As Lexus's entry-level sedan model, the IS goes after the same buyers who might visit BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz showrooms to look at the 3 Series, A4 or C-Class, respectively. By all rights, it's an excellent car that nonetheless can't touch the German cars for popularity despite recently gaining a four-cylinder engine option to better match those cars choice-for-choice.
The news for 2018 is minor but also a bit confusing: The entry grade model gets a name change from IS 200t (a name that reflected the car's four-cylinder engine) to IS 300, a designation shared with a mid-grade that uses a V6.
So the car's engine and drivetrain choices are exactly the same as they were before: the new base IS 300 uses a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive.
Next up is the IS 300 AWD with its 3.5L V6 (260 hp; 236 lb-ft), six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Finally, the IS 350 AWD shares its powertrain with the IS 300 AWD but boasts more power, its engine being rated at 311 hp and 277 lb-ft.
The IS's name change follows a move away from basing model names on engine displacement. It's an approach that was made famous by BMW in past decades, but one that will soon be irrelevant when displacement-less electric vehicles become mainstream. What Lexus has done here is group two models with similar performance levels together under one name, something we expect to see more of in the near future.
What we like about the IS is its sharp driving feel and, in the IS 350 model specifically, fantastic power delivery. There isn't the same kind of low-end thrust you get from the turbo six-cylinders available in the 3 Series or C-Class, but the amped-up Lexus 3.5L delivers its power in a pleasingly linear fashion. On the downside, the IS's interior is quite tight, so if you're a driver (or passenger) of a certain size, you will want to spend some time in this car to make sure you don't feel too cramped.
The IS 300 RWD and AWD models come standard with 17-inch wheels, 7.0-inch touchscreen display audio system with 10 speakers and satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, passive keyless entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats and more. An F Sport Series 1 package adds 18-inch wheels, aerodynamics package, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, ventilated front seats, upgraded gauge cluster, sunroof and auto-dimming side mirrors.
IS 300 AWD models can also be optioned with a Premium group that adds a heated steering plus the 18-inch wheels, ventilated seats and sunroof. There are also Luxury and F Sport Series 2 packages, which bring items like a power steering column, 10.3-inch display with remote touch interface, steerable headlights and navigation.
The IS 350 comes with much of what comes in the IS 300 AWD Luxury trim, plus a 15-speaker stereo, and power rear window sunshade. There are also F Sport Series 2 and Series 3 options offered here.
Fuel consumption estimates are 10.6/7.3 L/100 km (city/highway) for the IS 300 RWD and 12.3/9.1 for IS 300 AWD and IS 350 AWD versions.