by Brad Leach - 28/10/10
We’ve just spent two days driving great roads in Tasmania in a vehicle which should have Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW worried.
Lexus has boosted its mid-size IS range with the new Lexus IS 350. Priced from $64,800, the three-model IS 350 range undercuts ‘Benz and BMW on price by up to $30,000 and its 233kW/378Nm six-cylinder engine out-muscles the German sixes.
Launch of the IS 350 also introduces new styling and some extra features for the rest of the IS lineup (IS 250 and IS F).
Entry to the Lexus IS 350 lineup is the Prestige model ($64,800), then there is the racy F Sport version ($71,800) and the range-topping Sport Luxury ($81,300). All Lexus IS 350 models feature heated leather seats, satellite navigation, a reversing camera, HID headlights with Daytime Running Lamps and metallic paint – features which often cost extra with the German brands.
“IS 350 pricing is critical for Lexus – it has to be realistic, it has to achieve a position of leadership, and it has to bring new competition to the luxury sedan segment,” explained Lexus Australia chief executive Tony Cramb. Well, it’s certainly done that.
With its 3.5-litre V6 engine driving through a six-speed automatic transmission, the Lexus IS 350 has a performance edge over its IS 250 stablemate and the F Sport model - with many features sourced from the magnificent Lexus IS F - is a standout. F Sport is Lexus’ new performance sub-brand (like M for BMW and AMG for ‘Benz).
Lexus IS 350 employs the 60-degree V6 which for four consecutive years was listed in the world’s 10 best engines by the North American Ward’s Auto World. It’s high-tech with two petrol injection systems (including direct injection) and hypereutectic aluminium alloy pistons (these allow tighter skirt clearances than a conventional forged piston).
The twin injection system is very clever – port injection used at low engine loads and direct injection used at high engine speeds.
It’s also very potent and sweet-revving, with 233kW at 6400rpm and 378Nm at 4800rp. Typically Lexus, the IS 350 delivers that performance in a silky-smooth and refined way.
Drive is to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual mode.
Combined cycle fuel consumption is 9.4l/100kms and the exhaust C02 emissions are rated at 223g/km.
Entry-level Lexus IS 350 Prestige model comes with leather-accented, heated seats, while F Sport and Sport Luxury models feature perforated leather. F Sport also gains a sports design seat borrowed from the racy IS F model and the range-topping Sport Luxury variant scores seat ventilation.
All models boast a new leather-wrapped steering wheel (F Sport gets the wheel from the IS F) with silver metallic paddle shifters for the automatic transmission. F Sport is also distinguished by alloy pedals.
F Sport models are further identified by black roof lining and silver center console. Sports Luxury models score a choice of two wood-accented centre consoles and door trim.
Instrumentation is conventional two-dials, separated by the digital trip computer readout, including a handy instantaneous fuel consumption readout. The speedo includes a speed-limit display which glows bright orange when the speed is attained.
To the left is the large screen satellite navigation, audio and climate controls.
Rear seat accommodation is reasonably spacious and the boot capacity is 398 litres.
Front styling is much sharper on the Lexus IS 350 – the new arrowhead-shaped Daytime Running Lamps and revised fog-lights providing a purposeful appearance.
At the rear, F Sport models gain a bootlid spoiler.
Wheels are new too – Prestige models run five twin-spoke 17-inch alloys, F Sport has 18-inch five twin-spoke, while Sport Luxury models run a more conventional five-spoke design.
Lexus is keen to promote the IS 350 as a high performance luxury sedan so we drove both Sport Luxury and F Sport variants of the Lexus IS 350 over a variety of Tasmanian roads, including some savage mountain sections used in the Targa Tasmania Rally. It was a smart move because the IS 350 was right at home in that environment.
The Lexus IS 350 features larger brake rotors that the IS 250 and aluminium brake calipers are used to save weight and assist heat dissipation. F Sport models also run a sportier suspension calibration.
Both models were certainly impressive with abundant performance for easy overtaking and impressive chassis dynamics in the twists.
Refinement levels were generally impressive with just some intrusion of tyre noise when the F Sport encountered some coarse chip road surfaces.
For the extra dollars, the Lexus IS 350 needs more visual differentiation to the IS 250.
The Lexus IS 350 is seriously good – Lexus at its best. Dynamically superb, loaded with features and technology and very sharply priced.
Six-cylinder versions of BMW’s 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 are the likely contenders for Lexus IS 350 buyers. Clearly the Lexus mounts a value-for-money challenge.
Value; lovely V6; masterful chassis dynamics
Needs some extra kit to distinguish from IS 250
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