Review

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport Review

  • F Sport 
  • | $73,540 
  • | Ancap : 5/5

the verdict

Pros

  • Spirited V6 suits the car
  • Tidy, balanced dynamics
  • Generous equipment levels

Cc rating

7.4/10

cons

  • Not as sharp as 3 Series, XE
  • Interior is pretty complicated
  • Tight space in the back seat
Review
Photos
Specs

Editor
8 months ago

It’s not easy to compete with cars like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. To do it and succeed, you need a clear point of difference. For the Audi A4, that’s all-wheel-drive. The Jaguar XE? A total driver focus. But what about Lexus’s IS? Well, value for money continues to be a clear Lexus strong point – but that’s not all. With athletic lines, genuinely good looks and compelling driving dynamics, the IS is underrated among small premium sedans. That’s particularly true of the 2017 Lexus IS350, which couples a strong and silky 3.5-litre V6 to the properly competent IS chassis. Though the IS is available with smaller turbo or hybrid engines, it’s the IS350’s V6 that really suits this car. Add in the further F Sport package, and the looks get a much needed boost too, with F Sport adding great-looking wheels and more aggression to the front and rear end.


Basically, what Lexus is doing is offering the IS350 – a 233kW six-cylinder – for about the same price as a four-cylinder from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Audi. The Lexus isn’t that much faster – turbo fours are very quick now – but it’s the way the IS350 delivers its power that makes a difference. Compared to a clinical turbocharged four-cylinder, the Lexus’s smooth, linear, great-sounding six arguably delivers more driving enjoyment.


2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport Silver Rear End


Then there’s the looks – they work well to my eyes. With just the right amount of creases, handsome graphite-grey wheels and the unique Nike-style tick in the LED running lights, the IS stands out from the other premium sedans, most of which are pretty conservative.


And good old Lexus value for money hasn’t gone anywhere. Even a $59,340 IS200t base model has LED headlights, smart entry, a big screen, heated and cooled seats, a digital radio, a power steering wheel, and most advanced safety technology. Our $73,540 IS350 F Sport was even more generous – with the V6, plus adaptive dampers, go-fast suspension tuning, bigger brakes, a premium stereo, digital gauges, and the remaining safety boxes, like blind spot monitoring, ticked. Only a sunroof – an extra $2,000 – is a pricey omission. Compared to a similarly-priced Mercedes C250, the Lexus offers far more kit for the money.


2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport Silver Side Profile

DRIVE

7.5/10

For 2017, the IS carries on with three engines. The range kicks off with the IS200t, a turbo four-cylinder petrol making 180kW and 350Nm. Next is the IS300h hybrid – Lexus doesn’t do diesels – which pairs a petrol four with electric motors to make 164kW while sipping fuel in town. However, it’s the top engine – the V6 petrol IS350 making 233kW and 378Nm – that is the most fun.

The IS350 also makes the most sense – yes, it’s $6,000 more than the IS200t but you get your money’s worth. Looking at its figures, the IS200t looks like it’d be enough but in the real world it feels sluggish. You expect good performance from the athletic lines of the IS, and the IS350 delivers. The V6 feels strong, it sounds good and in reality, it doesn’t use much more fuel than the IS200t – about 11/100km combined, compared to 8.5L/100km.

The thing is, the IS350 is priced like a four-cylinder 3 Series or C-Class – but you get a silky and satisfying V6 in the Lexus. The normally aspirated IS350 has nothing like the punch fo the turbo sixes you find in a BMW 340i or Mercedes-AMG C43, but the IS350 is about $25,000 cheaper and it’s still quick, sprinting to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds.

2017 Lexus IS350 3.5 litre V6 engine

But it’s the lovely balance in the IS chassis that makes it particularly enjoyable to drive. Apart from the excellent GS F, the IS is the best Lexus to drive by some margin. Sharp and quick steering, good ride quality stemming from a well-judged suspension, tight dimensions and a fairly adjustable rear end make the IS feel like a proper driver’s sedan. There’s very little body roll. While the steering feels video-game fast at first, you quickly get used to it and the handling is predictable: you can pick a line and stick to it pretty easily in this car.

All of those positives are only heightened by complementing the car with the V6 engine, giving extra urge for a good blast down a country road where the IS comes alive.

It’s the rear-wheel-drive layout that makes the magic happen. You get that with a 3 Series or C-Class, too – though not the Audi A4 – and rear-drive is the way these luxury sports sedans work best. With the front wheels left to do their job steering, you get a sense of being pushed around bends by the IS as the rear wheels move the car forward.

The IS200t has more torque available in town or off-the-line – you do need to sink the boot into the IS350 more at slower speeds – but it never feels underdone, and you enjoy motivating the car. The engine sounds good and is really smooth.

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport SIlver Driving

The eight-speed automatic is good enough, usually slipping from ratio to ratio without you noticing, but on a really fast blast you long for the snappier shifts you can get from a double-clutch automatic or a ZF-built transmission.

Road and wind noise are well restrained, leaving you to enjoy either the Mark Levinson stereo in the F Sport grade or the engine and exhaust noise which is best described as ‘technical’, with lots of jet-esque whirring that sounds pretty good.

Only slightly wooden brake feel and an over-invasive traction control system stop the driver from feeling truly fluid with the car. Lexus would do well to study BMW’s “half-off” Sport Plus traction control setting – the IS350 is so balanced that it doesn’t need the Lexus Nanny cutting power at every hint of wheelspin.

There are ten airbags aboard plus a tyre pressure monitoring system. Lexus boosted the safety offering in the IS when it updated the looks. AEB, forward collision warning, active radar cruise control, and lane keep assist are all now standard. That’s good. Oddly, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional – they’re part of the F Sport trim upgrade. Not a problem on an inexpensive IS200t, but it’s mean in a $65,390 IS350 – meaning you’ll be paying at least $73,540 for an IS350 F Sport to get blind spot monitors. They’re standard on a $69,400 Mercedes C250.

COMFORT

7/10

Upgrading from the base model IS – the Luxury – to the F Sport upgrades the seats to more tightly bolstered versions. The leather trim feels soft and expensive – and the seats themselves are comfortable to sit in, at least around town and for shorter drives. However, for two taller drivers who tested two IS grades, the seats caused an ache on longer drives.

The problem was identified as the back bolstering. The bolster only moves in and out of the driver’s back, rather than up-and-down, which means that adjusting the back support for where you need it on long drives is difficult. The passenger entirely misses a back bolster which is also an issue.

What deserves real credit is the overall shape of the seat, the low hip point and the driving position, which is very low and sporty. Plus, we like that even a base model IS has both heated and cooled seats – this is a highly relevant feature in Australia that the German brands should learn from.

From a design standpoint, the IS cabin is more futuristic and technical-looking than its rivals, with a dominating console and prominent dash design that feels like a cockpit. The Lexus is the opposite of the Mercedes C-Class, with its organic, soft lines. The one you like is a matter of taste – but the IS works once you’ve learned where the various buttons are. Controls like the temperature sliders are actually very intuitive.

Material quality is nice – the leather accents, metals and soft-touch dash all feel premium enough. On the even higher Sports Luxury grade, the real, layered wood trim is pretty mesmerising. Lexus build quality is well-known for being very good and the IS feels like it’s going to last.

It’s still a chore interacting with the Lexus Remote Touch system – the name for the trackball-like device that controls the new, larger 10-inch screen on the dash. Look, it’s not that bad – you can learn it – but Remote Touch is simply inferior to the well-conceived rotary dials in the Audi, the BMW, and the Mercedes – or even the touchscreen in the Jaguar XE. It’s time to put Remote Touch out to pasture, at least in its current form.

F Sport grades continue to use a digital driver display that resembles that from the brand’s LFA supercar – plus, you can now get more sophisticated navigation directions and the name of your song in the cluster. Speaking of songs – the 15 speaker, 835 watt Mark Levinson stereo, standard on the F Sport, sounds as impressive as you’d imagine.

Space is on the tighter side in the front – that cockpit feel again – but things get smaller in the back. The IS’s back seats are best considered occasional or for smaller kids. Legroom is the main problem: lanky teenagers won’t like sitting behind their parents. Headroom, too, is pretty constricted, but there are at least air vents and a fold-down armrest back there.

Lexus IS back seat space

PRACTICALITY

7/10

The Lexus IS is about the same size as a Mercedes C-Class, but the tighter, more driver-focussed cabin means it doesn’t feel as roomy. That’s not a complete negative: the Lexus feels more intimate and sporty to sit down into, as a result.

But it does mean you can’t fit as many people into an IS. It’s really a four-seater. Though there is a middle seat in the back, the IS’s driveshaft tunnel is so high that there isn’t really room for that person’s feet. However – like the other floor mats in this car – that tunnel is very luxuriously carpeted…

Up front, between the driver and front passenger, there is a good-size bin under the armrest, there are two big cupholders and the door bins can take a big water bottle – but that’s about it. Unless you use a cupholder, there’s no convenient tray ahead of the gear shifter to stash a phone, coins or cards and that’s frustrating.

In the back, two people will be relatively happy if they’re not too tall. There isn’t a separate climate control zone back there but there are air vents. A fold-down central armrest is standard, with cupholders – a good thing too, because funnily there are no door bins in the back.

Points are earned back in the boot, which at 480 litres is equivalent to that in the Mercedes and the BMW. The boot is a convenient shape – nice and square and with a big opening to put things through. There is a load lip – meaning heavy suitcases have to be lifted up and out of the boot, rather than sliding right out. The Lexus is missing shopping bag hooks in the boot but there are tie-down points if you want to install your own netting to keep your eggs from rolling around.

The back seats fold, too, to carry longer or awkward items. The folding is 60/40 in manner. It’s helpful to note, too, that unlike the Audi, BMW or Mercedes you can’t get the IS as a station wagon for more flexibility.

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport Silver Rear End

RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS

6.5/10

The Lexus IS350’s running costs are likely to be above average

Because it has a large-capacity V6 engine the IS350 does use more fuel than its German four-cylinder rivals – and it’s also more expensive to insure. The depreciation is relatively restrained but we can’t put a figure on servicing costs because Lexus haven’t adopted a capped price system.

Lexus IS350 fuel economy

Naturally, going for a V6-powered IS350 over a turbo four-cylinder from the Germans – or, indeed, Lexus’s own IS200t – will mean a fuel economy penalty. But it’s probably not as bad as you’d think.

The relatively unstressed V6 returns about 11L/100km combined – a little higher in town, and lower on the highway. It does exceed Lexus’s claim of 9.7L/100km but not by that much. The IS200t gave us about 8.5L/100km – so

The claim – 9.7L/100km The actual figure – about 11L/100km The problem – it goes up against Germans that are just as fast but will settle into the eights without much of an issue. Benefit – powerful and smooth V6.

Lexus IS350 insurance costs

We seek insurance quotes from mainstream insurers for a 30 year old driver living in Chatswood, with a good record, and parking in the driveway.

2017 Lexus IS350 Boot

Like other premium vehicles, the Lexus is relatively costly to insure – in fact, it’s more costly than a BMW 330i or Mercedes-Benz C250, probably because of the higher displacement of the engine (3.5 litres, versus 2 litres).

The IS350 currently costs, on average, $1,941 per year to insure. The BMW returned an average of $1,742 and the Mercedes a relatively miserly $1,534.

Lexus IS350 servicing costs

Unlike Audi, BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz, Lexus are holding out on capped price servicing. As a result, there’s no published, public figure of how much an IS350 would cost to service. We can guess that it won’t be too bad – the 3.5-litre V6 is not a complex, turbocharged engine – but we don’t know.

What Lexus do to make up for this is provide a very good servicing experience. As an IS owner you have a choice of leaving the car at a Lexus dealer and being given a loan car for the day – or, impressively, Lexus will collect your car and return it to your home or work once the service is completed.

There is also a good warranty – four years and 100,000 kilometres – that bests this car’s rivals which max out at three years.

Lexus IS350 depreciation

If you keep an IS350 F Sport for three years and 40,000 kilometres, Glass’s Guide data indicates that it should retain about 55% of its value, returning you about $40,400 on your initial purchase of $73,540. This places the IS a little way off the retained values of the Germans – both the C250 and the 330i will hold 61%.

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport SIlver Driving

VALUE FOR MONEY

9/10

As I mentioned up front, we feel that Lexus has maintained its advantage in the value stakes. While the IS has a few head-scratching omissions at the lower end – for example, blind spot monitoring can only be had as part of the $7,000 jump into an F Sport model – on the whole, the Lexus IS offers terrific value for money, especially compared to its European rivals.

Wrapping your head around how the Lexus IS is priced is a bit complex, but essentially you choose an engine – which changes nothing bar the performance – and then you choose a trim grade, which alters the level of equipment.

In the case of the Lexus IS you have the turbo IS200t, the hybrid IS300h, and the V6 IS350. Each can be had in one of three trim grades: a Luxury base model; the F Sport in the middle; and Sports Luxury at the top.

The turbo starts at $59,340; the hybrid at $61,890; and the V6 at $65,390. That’s for a base model Luxury grade. Basically, stepping up to the F Sport costs just over $8,000 more. The Sports Luxury is about another $11,000 more than an F Sport.

So what do you get in each grade?

The Luxury base model is very well equipped and many buyers won’t need to move beyond it. You get 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, smart entry and start, auto wipers, a 10-inch nav screen, a 10-speaker stereo, electric seats with heating and cooling, an powered steering wheel, and DAB radio. Plus, the Luxury gets most safety bits – active cruise, lane keep assist, AEB, forward collision warning, ten airbags – they’re all here.

What’s missing from the Luxury is blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert – and you can only get those by making the big $8,000 jump into the F Sport.

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport Wheels

However, the F Sport also looks much better outside, with lovely 18-inch wheels and a more muscular stance. Inside, the F Sport adds seat memory for the driver, a 15-speaker, 835 watt Mark Levinson stereo, digital gauges, and taller bolsters for the seats. A sunroof is missing – it can be added to the F Sport for about $2,000, but it probably should be standard.

Then comes the really big $11,000 jump into the Sports Luxury and that’s where the value proposition is very questionable. Inside, you get an electric rear sunshade and some very impressive laser-cut wooden trim. Outside, there are different 18-inch wheels to the F Sport and a sunroof. And that’s about it! So, skip the Sports Luxury.

Our recommendation is the IS350 F Sport plus the sunroof – a nicely-equipped, good looking car. That spec comes in just under $76,000 – so what can you get for that money elsewhere?

The $69,400 Mercedes-Benz C250 makes 155kW and 350Nm and matches the Lexus for DAB radio, leather seats, and LED headlights. However, a larger navigation screen (that’s superior to the Lexus’s, however) is optional. Also optional on the Mercedes are Lexus features like a premium stereo, memory, heated and cooled seats, and sportier AMG Line styling.

For $71,900, BMW will sell you a 330i M Sport, which looks the business and produces 180kW and 350Nm. It exceeds the Lexus in some areas – it has a heads-up display and larger 19-inch wheels, plus BMW’s iDrive navigation system is so, so superior. Like the IS350 the 330i has a digital radio and leather seats – but it falls short of many little luxuries found on the Lexus, like the premium stereo, lane keep assist, and cooled seats.

So in the Lexus it’s a case of more power, more torque and more kit for about the same money.

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport Silver Front End

COMPETITORS

Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce ($71,895)

This newcomer to the small luxury sedan group is potentially the most interesting. Alfa Romeo's first all-new car in many years is the Giulia, a rear wheel drive sedan that in Veloce form, produces 206kW and 400Nm – higher outputs than many of its rivals. A more powerful Quadrifoglio is an M3 competitor. The Giulia is beautiful to look at and promises to be a good drive.

Audi A4 sport quattro ($69,900)

The two-litre, four-cylinder A4 produces 185kW and 370Nm, sending it to all four wheels when required. Most of the time it's a front-driver. It's hard to tell by looking at it outside, but for 2017 the A4 is all-new, with vastly improved driving dynamics and an attractive if conservative interior. It's much bigger than the Lexus in the back seat. It's also available as a wagon.

BMW 330i M Sport ($71,900)

The 330i is a two-litre four cylinder making 185kW and 350Nm, which is sent to the rear wheels. A driver's car, the BMW competes with the Jaguar XE for the title of the best-handling car in this class. The 330i engine may be a four-cylinder these days but it's incredibly flexible, with real punch and pace. The standard adaptive dampers provide good ride quality and the steering – while not as great as the Jag – feels good. A wagon is available. Plus, the 3 Series is the only one of this lot that you can have with a manual!

Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport ($68,616)

The two-litre, four-cylinder XE 25t sends 177kW and 340Nm to the rear wheels. A true driver's car, the Jaguar XE is the most fun car to drive in this class, with excellent handling and steering and well-balanced dynamics. The 25t engine isn't the largest available in the XE, but it is the best, with exceptionally good response for a turbo four-cylinder and a decent soundtrack. However, the Jaguar is just as tight as the Lexus in the back, important options are costly, and build quality doesn't feel up to German standards.

Mercedes-Benz C250 ($69,400)

The two-litre, four-cylinder C250 sends 155kW and 350Nm to the rear wheels. The decent turbo four is up to the job and the Mercedes is decent to drive, but the C-Class is better seen as the comfortable car of this class. With a beautiful interior, spacious cabin and very high perceived quality, the C250 is a great car to live with – plus, it's available as a stylish and practical station wagon.

Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design ($69,990)

This two-litre, four-cylinder Volvo sends a hefty 228kw and 430Nm to the front wheels most of the time, but the S60's AWD system makes this a grippy all-weather car. The Volvo has the best seats in this class – an important consideration – and it's genuinely pleasant to drive, with a strong engine, and a decent ride-handling balance. The cabin is ageing but it feels incredibly well-made – but the Volvo is best had as a V60 station wagon which is larger in the back than the compact sedan.

wrap up

DRIVE 7.5
COMFORT 7
PRACTICALITY 7
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS 6.5
VALUE FOR MONEY 9
Total cc score 7.4

Engine

Capacity 3.5 litres
Fueltype Petrol
Cylinders 6
Configuration V6
Induction Naturally aspirated
Power 233kW at 6,400rpm
Torque 378Nm at 4,800rpm
Power to weight ratio 142kW per tonne
Fuel consumption (combined) 9.7L/100km
Fuel capacity 66 litres
Average range 680 kilometres

Transmission and Drivetrain

Transmission Automatic
Configuration Torque converter
Gears 8
Drivetrain Rear wheel drive

Dimensions and Weights

Length 4.68 metres
Width 1.81 metres
Height 1.43 metres
Unoccupied weight 1,645 kilograms
Cargo space (seats up) 480 litres
Cargo space (seats down) Not listed