As recently as the 1990s, BMW’s 3 Series had a lock on the compact sport sedan segment. Audi and Mercedes-Benz had their A4 and C-Class, but there was no true competition from Japan until Lexus came up with its IS sedan in 1999.
Eighteen years later, the IS is in its third generation, this 2017 model getting revised styling that includes a new front bumper with large air intakes that frame a revised spindle grille. LED headlights are now standard across the line, and there are restyled taillights and rectangular exhaust tips at the rear.
Lexus says a new “hairline” dashboard finish looks and feels better, and an analog clock also helps class up the joint.
As before, the IS 350 uses a 3.5L V6 identical in displacement to that in the IS 300 but generating 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, 51 hp and 41 lb-ft more than the IS 300. But just like that lesser model, the IS 350 gets standard AWD and a six-speed automatic transmission.
The German competition has fully embraced turbocharging in cars like the BMW 340i and Mercedes-AMG C 43 to crank out more power (320 hp in the BMW and 362 from the Benz). But Lexus isn’t alone in its steadfast commitment to naturally-aspirated V6s; the Cadillac ATS can be had with a 3.6L, and like that car, the IS 350 is a small car with a lot of motor under the hood. This Lexus’ acceleration isn’t breathtaking, but it is impressive and leaves little to be desired; if you want more, your next step is the IS F, with its V8.
As strong as the IS’ straight-line performance is, there’s not much steering feel, meaning there are better cars for flat-out corner carving. But as an everyday car as good at commuting as 7/10ths backroad driving, there’s little to complain about here.
Fuel consumption estimates are 12.6/9.2 L/100 km (city/highway).
For a starting price of $53,350, the IS 350 comes standard with an F Sport Series II package that’s optional elsewhere in the IS line. That includes an adaptive variable suspension, huge 10.3-inch infotainment display, heated and ventilated front seats, sunroof, backup camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, auto-dimming side mirrors, 18-inch wheels, a slick digital and reconfigurable gauge cluster and a heated steering wheel.
The first option is an Executive Package that adds $1,000 to the price and adds navigation, a 15-speaker stereo, driver’s seat memory, power-adjustable steering column power rear window sunshade and front and rear parking sensors to the features list.
And an F Sport Series III package combines the look of the Series II group with the 15-speaker stereo and the rear sunshade.