The first thing that you need to know about the IS350 F Sport is that it’s not a Lexus in the traditional sense. Lexus has always been a luxury brand with a strong focus on quality, reliability, and yes, dullness. That last point is where the new IS350 F Sport breaks the trend. Unlike Lexus’s of the past, its trump cards have little to do with docility and restraint. No, instead this is a Lexus that shouts about its business.
Nowhere else is this more evident than in the styling. The IS forgoes the understated elegance angle of its luxury car competitors and instead goes for an edgy, aggressive, even polarizing look that’s sure to grab attention. It’s not what I’d call stylish, but there’s no question, it certainly is striking.
The bold theme continues inside, where you’ll find futuristic touch-sensitive controls, body-hugging sport seats, and some cool LFA supercar-inspired details like a side-sweeping tach/speedo gauge and a sharp looking center-stack. Everything looks and feels like typically high Lexus quality, and there’s plenty of room for four to sit comfortably. My only complaint is the mouse-like controller for the center display screen, which is far more fidgety and distracting to use than the rotary-style controllers found in many competitor models. I generally avoided using it on the go by using the centre-stack and steering wheel buttons.
The one control I did find myself using, however, was the one for the various drive modes and the adaptive variable suspension. Along with the many nice interior touches, this features comes as part of the F Sport package. At the touch of a button, the IS350 can go from a refined, luxurious cruiser, to a sharp, corner carving sports sedan. In Sport S+ mode, everything about its controls, from the steering, to the brakes, to the suspension damping, feel incredibly well tuned for aggressive driving. Go back to normal mode, however, and everything is dialed down just a notch to a level that make congested city commutes feel like pleasurable experiences.
The IS350’s 3.5L V6 engine, and the pleasantly smooth punch it delivers, is a joy as well. Even though it lacks the fancy turbocharging and engine start/stop technology offered in some rivals to achieve high levels of performance mixed with respectable fuel efficiency, I find its lack of complexity refreshing. It may not be the most powerful or the most fuel efficient engine in its class, but the less complicated design should serve it better from a long-term reliability and cost of repair standpoint. Same goes for the entry-level IS250 and its less powerful 2.5L V6.
What the IS350 feels like is an arguably better alternative to the sports sedan benchmark, the BMW 3-Series, which is high praise indeed. It manages to pull off that once unmatchable 3-Series skill of combining luxury car refinement and serenity with sports car-like precision and dynamic ability. All of the gadgets one would expect from a luxury ride are offered, including a desirable all-wheel drive option. And it’s priced to match, and even slightly undercut, its German rivals. The fact that it offers all of this while boasting Lexus quality and reliability is the icing on the cake. In the past, the IS, like most Lexus models, was merely the safe but subdued choice of its class. Now it’s the smart choice.
Shari Prymak holds Bachelor degrees (BSc and BEd) from the University of Toronto and York University respectively. He has published over one hundred articles on many aspects of the automobile industry. His work has appeared on automobile websites as well as in consumer oriented newsletters. As well as working in print and the internet, Shari has hosted, and been interviewed on, programs on both television and radio. His expertise on the auto industry has been sought by major newspapers, such as The Globe and Mail. As a member of the Car Help Canada team, Shari’s experience as an automobile expert has also helped countless consumers with many aspects of automobile ownership.