Say hello to the Lexus IS350 – the car that’s finally plugging that gap between the underpowered IS250 and tyre-shredding IS-F.
What is it?
The new Lexus IS350 has finally arrived to bridge that cavernous gap between the current ‘entry-level’ IS250 and the range-topping IS-F. In other words a sporty Lexus sedan for people who still need to stick to some kind of monetary budget. Of course it might not look very different when compared to its less powerful brother, but under that innocuous metal skin lurks a powerful 3.5-litre V6 engine that offers considerably more straight-line shunt when you boot the accelerator pedal in anger.
Like David once proved battling Goliath, power isn’t everything – so the gentlemen of Japan also threw in some chassis tweaks to help make the IS350 act a little sweeter through the curvy bits. Indeed, features like monotube dampers and slightly more aggressive suspension geometry angles make the car feel more planted when it comes time to explore its wild side. Speed sensitive steering also forms part of the dynamic mix. Normally I’m not a fan but this Lexus system works rather well; managing to not sap away too much of that all-important road feel us petrolheads like so much.
How does it look?
Blink and you’ll miss it. The IS350 is available in two flavours (EX or SE) and both seem pretty dull when lined up against the more aggressive offerings from the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Brand new features like LED daytime running lights and double-chromed exhaust tailpipes try hard but in the end the poor IS350 just seems a little too safe and sensible for its own good. Still, the Lexus faithful will lap it all up.
Like I said, you currently get two trim lines: the only difference between them being the larger (18- up from 17-inch) alloy wheels and sunroof included in the premium SE package. Don’t get me wrong, the IS350 is a classy looking machine but not one for those who dig standing out from the crowd. Yep, poseurs should shop elsewhere.
What’s it like to drive?
Impressive. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away but the Lexus IS350 was, in the words of Larry David, pretty-pretty-pretty good. Yep, a normally aspirated V6 can be a lazy thing but in this sedan of the rising sun it provides some wicked propulsion. Nice and torquey right out of the start blocks, it revs like hell too; pulling hard until that soft-limiter kicks in at around 7000rpm. Best of all, with about 340 of its 378 torques available from a miserly 2000rpm, this growly all-aluminium engine makes the IS350 feel tractable at almost any speed. In-gear acceleration is commendable for a normally aspirated unit, while the quoted 0-100km/h-sprint time of 5.6-seconds feels bang on the money.
Backing up all this muscle is, like I alluded to before, a well set-up chassis that makes the IS350 feel very surefooted on the limit. It’s certainly not as engaging a drive as the more pivotable BMW 335i but it is infinitely more fun to pilot than the Audi A4 3.2 Quattro and, dare I say it, Mercedes-Benz C350. Though endowed with flat and confidence inspiring handling, the IS350 manages to ride with typical Lexus polish too; the choppy asphalt of our launch route seldom upsetting the car or its driver.
The standard six-speed automatic gearbox is reasonably slick and can be switched to ‘manual’ mode (where cog swapping is initiated by fingering the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters) but it still doesn’t come close to the involvement factor offered up by a proper manual ‘box. What a pity Lexus don’t offer one as an option.
Any special features?
Many now that you mention it. This is, after all, a Lexus so there’s almost nothing that doesn’t come as standard kit. In fact even in ‘entry-level’ EX specification you score goodies like satellite navigation; a reverse camera; park distance control; a stonking 13-speaker audio system and electrically adjustable leather seats. There’s even Bluetooth functionality that allows you to stream music to the sound system via your mobile phone. This makes the IS350 good value for money as none of its close German rivals are anywhere near as generous – something that pushes up their price tags exponentially.
You also get a comprehensive array of safety features including (thank goodness) a killable traction control system. Yeah, turn it off and watch those rear tyres smoke.
Should you buy one?
I didn’t think I’d say this but, yeah, the Lexus IS350 makes a compelling case for itself. For even though it certainly isn’t the most technologically advanced or innovative sports sedan rolling within in its segment, it can still raise an eyebrow or two thanks to its combination of honest performance and proficient handling. It’s also nicely kitted out in the gadget department and sports some of the most bulletproof build quality you’ll find this side of a SWAT Team armoury room. So if you can live with those bland, vaguely Toyota Camry-esque looks – or have some ideas on how to spruce them up – then I’d recommend you take this oriental charger for a test drive.
Lexus IS350 at a Glance:
Engine: 3456cc V6
Power: 233kW at 6400rpm
Torque: 378Nm at 4800rpm
Top Speed: 230km/h
0-100km/h: 5.6 seconds
Fuel Consumption: 9.8l/100km (claimed combined)
Pricing: R499 700 (EX); R548 600 (SE)
Fills the gap between IS250 and IS-F
V6 packs a surprising punch
Not a bad driving tool
Still looks too bland
No manual gearbox
Altitude will no-doubt sap performance