2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Review
The luxury automaker shows what it's capable of.No Comments
The IS 350 looks like a car that went from designer to production with minimal compromise-forcing from middle management.
Sleek and seductive
With its F-Sport trim package, Lexus is attempting to bring some of the excitement of their F-badged performance cars to their extremely conservative sedan lineup. But even without the make-it-look-meaner fascia and cladding of the F-Sport trim, the IS is Lexus' most forward-looking car, and the closest in spirit, design-wise, to the actual F vehicles.
Where Lexus' design language tends to favor straight lines and beveled edges, the IS is all deep swoopy curves and surfaces that flow and direct your eye in a way that implies motion and grace.
Our tester came in Atomic Silver, and for once, a car's color name doesn't seem absurdly fanciful. There's something about the way this finish favors this car, the way it accentuates the 350's curves and the silver does have a certain radioactive glow to it in the afternoon light.
There's something organic about the IS, it looks like a car that went from designer to production with minimal compromise-forcing from middle management. From the most flattering angles it looks almost sculpted rather than robot-built. How many Lexuses that don't have F in the name can you say that about?
The F-Sport trim adds a much more upscale-looking spindle grille, LED headlights, and bigger, nicer wheels. All are extremely tasteful additions to an already quite attractive car.
Like the exterior, the interior of the IS is extremely un-Lexuslike, and we mean that in the best way possible. It's also where the F-Sport trim makes the biggest difference.
There are heated and cooled sport seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a cool black headliner, and racey-looking aluminum pedals.
The IS interior is already plenty sporty, but the F-Sport kicks that race car ambience up a near-professional-driver level. Lexus hasn't forgotten that it's a luxury brand, so comfort always trumps sportiness. The excellent Mark Levinson sound system definitely doesn't help the car go faster, but it's a very nice thing to have.
An especially nice touch is the addition of the seriously fancy TFT instrument cluster, which combines digital display and good old mechanical motion in a rather ingenious way. A menu button on the wheel-mounted controls slides the center display (which has an attractive old-school dial surround) to the right, revealing an expanded display to the left, where various diagnostic information, route information, or media selections can be shown. It's one of the most utterly pointless features I've ever seen in a car, and also one of my favorites.
All of its serious-racer upgrades definitely give the IS 350 F-Sport the look and feel of a near supercar, so surely driving should reveal the biggest of the F-Sport upgrades, right? Well ...
The performance upgrades, such as they are, leave a little to be desired, and under the hood is where you're reminded that you are driving an entry-level Lexus, after all. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with the 3.5-liter V-6, and 306 horsepower is nothing to rattle your jewelry at, but even in Sport + mode (available only in the F-Sport), the steering and handling tend a bit too heavily in the Lexus direction. That is, they never seem to tighten up enough, certainly not enough to bear comparison to actual F cars.
That's not to say that the F-Sport isn't fun to drive. It can be a rip-roaring blast if you put your mind to it; but let's be real, this IS 350 isn't going to break any land speed records. The smaller steering wheel helps make the steering feel more commanding, but unfortunately, there's still a lot of center-float in the wheel, even in Sport modes. Handling is also a bit on the non-sporty, more luxury-fluffy side, although the Adaptive Variable Suspension settings do offer a surprisingly wide range of driving experiences.
Engine: 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V-6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Drivetrain Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive.
Power Output: 306 hp / 277 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (mpg): 14 city / 19 highway
Price (as tested):
$48,830 (includes $925 delivery fee)
F-Sport Package: F-Sport front bumper and grille, LED headlamps, 18' wheels, TFT instrument cluster, heated and cooled front F-Sport seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, black headliner, aluminum pedals, adaptive variable suspension, Sport+ mode.
Other options: Backup camera, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, variable gear ratio steering, navigation, Mark Levinson Premium Audio system.