While researching this review I remembered by a magazine ad I saw once. Shortly after the Lexus IS debuted in 2001 with the 3 Series as its stated target, I stumbled upon a humorous BMW ad depicting a hapless Lexus IS wearing a wolf costume next to the 3 Series. It was such a jab toward the Japanese automaker that it stuck with me ever since.
Sixteen years later, we find ourselves with the 2017 Lexus IS 350 that is progressively better at everything compared to 2001. Introduced in 2014, this marks the fourth year of this styling iteration and received a light refresh this year. The IS certainly doesn’t look like anything else out there with its bold face and wacky jagged-shaped lines. I have to give Lexus credit for being bold in the styling department, even if it may be too wild for some buyers.
The F SPORT package adds to the charm by way of an F SPORT grille, steering wheel and shift knob. Other amenities included in the package are the Lexus LFA-style TFT instrument cluster, 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, heated steering wheel, rear cross traffic alert and 18” F SPORT wheels. You may notice that these modifications are mostly visual. I would have liked to see some extras under the hood, but more on this in a minute.
Inside the IS 350 cabin is also one of the most unique interiors in the industry. Lexus sets itself apart from the others with a sloping dashboard and console that bring all the controls closer to the driver. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to move my hand mere inches off the steering wheel and not have to lunge my whole body forward simply to reach the volume button. It’s right there where it should be. The grey leather with contrast white stitching is tame, but you can always opt for the red seats if you need a little more fire to spruce things up. The rear seats are a tad tight for adult occupants, but for kids it was a breeze. They can also be folded down to add to the trunk storage space if needed.
Build quality is as good as one would expect. Buttons and switches are firm and the richness of the materials stimulates one’s senses with an aura of satisfaction. The only thing missing is a little more storage and a safe place to put my phone. The way the dashboard is designed limits the amount of compartments that can be used and you basically have to put your phone in the cupholder, which isn’t ideal.
Unfortunately, we have to talk about Lexus’ infotainment system. The complexity of the menus coupled with the human interface system is the vehicle’s Achilles’ heel. The menus aren’t the end of the world and one can adapt after a few weeks, but the laptop-inspired cursor system is operated by a little square joystick knob next to the shifter that becomes very frustrating to use. The cursor jumps from menu item to menu item and often not where you want it. It requires the driver to take their eyes off the road for longer than they should in order to accomplish simple tasks. Lexus would be well advised to come out with a more traditional way of operating the infotainment system.
Powering the 2017 Lexus IS 350 is, as the name suggests, a 3.5-litre V6 engine making 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque mated to a speed-speed automatic transmission. It’s more than the 248-horsepower BMW 330i, but less than the 320-horsepower 340i. Stepping on the accelerator gives the occupant more than enough pull to satisfy most urges, and the car accelerates swiftly and smoothly, but also quietly. A little more growl from the exhaust would add to the fun, though. This is where the F SPORT package would benefit from a few performance modifications. The car looks the part with F SPORT badging, but performs essentially the same as the non F SPORT trims.
Nevertheless, the IS 350’s array of performance goodies is impressive, which includes active suspension dampers and a nicely tuned electronic steering system, paddle shifters and a Sport+ drive mode that really changes the dynamics of the ride.
The IS 350 starts at $53,350 ($1,300 more for the F SPORT package), which is almost identical to the BMW 340i xDrive at $53,500. Do I feel it’s on par with the legendary 3 Series? It was a pleasure to drive pretty much every kilometre, being sporty when I needed it and comfortable when cruising on the highway. I can’t say it’s as thrilling as a 340i, but it’s pretty darn close. It may be that my preconceived notions are leaking into my article, but in any case, the IS cannot be considered anything but a worthy competitor the Germans at this stage.