EVERY luxury car brand has its own unique selling proposition that sets it apart from the competition. BMW stands for sportiness, Mercedes-Benz for comfort. As for Lexus? It’s not as easy as it seems. You have comfortable and quiet luxury cars like the ES and RX, but on the other end of the spectrum you also have a sports sedan like this Lexus IS 350 F Sport. While this isn’t a brand new vehicle, it does represent a new chapter in how the brand will standardize the distinctive driving dynamics of its vehicles.
As already mentioned, the Lexus IS 350 F Sport is not an entirely new model. Rather, it’s a bold refresh of the current third-gen IS that debuted in 2014. Still, Lexus managed to massage every single detail of the IS to make it look imposing and authoritative, especially on this F Sport model. While BMW’s large kidney grilles look controversial and out of place, the IS’s even larger spindle grille looks well integrated into the car’s overall design theme. The side and rear ends look just as good, with the short tail giving it sporty proportions, while its full-width LED taillights give it a distinct light signature at night.
If there’s one aspect that makes it clear that this IS isn’t an all-new model, it’s the interior. Aesthetically, it looks very distinctive, especially in the optional red interior and digital instruments on this F-Sport model. Material quality is surprisingly good too, although there are more scratchy hard plastics on the dashboard and door panels compared to its German rivals.
Still, most of what made Lexus interiors extremely ergonomic is there, like the ultra-precise driving position, relaxing sports seats and easy-to-use controls, although the convoluted and confusing touchpad-based Lexus Remote Touch infotainment system isn’t one of them them. After all, it can now be controlled via the touchscreen and can completely bypass the interface via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Space is good in the front, but not in the cramped rear seats. It’s even worse in the middle seat as the transmission tunnel is so large and intrusive. However, its 450-liter trunk is in the class average.
But annoyances about the cramped rear seats and convoluted infotainment system are thrown out the window once you take the Lexus IS 350 F Sport for a spin. The naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, which produces 312 hp and 380 Nm, doesn’t have the massive torque of its turbocharged German competitors, but this encourages the driver to rev the engine. As a result, you’ll find that it has the best sounding engine for its price, as all of its competitors have resorted to small turbocharged engines.
Admittedly, you don’t get the low-end boost from the Germans that often, subjectively it doesn’t feel as fast, but the listening pleasure and progressive handling more than make up for it. While steering precision isn’t quite as high as the class-standard BMW 3 Series, the IS comes remarkably close. The accompanying 8-speed automatic is a willing dance partner, too, although the Bimmer’s ZF 8-speed is still the class benchmark. Where the Lexus clearly has the edge is in handling. The IS manages to not only be sporty, but still offers the responsive ride that the brand is known for – even when the suspension is at its firmest setting. That’s not the case with the Bimmer’s taut suspension.
Otherwise, the driving experience is typical Lexus. The refinement is good though, as the IS still runs on an older platform there’s a bit more road noise compared to its German rivals. It’s not loud, mind you, but the Germans pushed ahead a bit. Chassis rigidity and high-speed stability are also excellent, as the structure has been heavily refreshed to offer more precise handling and a better ride.
On the downside, that 3.5-litre V6 engine means its fuel economy isn’t as good as its German rivals. This car averaged around 9.3-10.3 km/l, although I think it’s a small price to pay for a car that sounds so good and performs so well.
The Lexus IS 350 F Sport may not be new from the ground up, but it does usher in a new era for the Japanese luxury automaker. Despite being a sports sedan, it doesn’t compromise on the values that made Lexus famous in the first place. This is a sports sedan blessed with the so-called ‘Lexus Driving Signature’. The result is a sports sedan that’s not only fun, but relaxing and comfortable when you need it. These are values that characterize IS. If every future-oriented Lexus vehicle is developed in this way, then we have a future worth looking forward to.