The Lexus IS (Innovative Sedan) 350 has been around for more than a decade, but I think of it as being reborn when it experienced a grille-to-taillights, as the company puts it, redesign for the 2014. The luxury sport sedan now looks better than it ever has before, even if it’s still biased more towards spirited cruising on highways and byways than time attacks at the local track.
The vehicle’s makeover in 2013 gave the IS a much more aggressive version of the gaping Lexus Spindle Grille, new signature “checkmark” LED daytime running lights built right into the front bumper cover, and sportier body flourishes. Most notable, though, was the introduction of 10 different F SPORT packages adding appearance, safety and mild performance enhancements inspired by the LFA supercar and F lineup of high-output models.
By comparison, 2016 sees few changes save for the debut of an entry-level rear-wheel drive 200t grade, powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder found in the NX subcompact crossover. DARPAN’s tester was the quicker and grippier 3.5 L six-cylinder all-wheel drive (AWD) IS 350, painted in a stunning Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint colour.
Right off the bat, I’m going to say the car is absolutely gorgeous – particularly ours wearing the F SPORT Series 2 option providing 18-inch alloy wheels, full body aero, a menacing black mesh grille and LED headlights with adaptive high beams. The upgrades spill into the cabin in the form of a meaty three-spoke leather steering wheel, sport seats, sill plates, slick LFA-style motorized instrument cluster and more.
The one gray spot in the interior is the Lexus Remote Touch interface, which the manufacturer seems reluctant to abandon. Users manipulate a joystick or mouse-like device on the centre console to execute various infotainment commands, but the problem lies in its oversensitivity. Whenever you move past a clickable function, the mouse emits a vibration, often lagging behind what you’re really trying to do.
Underneath the hood lies a smooth V6 producing 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Tipping the scales at 1,695 kilograms, the 350 is no lightweight, and that shows through the lacklustre acceleration when you mash the gas pedal. Compared to the BMW 3 Series I drove the week prior, the excitement factor just didn’t measure up.
The news is better in the handling department, however. F SPORT 2 includes Lexus’ Adaptive Variable Suspension that measures road conditions, driver inputs and vehicle speed, adjusting the damping force accordingly. For instance, if you’re flying over smooth terrain, the shock absorbers automatically firm up providing better response.
In the end, the 2016 Lexus IS 350 can certainly walk the walk with its sleek appearance and racy interior, but does it talk the talk? If you want a sexy, capable street cruiser with the security of AWD, this may serve you well (enthusiasts, also check out the 200t available in RWD [rear-wheel drive] and with an eight-speed auto gearbox).
Motor: 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower: 306 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 277 @ 4,800 rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic
Layout: Front engine, all-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 15.7 L/100 km mixed city/highway (observed)