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Lexus IS 2020 review: IS350 F Sport

Does the Lexus IS 350's performance match its racy looks? Well...
EXPERT RATING
7.1
The Lexus IS 350 F Sport is like travelling back in time to an old school place where wheels were smaller and engines were larger.

Lexus is the great survivor in Australia. Where other luxury brands have arrived and then departed Toyota’s prestige division has cemented itself to the Aussie car landscape and while three-quarters of Lexus’ now sold are SUVs the IS model remains the most popular sedan.

The IS model punches up, taking on BMW’s 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class. The 350 F Sport is the most powerful and angriest-looking member of the IS family, but is it as sharp as its looks suggest?

You should also know that a new-generation IS will arrive in 2020, but there are a few reasons why you may prefer this ‘old school’ sports sedan more.

Lexus IS 2020: IS350 F Sport
Safety rating
Engine Type3.5L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency9.7L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$75,522

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport lists for $75,522 making it about $8K less than the top-of-the-range Sport Luxury grade and $10K more than the entry-level Luxury.

Coming standard is a Mark Levinson stereo system, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated sports front seats, digital radio, paddle shifters, LED headlights, 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, proximity unlocking and 18-inch wheels.

Is it good value? It is if you ‘output match’ the IS 350 F Sport with other prestige cars such as the BMW M 340i which lists for $99,900 and the Mercedes-AMG C 43 for $109,740.

But if you ‘price match’ it to Mercedes-Benz’s C 300, which lists for $72,700, and BMW’s 330i Luxury Line for $70,900, then it’s not terrific value.

18-inch wheels come standard with the IS 350. 18-inch wheels come standard with the IS 350.

The only option on our car was the $1500 premium paint.

There are some hits and misses, feature-wise. For example, the Mark Levinson stereo is amazing, and the digital instrument cluster is great.

The multimedia system, however, is frustrating and awkward to use in every way – the media screen is overly complicated, and the joystick controller is difficult and distracting to use.

Also missing is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The smart phone mirroring systems are being rolled out to other Lexus models but not the IS and that’s probably because the new-gen IS is only just around the corner – expect it to arrive in 2020. That means you might find it’s a good idea to hold off until the new one lands.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

If you think BMW’s 3 Series or Benz’s C-Class are a little bit vanilla, then the IS 350 F Sport could be your… caramel. There’s the 'spindle grille' which polarizes opinion more than Alan Jones, but I’m a fan of its intricate but brash design; there are the headlights which look warped as they flow from the wheel guards to follow the bonnet edge and those Nike-swoosh style LED running lights.

From the side profile you can really see how much the bonnet bulges and how the trajectory of of the side skirt swoops up to meet the dramatically sharp corner of the tail-lights.

Being an F Sport means this grade is the sporty one in the family and there are visual indicators to hint at this such as the 'Dark Premium Metallic'-finished exclusive F Sport 18-inch wheels, the black mesh grille, and the low rear bumper and bumper side garnishes to enhance its tough look.

From the side profile you can really see how much the bonnet bulges. From the side profile you can really see how much the bonnet bulges.

There was a time when 18-inch wheels seemed large to me, now 19-inch is the norm (standard on a BMW 3 Series), and I have to admit the rims on the IS 350 F Sport appear tiny. 

The F Sport’s cabin is equally interesting. It’s sporty and sumptuous from those low, comfortable front seats cocooned away from each other by the wall-like centre console, to the high dash and array of technology, and cushioned surfaces everywhere.

There’s no denying Lexus is hunting BMW’s 3 Series and Benz’s C-Class and it’s not just the technology and engine firepower - the IS 350’s dimensions are a close match at 4680mm long, 1810mm wide and 1430mm tall.

Being an F Sport means this grade is the sporty one in the family and there are visual indicators to hint at this. Being an F Sport means this grade is the sporty one in the family and there are visual indicators to hint at this.

How practical is the space inside?   6/10

Apologies for the personal question, but how old and how tall are you?

I’m in my early fourties, I’m tall at 191cm, and I never found it easy to get out of the IS 350 F Sport. The seating position with its super-low hip point and the ride height of the car meant I kind of fell or crawled out. Just saying that it might not be the ideal car for retired NBA stars.

The seating position makes it difficult for taller people to get in and out of the car. The seating position makes it difficult for taller people to get in and out of the car.

Ah, but what about the back seats? Practical? Roomy? Yeah nah, the doors are small making the way in and out difficult for me, and seated behind my driving position my knees dug into the back of the seat.

  • The seating position makes it difficult for taller people to get in and out of the car. The seating position makes it difficult for taller people to get in and out of the car.
  • Small doors and a lack of headroom leave much to be desired. Small doors and a lack of headroom leave much to be desired.
  • The boot capacity is a pretty standard 480 litres. The boot capacity is a pretty standard 480 litres.

The IS 350 is rear-wheel drive and the drive shaft creates a large hump in the rear floor. Those sitting in the middle back seat will need to straddle that hump. And if that’s not annoying enough the lack of headroom in that position could see them lose their cool.

Small doors and a lack of headroom leave much to be desired. Small doors and a lack of headroom leave much to be desired.

Back seat riders have directional air vents and cupholders, but no door pockets or USB ports. Up front there are another two cupholders and door pockets, a tiny centre console bin with two USB ports and a 12-volt socket under the dash.

The cargo capacity of the boot is the same as the new BMW 3 Series sedan at 480 litres.

The boot capacity is a pretty standard 480 litres. The boot capacity is a pretty standard 480 litres.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The IS 350 is the most powerful member of the IS family with its 3.5-litre V6 making 233kW/378Nm.

In a world moving towards economical turbo-four sedans this naturally aspirated V6 is beautifully old school, its power is linear and predictable and its breathy howl when pushed is addictive.

An eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly, albeit a little slowly, and acceleration is on the swifter side at 5.9s for the 0-100km/h sprint.

The IS 350 is the most powerful member of the IS family. The IS 350 is the most powerful member of the IS family.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Lexus says that if driven on a combination of open and urban roads the IS 350 will go through petrol at a rate of 9.7L/100km.

My fuel test took in 119km of urban and country roads and after that I’d used 14.4L which comes to 12.1L/100km.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The IS350 F Sport scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2015. Coming standard is AEB, lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts across the rear row.

Under the boot floor is a space saver spare wheel.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

4 years / 100,000 km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

The IS 350 is covered by Lexus’ four-year/100,000km warranty.

Servicing is recommended at 15,000km/12month intervals. There is no capped price servicing offered although the first service is free, and you can expect to pay $600 for the second and $573 on the third. This also includes the pick-up and drop-off of the vehicle and a loan car, too.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

The standout feature here is how comfortable the ride is because while the IS 350 F Sport’s chassis feels taught and the V6 makes plenty of mumbo at 233kW this isn’t the most dynamic sports sedan in the world.

That engine and the eight-speed auto make a somewhat lethargic team, and this, combined with the car's weightiness, can sometimes make driving the IS 350 feel like you’ve just stepped out of a swimming pool after going for a dip fully clothed. The car weighs 1685kg, which is 250 kilos more than the BMW 330i.

The standout feature here is how comfortable the ride is. The standout feature here is how comfortable the ride is.

That said, I drove it at my favourite midnight testing ground, and while it doesn’t perform as sharply as its looks may suggest I came away impressed by how enjoyable it was to pilot at a more relaxed pace.

I’m not going to get all spiritual on you, but the planted, solid feel of the car, the way it flows through corners with such composure, and the good connection I felt with the road made driving the IS 350 engaging and tranquil in equal measure.

Verdict

The IS 350 F Sport feels old school from the naturally aspirated V6 and eight-speed auto to its solid weightiness, and while it’s not as sharp and responsive as some people may want, it delivers a comfortable and powerful driving experience. I’d think twice if you’re planning to use it as a family car, but if your nest is suddenly empty then it could be perfect – that is if you can get in and out of it.

Pricing guides

$70,250
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$59,340
Highest Price
$81,160

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
IS300 F Sport 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $66,707 2020 Lexus IS 2020 IS300 F Sport Pricing and Specs
IS350 F Sport Black Line Edition 3.5L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $74,022 2020 Lexus IS 2020 IS350 F Sport Black Line Edition Pricing and Specs
IS350 F Sport Black Line Edition +EP 3.5L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $76,522 2020 Lexus IS 2020 IS350 F Sport Black Line Edition +EP Pricing and Specs
IS300H F Sport Hybrid 2.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $70,130 2020 Lexus IS 2020 IS300H F Sport Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.1
Price and features7
Design8
Practicality6
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Safety8
Ownership7
Driving7
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$75,522

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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