There’s a little Jekyll and Hyde going on at Lexus.
Does the brand want to be that same trusted conservative luxury purveyor the pampered have learned to love?
Or does it want to throw off the kidskin gloves, and take on the Europeans in the performance pantheon?
Does the Lexus IS350 F Sport Sprechen the Lingo?
Well, you get the intent from the exterior design. Hard to believe it’s been with us since 2013, the IS really still looks fresh, and aggressive. For 2017, all IS models get kicked up a notch, with a redesigned front end with an even more pronounced spindle grille, large air intakes, more sculpting on the hood and standard LED headlamps. To give the F Sport more look-at-me, it builds on this with a revised rear bumper.
It’s all tight, cut lines here, and the IS350 F Sport looks taut, muscled and aggressive. And a bit more compact to be honest. Our tester’s snarly bits were nicely contrasted with a tasteful Atomic Silver color. It looks like a quality piece, and the fit and finish is as you’d expect from Lexus – stellar.
It’s not for everybody, and clearly the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C went a more conservative route. But we’re happy to have choices that get our juices flowing from first sight.
Inside, the IS is once again familiar, and that’s mostly good. The excellent starts with superb sport front seats that are best in class – given you’re not too broad in the beam. The design here feels focused on the drive, with the smaller exterior creating cozy quarters – the rear seats are tighter than on the larger Europeans.
Rest your eyes on the instrument panel and the good times continue. Under its deep little cowl, the gauges are clearly focused for the task of driving. It has a neat little party trick – tapping a button glides the tach over, and reveals an additional display for stuff like navi, audio, settings etc. It’s fighter-pilot cool.
When not ogling the display, a new 10.3-inch center screen also ups viewability – a good thing.
We’re more luke-warm about the mouse-like controller for the infotainment system. It sounds good in theory, but in practice its fidgety and fussy, and hard to place. Luckily, Lexus gives you traditional knobs for the audio system and climate control, so all is not lost.
OK, but does Liebchen deliver the goods?
Hold on to your strudel, because this is where the IS350 F Sport gets good. Under the hood is a 3.5-liter, V6 that kicks out 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, and it’s a honey, with a deep, smooth powerband that sounds particularly throaty as it climbs the rpm range. It may not be the fastest in class, but it is one of the most satisfying to drive.
Backing up the V6 is a smooth and responsive 8-speed automatic, which seems to enjoy being in Sport S mode and constantly taunts you to lean into the accelerator and enjoy the big V6.
But that chunky steering wheel isn’t just there to keep you pointed straight ahead, the IS350 is handler in the old-school BMW tradition, with nice feel, a quick steering ratio, and precision that the Bavarian brand is only now seeming to find after being lost in the Black Forest for a generation.
Also like the Bimmers of yore, the suspension is always competent and controlled whether in softer settings or more aggressive Sport S and Sport S+ – they’re all good. In the sportier settings, the IS feels hunkered down, and while the rolling stock is not huge, you feel like you’ve got a lot of wheel and tire underneath you, and it builds up linearly with great grip and feedback.
Again, it may not be the fastest in its class, but one of the most satisfying.
Pop back into daily commuter mode, and the IS is notably comfortable, but never numb – it always wants to remind you that a great drive is waiting for you.
Tempting. Anything else I should know?
Well, if you love a good bargain like the rest of us, you might be thinking a CPO IS350 would give tremendous bang for the buck. So, Lexus sweetens the deal to keep you buying new.
Along with the exterior styling updates and some interior upgrades, Lexus has made their Safety System+ standard for 2017, which includes Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam and High-speed Adaptive Cruise Control.
Also, because of the well-earned reputation for reliability and durability, the IS350 seem to hold value exceptionally well. (We looked…)
On the bright side, a new IS350 is a pretty good value proposition to start with. The IS350 starts at $41,370. The F-Sport suite of goodness adds $3,155, our tester had the navigation system with the 15-speaker, 825-watt Mark Levinson audio system for $2,815, the Blind Spot Monitor with rear cross traffic alert ($600) and a couple smaller items, and totaled out at $48,555.
Comparison to the 6-cylinder BMW 340i is a natural, and the BMW starts at a competitive sounding $47,900 – but comparably equipped, it rocketed up to $56,000. Building a 330i with the turbo 4-cylinder comes in around $50,000, so we’d have to say the Lexus is a lot of vehicle or the money, putting sweet 6-cylinder goodness in your garage for the same price a Bavarian turbo-four.
And if all that seems pricey, Lexus has its own turbo four, the 200t, that starts at just under $38,000.
So, the IS350 F Sport does have a bit of a split personality – but it’s a good thing.
You get all the Lexus goodness you’d expect with the Euro drive experience enthusiasts crave. A benchmark car for the class, and highly recommended.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.