2013 LEXUS IS350 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium luxury sedan
Price: $73,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 233kW/378Nm V6 petrol | 8spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.7l/100km | tested: 12.2l/100km
"The third time's the charm," or so they say. And for Lexus and its third-generation IS sedan, perhaps never a truer word.
Where the original IS had character and the second generation added quality, this new model builds on both and also fills the gaps between.
It's in a tough fight, the IS, particularly when lined up against the incredibly capably Euro-opposition. In Germany, they've been building sporty, luxurious mid-sizers for generations.
So, with a flash set of F Sport runners strapped on, we put Lexus's latest sporting sedan to the test.
Quality: No matter what you touch, the finishes in the IS interior are first rate. Everything feels solidly constructed and the carbon-metallic finish to the interior finishes augments the F Sport's sporting ambience.
Its close to being brilliant, but for a few small oversights. The panel above the centre vents bows slightly, the finish on the audio and climate controls differs where it shouldn’t and the hard panel around the starter button should probably be a soft touch-point.
Comfort: The grippier, lower seats of the F Sport offer a firm grip, should you get excited though bends, but aren’t difficult to climb into nor out of. There’s also a broad range of electric adjustment (but they might be a touch firm for some tastes.
In the rear, there's decent legroom, but headroom can be a bit tight. Clearing the C-pillar requires a bit of attention and shorter passengers may feel robbed of a view out.
Seating for four is no problem, but that's where the IS draws the line. Adding a centre rear-passenger isn’t as practical due to that position’s higher seat and centre tunnel intrusion.
Equipment: Standard IS range features include dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, Bi-xenon headlamps, proximity key with push button start, heated and power-folding wing mirrors, cruise control, power-adjustable front seats, sat-nav and reversing camera.
The IS 350 F Sport also gains an electrically-adjustable steering column, blind-spot monitor, sports seats, auto dimming mirrors, sports-styled bumpers, 18-inch alloy wheels and an LF-A inspired reconfigurable instrument cluster.
Standard audio consists of an eight-speaker Pioneer system and includes navigation, Bluetooth, and auxiliary connection from two USB ports. It also features Lexus Enform, a connectivity system that uses the driver's mobile phone data-connection to search for nearby petrol stations (and their fuel prices), up-to-date weather info and also nearby restaurants or stores.
Storage: Boot space measures 480 litres, and can be expanded via 60:40 folding rear seats.
In the cabin, storage spaces are limited. The glovebox and console are a decent size, but door pockets are slim and additional oddments storage is absent from the interior.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: In the luxury mid-size market, Lexus has had to aim high to keep its head above water.
Each of its competitors now offer superb sporting sedans at the top end of their respective ranges. But the IS 350 is up to the challenge, particularly in F Sport trim.
The transmission has been upgraded though, to an eight-speed auto.
With an open stretch of road the IS 350 will happily bound to the horizon, whipping to its redline while firing off crisp gear changes, particularly when in Sport and Sport + modes.
It's a rapid car in any language and makes a nice rorty note from that willing V6 when put to the whip.
Select Normal or Eco modes though and the whole package becomes gentler for daily commuting.
An incredibly tight turning circle also means the IS in a joy in tight quarters. It may not feature a self-parking system but the IS 350 is a breeze to park (though the swooping C-pillar can make over-shoulder visibility a touch tricky).
One severe issue we did find was that despite the multi-ratio gearbox, the IS 350 struggled with urban fuel consumption.
Around town the trip computer showed consumption of mid-17s and after extended freeway running our average of 12.2 l/100km was still far beyond the claimed 9.7 l/100km.
Refinement: Building vehicles of the utmost refinement has traditionally been a Lexus hallmark. With this generation of IS, that tradition is secure.
From start-up to the top of the rev-range the 3.5 litre V6 is perfectly smooth. Toward the high-end the engine really sings, with a sharp sounding induction roar that’s rather addictive.
There were a few occasions however where we noticed while gently moseying around town, that the gearbox could get a little muddled. Never rough, just hesitant about the correct ratio.
Tyre and wind noise are barely audible, making the F Sport an agreeable long-distance tourer.
Ride and Handling: With BMW’s 3 Series firmly in its sights, the IS range is light on its feet and not at all afraid to tackle a winding road. The F Sport package enhances this further with a slightly lower and firmer set-up.
Front suspension is via sophisticated double wishbones, while the rear runs a multi-link rear end. Roadholding is excellent, and although firm over small bumps, it will iron out big hits without unsettling passengers.
Braking: All IS 350 models run the same brake package, with 334mm front and 310mm rear rotors, ventilated all round. Braking performance is solid, but unlike some Euro-competitors is less catchy on initial application.
After a cycle of hard-stop tests there was no sign of degradation, with massive ability to wash off speed quickly.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety features: Standard safety features include eight airbags (driver and passenger knee, dual front, dual side and full-length curtain) as well as ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, vehicle stability control, blind spot monitor, front seatbelts featuring height adjustment and load limiting pretensioners, three point seatbelts in all positions and height adjustable head restraints.
Rear side airbags, lane departure warning and radar-guided cruise control are available as optional equipment.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km
Service costs: Service costs may vary, consult your local Lexus dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW 335i ($93,400) - If tailoring a vehicle to suit your needs is your thing, few competitors match the BMW for available options, but considering the price gulf, the standard 3 Series can look a little spartan by comparison.
There’s no doubting the 335i’s on-road prowess though, and despite slightly less power (but more torque) the BMW delivers a superior drive. (see 3 Series reviews)
Mercedes-Benz C 300 Avantgarde ($86,400) - Curiously, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t field a direct competitor to the IS 350, with the 48kW less powerful C 300 making do, though there is a more powerful coupe-only C 350.
While the Avantgarde specification adds sporting visual aggression, the overall feel is more relaxed and refined than the IS. Despite getting on in years, the interior has a more premium feel. (see C-class reviews)
Audi A4 3.0 TFSI ($93,400) - With a typically class-leading interior, and subtle but timeless styling, the A4 is much less brash than the IS range. With a 3.0 litre supercharged engine and beefy torque output the 3.0 TFSI feels swift to boot.
There’s also the security of all-wheel-drive grip. But, on a tight mountain pass, the free-revving and nimble handling of the F Sport has the edge over the Audi. (see A4 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Lexus builds vehicles of high quality, superbly finished, and well-equipped.
And, if tackling a challenging winding road is your thing, the sporting IS 350 F Sport won't disappoint.
This car puts the Euro-club on notice with sharp dynamics and a really nice six-cylinder soundtrack. A well-finished interior with added space, plus genuine premium fittings just add to the quality impression.
But, in an era where conspicuous fuel consumption is a no-no, the lack of cylinder deactivation, forced induction, or a start-stop system are telling.
Lexus may offer "best-in-class" value, but you will need to weigh that up against the consumption penalty.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- IS 250 Luxury: $55,900
- IS 250 F Sport: $64,900
- IS 250 Sports Luxury: $77,900
- IS 300h Luxury: $58,900
- IS 300h F Sport: $67,900
- IS 350 Luxury: $65,000
- IS 350 F Sport: $73,000
- IS 350 Sports Luxury: $84,000