|Lexus refreshed its D-segment sport sedan for 2017, with this IS 350 AWD F Sport looking most aggressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
This latest IS was introduced in 2013 as a 2014 model, and thanks to dramatic styling and dynamic performance has garnered more fans than ever before. This year marks the current third-gen’s mid-cycle update, which includes subtly reworked
|New taillight lenses and a blacked out bumper cap add flair to the rear end. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The checkmark LED driving lights remain unchanged, but the headlamps above truly catch the eye as they get a totally new design with an upgraded inner assembly, whereas the LED taillights are identically shaped yet receive new lenses and innards. A reworked lower fascia incorporates a new matte black diffuser style bumper cap and new angular tailpipes, this latter upgrade winning my wholehearted approval.
|These standard LED headlights are completely new. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
My tester’s F Sport package is the Series 2 version, which is optional on lesser IS models and comes standard with the $53,350 IS 350. It boasts the previously noted styling enhancements as well as unique 18-inch alloys on 225/40 front and 255/35 rear tires, an adaptive variable suspension, an LFA supercar-inspired fully configurable colour TFT primary gauge cluster, a heatable three-spoke F Sport perforated leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, an F Sport shift knob, scuff plates,
|F Sport trim adds a unique front fascia with glossy black trim and stylish 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Other features pulled up from lesser trims include aluminum sport pedals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, filtered dual-zone auto climate control, a reverse camera with active guidelines, eight-way powered front seats, rear seat heater ducts, all the usual active and passive safety features, and more.
Of note, standard with all IS trims for 2017 are LED headlamps with automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers, dynamic radar cruise control, and other Lexus Safety
|These new lenses are sharp looking up close and even better at night. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Not safety related, unless trying to find your way, sorting out the optimal driving position, or getting the sun off the necks of rear passengers, my Atomic Silver painted
|The IS interior is both better and worse than its German rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
All of this impressive kit comes in a cabin that should mostly appeal to premium buyers, with some details better finished than its German peers and others not quite measuring. The nice parts are the soft synthetic dash top and even plusher padded leatherette with real contrast stitching over the primary instrument hood, plus the soft touch door uppers front and back, the pliable composite filling in the space above the comfortable contrast-stitched armrests too, with the same upscale treatment flowing down the sides of the centre stack. The less optimal parts are the hard shell plastic lower door panels, rigid lower instrument panel, and worst of all, the hard plastic glove box lid. Then again, if you look above the waistline it’s all top tier stuff.
|The upgraded F Sport cockpit certainly looks ready for road and track. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Lexus remote touch interface gets nice leatherette contrast-stitched padding like the armrest, but it’s the old style joystick design
|This fully configurable TFT gauge cluster is inspired by Lexus’ LFA supercar. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
On that note I’m always fascinated by how different the Canadian market is from our friends to the south. We speak the same language (accents and colloquialisms aside), watch most of the same TV shows
|There’s a lot going on with the IS’ centre stack. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Canadians tend to like hatchbacks, wagons and minivans more than Americans, and when we opt for four-door sedans we lean more towards smaller sport models than larger luxurious ones. Take Lexus, for instance. In the U.S. the mid-size front-wheel drive ES has long been one of the most popular luxury sedans in existence, more than doubling IS sales in 2012 and selling tens of thousands more
|The large horizontal display is excellent, allowing the use of multiple functions at once. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Last year Lexus Canada sold 3,033 IS series sedans compared to 2,153 ES models, whereas the year prior it found 3,401 customers for the IS compared to 2,305 for the ES. The IS’ best year was 2014 when it sold 3,945 units, while you’ll need to go way back to 2007 to find the ES’ best sales results of 4,251 deliveries.
While I like the ES 350 and its ES 300h hybrid counterpart, my feelings are more lukewarm than anything approaching fiery hot. It’s an excellent car from a mid-size family sedan perspective, but exactly how much better it is than any of the large
|Love this analogue clock. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Perhaps Kia’s upcoming Stinger will measure up, but for the time being we can only draw comparison to D-segment sport-luxury car leaders like BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes’ C-Class, Audi’s A4, Acura’s TLX, Infiniti’s Q50, Cadillac’s ATS, Volvo’s S60, Jaguar’s XE, Alfa Romeo’s new Giulia, and Genesis’ upcoming G70. In this way it’s a true premium product, unlike the ES that only really competes with Lincoln’s MKZ and Buick’s Regal or LaCrosse in the near-premium sector.
|The six-speed auto is a bit of a technological letdown, although it swaps gears well enough and should be dependable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
I don’t necessarily want you to read performance into that last comment, as the Q50 is now the get-up-and-go leader amongst Japanese entries when kitted out in top trim. That would be the 400 horsepower Q50 Red Sport 400 that crushes the top-line 290 horsepower TLX as well as this top-tier 306 horsepower IS 350, especially now that the aforementioned V8-powered IS F is no longer part of Lexus’ “F” performance branded lineup.
|Time to move on from this first-gen Remote Touch Interface. A touchscreen anyone? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
To keep you from bothering me with emails, the quickest non-Quadrifoglio Giulia produces 276 horsepower, the fastest non-Polestar S60 puts out 302, the speediest non-V ATS manages 335, the sportiest G70 produces 365, and the hottest XE maxes out at 380; I’m not even going to go into the M3 and V8-powered AMG. So, to make a short story long, the IS 350 doesn’t pull in its buyers on performance alone.
|As usual, Lexus’ sport seats are excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
To get the most out of the drivetrain, look down at the nice metal dial resting just behind the traditional gear lever and rotate it all the way to the right, from Eco, past Sport, to Sport+ mode. A simple press downward selects normal mode, for later. You can choose to turn the traction and stability control off too, but that’s only recommended if you’re skilled at performance driving. So set, my IS 350 AWD F Sport responded to throttle input by appropriately lighting up pavement at takeoff, the smaller than expected rubber grippy enough thanks to the all-wheel drivetrain,
|The rear seats are plenty comfortable while there should be enough room in back for most. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
It’s actually a fairly sporty transmission, at least compared to the Acura TLX’ new nine-speed that can truly be defined as a slushbox, but its three fewer forward gears hamper fuel economy with the IS 350 AWD’s claimed rating a rather ho-hum 12.6 L/100km city, 9.2 highway and 11.0 combined compared to that similarly potent V6-powered AWD competitor’s 11.2 city, 7.5 highway, and 9.6 combined estimate.
|Trunk space is cramped, even for this smaller D-segment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
|The seatbacks fold in the usual 60/40 configuration, but others offer a centre pass-through. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
In Lexus’ corner is reliability, the brand still number one on J.D. Power’s 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study, although take note the IS doesn’t rate in its Compact Premium
|This top-line 3.5-litre V6 gives up best-in-class performance for good reliability. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
That pretty well sums up the entire car. The IS 350 AWD F Sport could be better in many respects, but it’s still a very good sport sedan that’s deserving of your attention. It’s not the car Lexus needs to dethrone the top three Germans, but more importantly it plays well into the Japanese brand’s core strengths of comfort and dependability, while providing plenty of over-the-top style for those who enjoy turning heads.
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