows a lovely bit of oversteer if you like.

Each mode configures throttle response, steering and recalibrates engine and gearbox. It can take the IS from cruiser to full throttle 335i-eater in no time. It’s not as composed as the 3series through the twisties, but about three times more involved than the A4 and C-Class.

No thanks to lighter overall frame and there’s a revised multi-link rear suspension. There’s no comparison actually. It really is head to head with the 3 series, which is a first for Lexus. The suspension is stiff, and isn’t as compliant as the BMW with its adaptive suspension, but when cornering hard it grips well, with the 18inchers biting down, and in sport mode the adaptive suspension firm’s things up even more. Jittery stabs at the accelerator mid corner and the back will happily step out.

In Sport+ mode it’ll do it and then reign it all in. A thorough bit of fun. That said, it’s not exactly as communicative at the point as the BMW, but damn near closer than ever.

Interior

So much has changed I could write a small article on the interior alone. What must be said is that there are definite LFA influences here. It’s not for everyone, and in F-sport guise it’s a leather red-hand-stitched masterpiece.

Get in and you sit lower than you’d expect; the seat wraps tight and you feel cocooned. A lot more so than the competition. It’s a good thing in the F-sport guise, but might not be so much in the EX.

Rear legroom has been slightly improved, with rear seats that now fold flat and a slightly bigger boot and thinner seat backs, which mean more knee and leg room for the rear passengers.

Some notable highlights are the snug sports seats, and for a first time for me, electrostatic switches that you just glide your finger over to change temperature, a-la smartphone. This second generation of Remote Touch interface, which uses a square “mouse” type scroller, seems to be a regression on the previous gen.

The screen looks old, it’s slow in operation and still won’t let you do anything while it moves. The screen is also not angled to the driver.

What is a phenomenal piece of tech and just overall gimmicky fun, is the rev counter and instrument binnacle. All digital, with moving bits a-la LFA. It’s such a cool party trick, and watching the dial run up and leave an imprint as you rev up is incredibly cool.

It all adds fun, sporty character to the car. Overall the interior is snug, but quality materials abound. In true Lexus form there’s more standard features than the competition can dream to give, including heated and cooled seats, performance Audio, Satellite navigation Xenon headlamps and the list goes on.

Lexus IS350 Price in South Africa

The Lexus IS 350 F-Sport goes for R553 000 and comes standard with a 4yr/100 000 warranty and ‘Distance Complete’ motorplan.

Lexus IS350 review summary

The IS now demands attention, both inside and out. The F-Sport opens it up to so many more potential buyers that I hope will go and test drive it. It has heaps of character, fun to drive, specced to the brim and exceptional value at that.

I got accosted at the pumps and at malls by all types wanting to look at this beast. This is a no brainer if you’re looking at a sport-executive sedan. It is a pity there won’t be economy and smaller engine derivatives, but South African’s appetite for Lexus models just doesn’t allow for that breadth. Audi and Mercedes step out the way, the new IS is fighting fit and aimed squarely at the 3series.

Positive

-          Engine sweet sound of V6

-          Those LFA dials

-          Engaging drive

-          Individual looks

Negative

-          Slightly tight interior

-          Ride can be a bit stiff on the F-Sport

-          The new (read old) Remote Touch Interface

-          Thirsty (dur)

Also look at:

BMW 335i AT – 225kW/400NM – R567 027

Mercedes C350 BE AT – 225kW/370NM - R540 000

Audi 3.0T FSI Quattro – 200kW/400NM – R520 000

Lexus IS350 gallery

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