The third-generation IS range is very good and will be causing quite a bit of worry at Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. It is unfair to suggest that Lexus is simply a luxurious Toyota. The brand stands alone and apart from the Japanese giant but, despite this, badge snobs are reluctant to have a bar of the Lexus marque. However, to ignore the new IS is foolish.
Sales of the new model are up by 6.5 per cent this year to 1437, behind the C-Class (3476), 3-Series (3284) and A4 (1610), all of which are down on this time last year. The IS 350, as tested, jumped 115 per cent last month and is up 14.5 per cent for the year. So the Germans should be anxious.
Price And Models
The review car in metallic black was the IS 350 Luxury, which sells for $73,039 drive away. It sits at the bottom of the IS 350 range with the F Sport and the Sports Luxury higher up the ladder at about $80K and $92K a piece. There are also the smaller-engine IS 250 from about $61K and the hybrid IS 300 from $65K.
There's nothing new in the engine department, apart from the hybrid-electric 300h. The third-gen model comes with the same 2.5- and 3.5-litre V6 units, which have been tickled but not given a big makeover. Still, they are smooth and, in the 350, relatively grunty.
I like the look of the new IS. It's more aggressive than the previous model and looks wider, sleeker and even more aggro in F sport models, particularly in lighter colours and with the honeycomb grille. It gets a bit lost in dark colours, such as the metallic black of the review vehicle.
The interior is a massive step up, more stylish and roomy. Lexus says the new IS has 170mm of clearance to the front seatbacks. There's far better rear knee and head space, thanks to a 70mm longer wheelbase, and much of the panache found in the larger GS.
The cockpit has well laid-out instruments, nifty ventilation dials, a chunky steering wheel and the computer mouse-style remote-touch controller on the transmission tunnel.
Standard equipment outstrips the Germans, including satellite navigation, reversing camera, smart entry with push-button start, heated and ventilated leather-accented front seats, a digital radio, eight airbags, dual-zone climate-control air, Bluetooth with audio streaming, bi-xenon headlights with daytime-running lights, a 7-inch colour media display and Drive Mode select.
The base audio system has eight speakers, while two USB inputs are also standard: one for your USB thumb drive while you simultaneously charge your phone. Lexus says you would have to spend 20 to 30 per cent more to get the same levels in an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Benz C-Class. With the high level of gear, plus the Japanese brand's longer-than-average four-year warranty and its legendary high levels of service, it all makes for a remarkable value proposition.
There's the expected suite of electronic driver aids, plus eight airbags, a reversing camera and tyre-pressure monitoring. The car also has a bonnet that pops up to minimise pedestrian injury. The downsides? The cruise control stalk on the steering column is straight out of a Toyota Corolla and the foot-operated parking brake is an ergonomic disaster. And there's no head-up display available, something you can now get on a VF Commodore and in the next Mazda3.
With 233kw/378Nm on tap, the IS 350 is lively enough with the signature Lexus refinement and sound-deadening to make travel serene on all but coarse bitumen road surfaces. It still has a lovely, deep gurgling note and is smooth as butter with a delicious growl towards the redline. New to this variant is an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters lifted from the old V8 IS F dynamo.
This is smooth and slips virtually imperceptibly in most typical situations, with its only weak spot being the occasional annoying persistence to shift up - even while in manual mode. The IS 350 is composed and eager to corner with enthusiasm, although the ESP will easily intervene if you go over the top. It corners with balance, the steering is fast and accurate. It's the best-handling Lexus by far. The 350 easily devoured the mountain roads and was a lot of fun in the twisties.
I was able to string a series of corners together well on the Targa Tasmania-like undulating and tightish corners, but it lost a bit of composure on the sections of second-rate surfaces. The ride can be a bit jittery around town and on the firmish side. Fuel consumption is not good, however. I recorded 13.5L/100km, when Lexus claims 9.7. Admittedly, there was some spirited driving during last weekend's tryout but on the highway stretches I stuck rigidly to 100km/h.
The IS, particularly the 350, is now a true competitor to be measured against the Germans, such as Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It smashes them for equipment and warranty, the styling is distinctive and desirable and the quality top class. The cabin has stepped up to the mark and there's far more room inside.