Launched in 1989, Lexus easily carved out a niche in the premium segment with its reliability and exceptional customer service. But while it was upscale, it wasn’t sexy. Sporting a new design DNA, Lexus has clearly evolved from bland to brilliant. Sitting on Rioja Red leather seats, I recently drove the Lexis IS 350 during a weeklong test for Latino Traffic Report.
For some, the new face of Lexus, led by the signature spindle grille, can be polarizing, but it definitely has fans. According to Lexus, when the second-generation IS took on the new Lexus look in 2013, it became so popular that the restyled 2017 version only involved minor adjustments to its exterior appearance.
The third generation IS originally came in three trim levels but for 2018, that was reduced to two available trim levels, the 300 (200t is now the 300) and 350 that I tested. Horsepower increases by five in 2018 across all powertrains, including the specially tuned 3.5-liter V6 on the 350 that now produces 311 horsepower and 277 lb.–ft. of peak torque and is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It responded with instant speed, accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds. While all-wheel drive is available, I drove the rear-wheel-drive model with the eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission. Additional powertrains include a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder matched to an eight speed multi-mode automatic or the 3.5-liter matched to a six-speed automatic.
A sporty car should hug the road not float above it, especially on curves, plus the steering should be tight and responsive. Lexus achieves this with the Drive Mode Select system, standard on all IS trims. This technology comes with Eco, Normal, Snow, and Sport modes to customize the ride and handling. To save gas, select Eco, but for a sportier experience, select Sport. For an additional $3,155, the test model included the F Sport package, ramping up its sportiness further with Sport S/S+ mode which I engaged for tighter handling on a curvy road on the way to Wimberley, TX.
While the IS 350 should achieve and EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, I averaged 21.9 mpg.
The IS also included safety features, starting with the standard Lexus Safety System+ that included advanced technology like the pre-collision warning system, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. However, I was surprised to find that the blind spot warning system was a stand-alone option for $600. At this price point it should be standard. For 2018, however, the Enform Safety and Service Connect systems are complimentary for the first ten years.
Pricing for the 2018 Lexus IS starts at $38,820. The as-tested price, including the blind spot monitor, came to $49,530.
Sí: The Lexus IS 350 embraces its sportiness, enhanced by exceptional technology plus the red leather seats were gorgeous.
No: While an affordable option, a blind spot monitor should be a standard feature on a premium brand.