Tom Crosby: Lexus rolls out third generation IS350

Tom Crosby

It’s been eight years since Lexus refurbished its sporty four-door sedan, the compact IS350, but the wait was worth it.

Shoppers will be attracted to its sculpted good looks for 2015, nice pick-up from the get-go, flawless handling with just the right amount of road feedback, cathedral-like quiet and numerous luxury touches that befit a Lexus sedan. The smallest Lexus sedan, but bigger now, the IS comes as either IS250 or IS350 with rear or all-wheel drive and regular or F Sport trim, a $3,160 add-on we enjoyed on our IS350 all-wheel drive test car.

That F Sport option included an instantly recognizable dark gray mesh spindle grille with chrome trim and separate LED headlights, 18-inch wheels with all-season tires, race-car like stitched leather bucket seats, silver interior trim and a performance adaptable variable suspension to go along with a Sport S+ driving mode — one of five modes drivers can choose from.

Lexus reinforced the IS body rigidity and added 2.7 inches to the wheelbase, 3.4 inches to overall length, and slightly increased width and height. Interior seating comfort comes with the expansion, especially for rear seat occupants. The eight-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted manual paddles lets drivers play effortlessly with speed shifts, ride smoothness and handling characteristics among driving modes — Eco for conserving fuel, Normal for every day, Snow for icy or slick roads, Sport for stiffer driving and Sport S+ for pushing the performance envelope. In any of the modes, it was fun and responsive to drive.

Additionally, an intake-noise generator gives a satisfying throaty roar when engine rpms are revved high but quiet reigns at cruising speeds. Required premium gasoline helps high-end performance, but of course is costly. The mid-size ES350 Lexus sedan, using the same engine was converted this year to function well using just regular gasoline.

Our test drive also added blind side monitoring with rear cross traffic alert for $600, a key safety option with some minor rear view limitations, and a $3,225 navigation package that included upgrading to a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, backup camera, voice activation that did a good job deciphering commands, and Lexus Enform, which is a suite of apps that can be called up for use on the dashboard screen.

Controls are handled by Lexus’ Remote Touch Interface toggle switch, which requires experience — and patience — in making selections due to its sensitivity. The 60-40 split folding rear seats add extra cargo space.

LIKES: Luxury, looks, power, ride, quiet, comfort

DISLIKES: Premium gas, twitchy toggle

BOTTOM LINE: Super fun to drive in sport mode; totally embraces Lexus cachet.


Base price w/destination fee $42,695 (as tested $49,615)
Curb weight 3,593 lbs.
Wheelbase 110.2 inches
Length 183.7 inches
Width 71.3 inches
Engine specs 3.5 liter, DOHC, 24 valves, V-6
Horsepower 306 hp at 6,400 rpm
Torque 277 lbs.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic w/shift
EPA Rating 19 city, 28 highway
Range 17.4 gallons, premium required
Performance 0-60 in about 6 seconds