The 2015 Lexus IS 350 AWD is almost exactly the sort of car I most enjoy. It’s small. It’s light. It’s got a naturally aspirated V6 with over 300 hp. It handles beautifully it has excellent feedback through the wheel and it has exceptional balance. I thoroughly enjoyed this car.
From the surprisingly aggro exhaust note to the effortless acceleration and sport-focused ride the IS 350 had me joining the Lexus bandwagon in a pretty big way. But it was missing two things that would have made taken me from Lexus fan to full-on, Kool-Aid consuming evangelist.
1: Rear-wheel drive. 2: A manual gearbox (or more appropriately for this class, a DCT) Of all the cars in the small luxury car class, this is one that deserves those things. The engine note from the V6 is gorgeous. It’s deep and guttural and purposeful. With 306 hp and 277 lb-ft, there’s enough horsepower and torque from the 3.5L unit to light up the tires and do mad skids – if it had been a manual and rear-wheel drive.
Neutered as it is by the auto box and the all-wheel drive you’ll get no show, just go – which isn’t exactly an insult. It is almost certainly faster and more capable – not to mention better in the snow – but that takes away a lot of what this little Lexus has to offer.
At 1,430 mm tall, 1,810 wide and 4,665 high the IS 350 is almost exactly the same size as a BMW 335i. In the Toyota size scale it sits between a Corolla and a Camry. It handles more akin to the Cadillac ATS.
Cornering is pancake-flat and meatloaf stable and the IS 350 tracks truly even through bumpy corners. A sophisticated double-wishbone setup controls the fronts, aided by a stabilizer bar and what Lexus calls “anti-dive and anti-squat geometry”. The multi-link rear suspension is joined by a stabilizer bar of its own and our tester was fitted with the adaptive variable suspension.
While I could feel the hardware doing its job to keep the IS in check, spinning the rotary drive mode selector through eco, normal, sport and sport plus modes had no noticeable effect on the suspension dynamics. That might be the point.
The steering is well-weighted and firm, but where other cars in this segment will rotate dramatically through the corner given a dose of mid-corner liftoff the IS won’t. Turn-in is a little muted compared to the ATS or a BMW 3 Series.
The IS conducts itself with more poise than point.
There will be many who will be enamoured by the no-fuss way this Lexus makes its way through turns, but I found myself wanting a little more playfulness from the rear. In Lexus’s defence I’d just spent four days in a Challenger Hellcat so there is a chance my palate wasn’t exactly clean before tasting. (I’d also just come from a wine-tasting tour.)
2015 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
Despite my tainted palate, I really enjoyed the acceleration from the Lexus. The V6 pulls strong from early in the range and spools cleanly through to the 6,600 rpm redline. The engine is too engaging really. At least that’s my answer to the question, “How on earth did you manage just 13.2 L/100 km?!”
It should have been good for 12.4/9.0/11.2 L/100 km city/highway/combined, but I guess the EPA doesn’t have a “Jacob likes the noise it makes at wide-open throttle” component to their testing methods.