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Car reviews - Lexus - IS - 350 sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth revving engine with great performance, comfortable ride on rough roads, lots of standard gear that is often sold as optional extras elsewhere, super sound system
Room for improvement
Not as exciting as you might expect, needs louder engine note, seats not so supportive, F Sport leans a bit more in bends than it should

26 Oct 2010

THE new Lexus IS350 is an exciting step up from the current IS250 range - a convincing luxury model that is not only fast and fun on twisty roads but sharply priced.

The IS350 works as a vehicle that sits just above the IS250, offering a far stronger engine that better suits the car.

For all its strengths, the IS350 does not produce the kind of thrills as all the numbers, including the 233kW/378Nm and 5.6 second 0-100km/h time, suggest.

It is remarkably fast and we don’t doubt the time, but it just doesn’t feel or sound as good as it could. The engine note is surprisingly quiet, even under hard acceleration.

Other car-makers go out their way to artificially tune the sound, like Ford with its XR5 sound tube that helps transfer a lovely lumpy sound from the engine bay to cabin, but Lexus appears to have been chasing refinement rather than a raucous note.

That makes sense for other models the engine serves in, such as the RX, but I was expecting a bit thunder especially in the F-Sport which promises so much with its more aggressive body work and sporty interior.

The linear power delivery also helps hide the car’s speed. This lovely powerplant spins smoothly all the way through to 6600rpm. There is no low-down surge of a forced induction engine and no kick at the top end of other naturally aspirated engines. This will be a big plus for some drivers who enjoy winding the engine out.

It is a world away from the IS-F which has one of the best-sounding V8 engine notes around.

So don’t think of the IS350 as a mid-step between the IS250 and the V8 powered IS-F. It is really far closer to the IS250.

But for about $8000 more than the equivalent IS250, the IS350 buyer gets quite a bit more gear and a far stronger engine.

The six-speed automatic is not the world’s fastest shifter, but it is more than adequate. Lexus has fitted the IS350 with steering wheel-mounted paddles that are fun to play with.

Even better, Lexus has designed the transmission to not change up until you tell it to do so. This is not the case with all manufacturers.

We tested the IS350 F Sport on the national launch on some of Australia’s most enjoyable roads a few hour’s drive from Hobart.

These incredibly twisty sections showed that the IS enjoys corners, but also emphasised that it rides bumps pretty well.

The F Sport model has the firmest suspension of the lot and yet it was quite comfortable over the bumps. It actually allows for more body movement that you might expect from a dedicated sporty model. This is probably the correct setting for the other IS350 models given what most of these cars will be used for, and contributes to the comfortable ride which was much appreciated on the Tasmanian roads.

It also means the IS350 leans a little in the turns. It doesn’t wallow around, but doesn’t sit as flat as a comparable BMW (although it rides a lot better).

The steering is not the sharpest in the class, but is not too bad either.

The interior is not all that different to before and is probably just what you would expect from a car in this price range, although there is more standard gear in here than is offered by the rivals.

Small touches like the orange rings (on the inside ring of speedo and tacho) that glow when you go past a certain speed or rev point are likely to please customers.

The seats look great and support the upper body well, but your bottom can start to slide off the flatter seat squab that has less pronounced bolsters. The seats heaters that will be handy in places such as Tasmania come winter.

We like the steering wheel, which feels sporty without being overly chunky.

The F Sport model has a black pillar and roof treatment, adding to the sporty theme.

Standard satellite navigation is welcome as is the rich sound of the Mark Levinson sound system.

The IS350 is a five-seater, unlike the four seat IS-F, but the two outer rear seats are shaped to support those occupants. There is a reasonable amount of head and legroom in the back and the IS has quite a spacious boot.

Picking the upgraded IS models from the last is not so easy unless you are an IS owner or a car-spotter, but the F Sport does stand out more with its body kit and rear spoiler.

It looks nice and aggressive, without getting too carried away. I’m not so sure that the LED daytime running lights add much to the car. They look like an afterthought and just disrupt the design.

The addition of the IS350 adds some muscle to the IS range and provides the perfect model for customers who find the IS250 a bit under-done but cannot stump up the considerable amount of cash required for the V8 IS-F.

It does not sound all that sporty and does not sit as flat in the corners as some competitors, but the IS350 is fast, it is still fun on twisty roads and is quite comfortable.

Given the strength of the engine and the value of all the standard features, this is a convincing version of the IS.

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