2016 Lexus IS 350 F Sport with 2017 Updates Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
The most "European-like" of all the Lexus models
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Lexus Research and Buyers Guide
2016 saw the greatest change to Lexus’s IS sports-luxury lineup yet, with the 2.5-liter, 185-horsepower V6-powered IS250 replaced by the 2.0-liter, 241-hp four-cylinder turbocharged IS200t. The 200 is rear-wheel drive only, so the niche formerly occupied by the IS250 AWD is taken over by the IS300 AWD. Which uses a detuned version of the IS350’s 3.5-liter V6 with 255 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 306-hp (and 277 lb-ft) IS350 is offered with AWD or rear-wheel drive. The rear-wheel drive version gets the same eight-speed automatic as the IS200t.
And now model year 2017 is fast upon us, with yet more changes. The third-generation IS, introduced for model year 2014, gets its first styling refresh, with new headlights and a front bumper treatment that looks closer to the F Sport variation. There are changes at the rear as well, and inside. All examples will come with the Lexus Safety System+, comprised of the Pre-Collision System, Lane-Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beams, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
So what should turn up as this week’s test car but a 2016 IS350 F Sport? No, it’s not a 2017, but the drivetrain and suspension are identical to a `17, and the rest not functionally different. Both years may be available as you read this, with deals to be made on “last year’s” cars. The IS, unlike some of its German competitors, has not gotten larger, so is still a nimble, maneuverable machine that can slip through traffic or into a tight parking space with ease. The eight-speed transmission offers improvements over the six-speed in both performance and fuel economy, and the multiple driving modes — standard, Eco, Sport, and with the F Sport package, Sport+ give the IS the ability to be both a relaxed highway tourer with commendable economy for its power or a serious sports sedan. My test car also had the Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) system, which changes the steering ratio depending on speed and driving mode — and also upgrades steering wheel adjustability from manual to power-adjustable. The Lexus IS 350 F Sport is a world-class sports sedan with all of the electronic systems expected today, and then some.
I found that the car worked best in the normal, default mode around town and on the highway, with Sport or Sport+ the choice when the road got more interesting or quicker reflexes were needed. Eco would be good on an uncrowded highway — something that sadly doesn’t exist where I live. Its decreased throttle sensitivity made it a non-option when surrounding cars could be counted on to do the unexpected or downright stupid. Braking and steering response are as good as found in any street-oriented sports sedan.
APPEARANCE: There is no ignoring Lexus's hourglass-shaped "spindle" grille. Look beyond that, and the newest IS is not wildly different from the previous generation, for continuity and recognition. It's a bit longer, but doesn't really look it. In profile, it's more like a coupe than a sedan, with a near-fastback passenger cabin. L-shaped LED running lights bracket the headlights. F Sport gets you a sportier front fascia, with a low front splitter, functional ducts immediately outboard of the lower grille, and faux ducts beyond those. Sculpted rocker panels emphasize the modestly-flared fenders. There is a subtle ducktail at the trailing edge of the trunk, and twin exhausts. Modest chrome trim, around the grille and side windows shows its luxury side. The 2017 edition is again a couple of inches longer, with simpler front styling and less difference between regular and F Sport models.
COMFORT: The IS is still the most European of Lexus's offerings in character, with uncluttered interior styling in addition to the expected comforts and gadgetry. State-of-the-art technology abounds, especially in F Sport models, with TFT instrumentation and a moving center speedometer ring. Information, both necessary (tach, coolant temperature, fuel level) and less so, is displayed well and all systems are simple to use and understand. The trackball-like Remote Touch Interface (RTI) controller on the console for the center stack information display is a bit gimmicky but the electronic systems are well-designed and require no assistance from the manual. Seat comfort in front is first class, power-adjustable of course and both heatable and ventilated. A manually-adjustable steering wheel is standard; the optional VGRS variable-ratio steering system also adds power tilt and reach adjustment. The wheel has auxiliary controls for most cabin systems. Old-fashioned knobs supplement the screen-based controls for the climate system. Because of a high and wide central tunnel, the rear seat is best thought of as for two people. They get floor heat vents and console AC, plus a bit of storage in front seatback and a center armrest with cupholders. The rear seatback folds 60/40. The good-sized trunk has a space-saver spare lurking under its floor.
SAFETY: Strong materials and careful design and construction protect passengers. All IS models have four-wheel disc brakes. Antilock, of course, with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and traction and stability control, all managed by the Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) system. There are ten airbags, front, knee, and side for front passengers plus rear side and full-length side curtain. Optional safety systems include blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and the Pre-Collision System.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Use of high- and ultra-high tensile strength steel, laser screw welding and adhesive bonding to attach sections, and rear subframe and cowl bracing increase the rigidity of the IS's unibody structure and mean a quieter ride and better suspension response. Revisions to the front double-wishbone and rear multilink systems take advantage of that, even in standard form. The IS350 F Sport's Adaptive Variable Suspension starts with revised spring and damper rates and is integrated with the Drive Mode Select system to change damping from Euro-moderate comfort in Eco and default modes to firmer in Sport S and more so in Sport S+ modes. The result is a car that is comfortable in daily use and very competent for high-performance driving, and can be quickly switched between modes. It’s as quiet and refined as expected, but not necessarily meek and mild. VGRS changes the steering ratio, and so the weight of the steering, depending on speed, so low-speed maneuvers are easy, and steering is not overly-sensitive at speed. It also appropriately changes steering effort depending on driving mode, with a lighter touch in Eco or normal and heavier in the sport modes.
PERFORMANCE: With 306 horsepower (at 6400 rpm) and 277 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm), there is no shortage of power from the namesake 3.5-liter V6. Aluminum alloy block and heads keep weight down, and direct fuel injection allows a high compression ratio -- 11.8:1 -- for efficiency. Auxiliary port injectors makes for quicker warmup and better low-throttle operation. VVT-i variable cam phasing and lift dynamically optimizes airflow for optimum efficiency with minimal emissions. Power delivery is linear, and for most daily driving, transmission in D and default mode is perfect. When it comes time to play, go directly to Sport, or better, Sport S+ for quickest throttle response and, in D, more performance-oriented shift points. Even better then, slide the gear lever to manual mode and use the paddles behind the steering wheel arms. Default mode is optimized for fuel economy, and spends much time in eighth gear. There is enough torque, and downshifts quick enough while still smooth, that this is not a problem for everyday driving. Where default would have the car in eighth, Sport will be in seventh and Sport+ sixth. Both seventh and eighth are overdrives. This is not a fuel economy-oriented car, but an average of 22 mpg with maximum fun roads and minimal highway is nothing to be ashamed of given the performance.
CONCLUSIONS: The Lexus IS 350 F Sport is the sports sedan of the Lexus lineup.
2016 Lexus IS350 F Sport
Base Price $ 40,870
Price As Tested $ 49,205
Engine Type DOHC aluminum alloy V6 with VVT-i continuously-variable cam phasing and valve lift for all camshafts, direct and port fuel injection
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 210 cu. in.
Horsepower 306 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 277 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission 8-speed multi-mode automatic
Wheelbase / Length 110.2 in. / 183.7 in.
Curb Weight 3593 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 11.8
Fuel Capacity 17.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires Dunlop Sport Maxx 050 F:225/40R18 88Y R:255/35R18 90Y
Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS, EBD, BA, BSC, TRAC all standard and integrated into VDIM
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph 5.6 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert and heated outside rear-view mirrors $ 600
F Sport Package — includes:
• Exterior: F Sport front bumper and spindle grille, LED headlights, 18” F Sport split 5-spoke wheels with summer performance tires
• Interior: TFT instrument cluster, heated and ventilated F Sport front seats, perforated leather shift knob, black headliner, aluminum pedals, backup monitor
• Performance: Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), Sport S+ mode $ 3,155
Navigation System with Mark Levinson Audio System: Audio 5.1 Surround, 17 speakers, 835 watts, navigation system,Remote Touch Interface, Lexus Enform Destinations (includes 1-year trial subscription) and App Suite (complimentary), voice command, Lexus Insider, electrochromic auto-dimming inside rearview mirror $ 2,645
Variable Gear Ratio Power Steering with power tilt-and-telescope steering column $ 400
Cargo net $ 65
Illuminated door sills $ 425
Trunk mat $ 105
Destination charge $ 940