2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport 4-Dr Sedan - Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Understated beauty with supreme handling
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to test drive almost every model in the Lexus line. I've never driven one that lacked personality, competence or attention to detail. By and large, however, ultra high performance takes a back seat to grace, comfort and finish at Lexus. But for enthusiasts looking for the real deal in driving fun, a handful of Lexus sedans and coupes fill the bill and then some. The IS 350 F SPORT (base price: $42,900) is your ticket for big game hunting on back roads.
The closest sedan to the IS in the Lexus model line is the ES. Both are available in F Sport form. But if it's handling supremacy you're after, the IS 350's the one to buy because not only is it 11 inches shorter than the ES 350, but it's rear wheel drive (RWD) versus front wheel drive (FWD). Those differences also accounts for the much better weight distribution of the IS, which allots just 53% of its 3,787 pound curb weight to the front wheels versus 60% for the ES. When you start with a RWD platform as symmetrically balanced as the IS, you've got the makings of a great handling sedan.
If you're more interested in the appearance of high performance, just stick with the F Sport amenities that are included at no extra cost in the F Sport's base price. These include the best sports seats in the industry, bar none. The driver's side is adjustable 10 ways, plus 8 for the passenger. Both feature terrific side bolstering, plus heating and ventilation. The F Sport kit includes a set of staggered width dark metallic finish alloy rims, black geometric film interior trim, and special exterior styling touches and badging. A rear lip spoiler adds a finishing aero tweak to the looks.
I recommend ordering the "F SPORT Dynamic Handling Package, " which sprinkles fairy dust on every aspect of the suspension. The package's most obvious contribution is a set of 19 inch matte black alloy rims forged by BBS, 8.5J19 front and 9.5Jx19 rear. These staggered width rims are shod with staggered size, sticky (TW 260) Bridgestone Potenza S001L radials measuring 235/40R19 front and 265/35R19 rear. The Dynamic Handling Package also improves the F Sport's suspension tuning by fitting it with an adaptive variable system which allows you to tailor performance on the fly with a drive mode knob that offers Sport and Sport+ settings. Lexus adds a Torsen limited slip differential to eliminate unwonted wheelspin when cornering hard. Finally, the package adds a racy looking carbon fiber rear spoiler to the trunk lid.
Motive power for the IS 350 is a very sweet 3.5 liter V6 coupled to a paddle shifted 8-speed automatic transmission. Although Lexus offers a V8 engine in the (RC) coupe version of the IS, that engine is unavailable in the sedan. Nonetheless, the 311hp V6 is well qualified to propel the IS 350 to a 5.6 second zero-to-60 mph run, and a top speed of 143mph. This V6 has been heavily massaged by Lexus, with double overhead cams actuating 24 valves, and both port and direct fuel injection regulating intake charge. One way Lexus keeps extra weight off the front axle is to cast both the block and the heads of the V6 in aluminum alloy. Under full cry, this responsive engine emits a very rewarding and ethereal sounding cry as it reaches its power peak of 6,600rpm. The intermediate ratios of the transmission serve the power curve well enough to propel the IS 350 through the standing start quarter mile in 14.2 seconds at 100mph.
Lexus has revised the interior layout of the IS range for 2021, and the most noticeable benefit to you will be the conversion of the 10.3 inch infotainment screen to touch actuation. Repositioning has moved the screen seven inches closer to you than before, so it now falls within easy reach of both driver and passenger. The touchscreen simplifies usage compared to the haptic touchpad which continues to offer an alternate means of infotainment control. Another improvement is the Lane Tracing Assist offered as part of the Lexus Safety System+ suite of features. If you engage the dynamic radar cruise control, and lightly place your hands on the steering wheel, the IS 350 will follow the contours of the highway with virtually no intercession required on your part. We tested this semi-auto drive feature for over 100 miles on the freeway, and found it to be one of the most relaxed, best engineered systems we have experienced to date.
At an all-in price of $55,360, the IS 350 F Sport is one of the premier sports sedans you can buy for this kind of reasonable outlay.
2021 LEXUS IS 350 F SPORT
ENGINE: 3.5 liter V6, DOHC, 24 valves
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 20MPG City/28MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $55,360
HYPES: Understated Beauty, Precise Driving Tool
GRIPES: Would Be Even Better with the V8
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10