Can Lexus’ all-new IS350 compete with the Germans?[Not a valid template]
Ah, the mid-size saloon. It’s as close as is possible to get in the Middle East to a car for everyone. Young new drivers, businessmen, housewives – all are happy with a mid-size sedan and, certainly in the wealthy Gulf cities, premium brands take up a decent proportion of those sold.
And so, into the battleground dominated largely by the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, comes the all-new Lexus IS. What can it bring to a party already bustling with guests?
Well, looks for one thing. Although pictures don’t do it justice, in the metal this top-spec IS350 is a really good-looking machine. We’re testing the top-of-the-range F Sport Platinum model, which adds amongst other things sports seats, a more aggressive bodykit and sports-tuned suspension to the standard IS.
The result is a face dominated by the new ‘spindle’ grille that drops almost to the floor and contains dark mesh-effect plastic. It’s flanked by narrowed-eye headlights and creates a mean, purposeful look aped by the car’s stance. The new IS is longer and fractionally wider and higher than the outgoing car, but proportionally it looks more squat. The effect is impressive. I’m less keen on the new lines on the side, which sweep up to the tail lights, but overall it’s hard to find a better looking car in this segment.
The positives continue inside. The interior is thoroughly modern and perhaps a little busy to some eyes, but to this reviewer’s it’s cockpit like; indeed, during our time with the car I often forgot I was in a saloon. There’s more of an enclosed, coupe-like feel from the driver’s seat, which adjusts to a decent low height in front of a fully digital instrument screen. To the right, a high centre console houses storage space and the trackpad-style controller for the infotainment system, which is excellent and displayed through a central screen at the top of the dashboard.
Under the bonnet is the same 3.5-litre V6 engine found in the previous IS, and it’s unchanged in spec. However, it is now mated to the eight-speed automatic transmission found in the IS F. The result is an improvement over the old car, but niggles remain. The V6 takes its time to really get into its stride; with peak torque delayed until 4800rpm, it needs stirring to hit the high notes, but once the revs are up then it pulls well, with smoothness and confidence. The eight-speed ‘box helps somewhat, especially with Sport or Sport+ mode selected via a dial on the centre console. These settings keep the revs high and on acceleration head all the way to the redline.
Handling is decent, but not quite as sharp as I’d hoped for with the F Sport suspension upgrades. The ride is nice and compliant, which is great for everyday use and cruising, but more visceral feel with the road would be nice for pushing on a bit. The steering is nice and hefty but slightly woolly – I just hoped for something a bit more tactile and precise. It feels like what I expected a standard IS350 to feel like, not like the slightly more racy model. That said, the drive from the rear wheels provides the opportunity for some easily contained hooliganism if the mood takes you. A firm prod at the throttle will break traction at the back, and the swing is lazy and predictable.
The big question is how it compares with the rivals. Well, the exact model we drove is, at $62,619, cheaper, better looking and more powerful than the 302bhp, $65,343 BMW 335i, but it doesn’t have the same dynamic excitement of the German car. For the driving enthusiast chasing smiles, the Beemer is still the one to go for.
The Audi A4 3.0T and the Mercedes C350 are both cheaper than the Lexus, but the Merc, although boasting the same power as the BMW, is far less exciting to drive. The Audi however offers a substantially cheaper price at $48,190, and although it’s down on power at 268bhp, it’s a really solid all rounder and better to drive than the IS, with a focus on a meaty, grippy character.
Overall then, the Lexus is a firm contender for your affection. It can’t offer the drive of the BMW or the value-for-money confidence of the Audi, but it’s by far the best looker of the group, with competence in all other areas. On this evidence, the next IS F should be an absolute belter.
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|Lexus:||IS350 F Sport Platinum|
|Power:||306bhp @ 6400rpm|
|Torque:||278lb ft @ 4800rpm|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive|
|Front suspension:||Double wishbone, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension:||Multilink, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes:||Vented discs, 334mm front, 310mm rear|
|Wheels:||18-inch, front and rear|
|Tyres:||225/40 R18 front, 255/35 R18 rear|