Most entry-level luxury sedans are a compromise between luxury comforts and performance attributes. The horsepower might be there, but the handling might be on the softer side to accommodate as many different tastes as possible. Lexus, however, provides a clever alternative to this compromise. The company offers two entry-level luxury sedan models, and the rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS line swings toward the performance end of the spectrum.
With its potent V6, precise steering and beautifully crafted interior, the Lexus IS 350 sedan is a compelling proposition for an entry-level luxury sedan. Earlier IS sedans were known for their cramped interiors, but the situation is much improved in the latest Lexus IS 350, making it more appealing for practical-minded consumers.
Current Lexus IS 350
The Lexus IS 350 was redesigned for 2014, as was the IS 250 (reviewed separately), and it represents the third generation of the IS sedan family. Compared with earlier IS 350s, it's a significantly larger car with more interior room and cargo space. Lexus also put greater priority on ride comfort on this IS 350, while stocking the car with a wider array of safety and tech features.
One defining element for every Lexus IS 350 is a robust 3.5-liter V6 engine, which pumps out 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Although rear-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is offered as an option. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on rear-drive models, while AWD IS 350 sedans use a six-speed automatic.
Picking out an IS 350 is pretty simple, as this entry-luxury sedan comes fairly loaded. Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, a keyless ignition, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, a moonroof, 60/40 folding rear seats, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and USB/iPod integration.
Most optional features come in one of three packages, topped by the F Sport package that brings 18-inch wheels, a retuned suspension (with adaptive shock absorbers on rear-drive IS 350s) and enough additional content -- much of it performance-oriented -- that the IS 350 F Sport feels distinctly different from other IS 350 sedans, even though the engine and transmission are the same. A navigation system with smartphone app integration is also available, and the Luxury package adds perforated leather upholstery, wood trim, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert systems.
In reviews and road tests, our editors have found this Lexus IS 350 far more convincing as a luxury sedan than its predecessors. The additional room inside is quite welcome when transporting passengers, and although headroom is a little snug in back, there's plenty of legroom for adults. Materials quality is first-rate, and everything's put together with care. The IS 350's one interior foible is the Remote Touch control interface used for making audio and navigation selections in models with the optional Navigation package. Although the 7-inch display is sharp, cursor control with the mouse-inspired Remote Touch controller is wobbly, particularly when you're on the move.
On the road, the IS 350 feels quick. The V6 engine has a broad power spread and delivers a particularly satisfying soundtrack when you're accelerating hard. Handling is confident, but even with the F Sport package, the current IS 350 is more luxury-car secure than sport-sedan frisky. Although it's not as sharp around turns as some rivals in this class, the Lexus IS 350 is smooth-riding on the highway and should be perfectly suitable for typical daily commutes.
Used Lexus IS 350 Models
The current IS 350 was introduced for the 2014 model year.
The previous, second-generation Lexus IS 350 ran from 2006-'13. It was similar to the current model in its personality and amenities, but significantly smaller. Its V6 delivered quick acceleration, but lifeless steering meant this sport sedan wasn't particularly rewarding to drive. Inside, quality materials and excellent build quality helped the IS 350 feel luxurious even in standard spec. But taller drivers often took issue with the lack of headroom up front, while the backseat offered considerably less legroom than most competing luxury sport sedans of the same time period.
Throughout its run, this IS 350 came with a 306-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine. Rear-wheel drive was standard throughout the run, as was a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive was optional from 2011 and up.
Standard equipment varied over time but typically included 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, power front seats, leather upholstery and a premium sound system. Major options included xenon headlights, a Sport package (with 18-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension), heated and ventilated front seats, a Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system and a navigation system.
Notable revisions for the second-generation models included a number of electronic technology upgrades in 2010 including a new iPod interface, enhanced Bluetooth and a hard-drive-based navigation system. The second generation's most marked visual changes came in 2009, when Lexus restyled the grille and added a two-tone interior option. Engineers also retuned the suspension that year in an attempt to make the IS 350 feel more agile.
Previously, Lexus offered the IS 300. It was available as a four-door sedan from 2001-'05, and a wagon from 2002 and up. This car was quick and fairly involving to drive, but it was even smaller than the second-generation Lexus IS. It wasn't particularly refined or luxurious either, as its cabin design was more reminiscent of a Toyota than a Lexus.