Tom Crosby: 2015 Lexus IS350 F is a sports car in disguise

Tom Crosby

At first glance, the IS350 doesn’t look like a typical sports car, even with the optional F SPORT package.

But a closer look reveals dual chrome exhausts, split five-spoke 18-inch wheels, spiffy front fascia with pinched grill and the reverse Nike-looking bottom swoop along the sides of this compact four door sedan.

Lots of sports cars costing less than $50,000 have more eye-catching profiles, like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Subaru BRZ or even the Mercedes-Benz SLK250.

That doesn’t mean our IS 350 2015 test-drive with the F SPORT package doesn’t perform or handle like a sports car. It does.

The 3.5 liter V-6 engine with 306-horsepower pumps enough muscle smoothly and quickly enough with its rear-wheel drive spurting off the starting line to reach 60 mph in under 6 seconds.

Handling was superb, creating confidence with each new maneuver, whether stopping with solid grip or negotiating sharp and twisty turns while downshifting with manual steering-wheel paddles instead of relying on the six-speed automatic transmission. A double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension flawlessly maintained ride comfort.

The IS underwent its third generation makeover last year and for 2015 new LED fog lights were added, front seats heated and technical tweaks made, like adding Siri’s iPhone compatibility and optional packages. Our major options included blind spot alert, the F SPORT package and a voice-activated navigation system. The expanded Enform system includes apps and allows some vehicle controls via cell phone for outside the car, like lock/unlock, remote stop/start and climate control.

Inside, the 8-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia information system is mounted under a stitched leather dashboard and manipulated with a spindle toggle switch much less sensitive than in the past, making it easy to find and click on selections.

A knob on the center console handles drive modes – normal, ECO, sport or snow. Sport will thrill drivers able to hop onto a racetrack.

Rear seating space is ample while front seats are typically tight for a sports car but can feel cramped for shorter, heavier drivers.

Two minor annoyances are non-extending visors, a must for shading on sunny-day long drives, and sequestering of the EV outlet in the center spine with no notch for a cord.

Trunk cargo space is 13.8 cubic feet and rear seats split down 60/40.

Among many nice touches, the engine growl, spare tire, first aid kit, white piping stitches and puddle lights. Safety ratings are top-notch and luxury oozes everywhere.

LIKES: Luxury, power, handling, ride, rear seating DISLIKES: Visors, phone charger
BOTTOM LINE: Luxurious, fun to drive, classy understated profile

Base price w/destination fee: $40,990 ($47,840 as tested)
Curb weight: 3,593 lbs.
Wheelbase 110.2 inches
Length: 183.7 inches
Width: 71.3 inches
Engine specs: 3.5 liter, DOHC, 24 valve, V-6
Horsepower: 306 hp at 6,400 rpm
Torque: 277 lbs.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/paddle shifters
EPA rating: 19 city, 28 highway
Range: 17.4 gallons, premium
Performance: 0-60 5.6 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.