Had anyone asked us about Lexus 20 or even 10 years ago, the most common words and phrases you would have heard in that conversation would have included Daddy's car, Mommy's SUV, excellent safety, great wood paneling, mirror-finish paintwork, J.D. Power, great resale value, upscale Toyota, so on and so forth. All of these are great attributes in a luxurious everyday car, but none of them really connote that X factor; that thing about cars -particularly high end cars- that stirs the loins.
That -we're glad to report- is changing and, judging by our time spent with the 2015 IS 350 F Sport, the Lexus revolution has given birth to something great.
It sounds odd to read that given that Lexus did come out with the IS F high performance saloon back in 2007 and the LFA supercar in 2010. Those two models, however, are reserved for a select few given their prices and availability at the time. That is not the case with the IS 350 F Sport.
For starters, this IS 350 F Sport is not to be confused with the IS F. The F Sport isn't a dedicated super sedan like the IS F, instead it is a sportier and more aggressive derivative of the hot-selling IS 350.
The IS 350 goes toe-to-toe against models like the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C Class; meaning the engine is up front and drives the rear wheels, hence the long bonnet and the short rear deck. The design of the car is arguably the most aggressive in the class, as stated by the large Lexus spindle grill up front. The character lines, creases and other details appear to be departures from the typical minimalist conservatism of the L Finesse design philosophy that we saw in previous generation Lexus IS 300.
Of course this isn't the typical IS 350, as the subtle differences become clearer when you park a standard model next to this F Sport variant. The 2015 IS 350 F Sport comes with a similar but ultimately different front bumper; one that has a more aggressive shape and an angrier look. The spindle grill is different and there are no foglamps to speak of; the F Sport relies entirely on the headlamps to illuminate the road. There are F Sport badges on the front fenders, along with the larger gun metallic gray F Sport wheels filling up the arches. The entire car is finished off by shapely rear end with a pair of tail lamps with exceptionally cool L-shaped LED patterns.
Pop open one of the doors and you're greeted by a very premium cabin. Leather is the material of choice in this segment and it's everywhere in the interior. The front seats offer great levels of support and comfort; perfect for long drives. One thing to note is that if you're in the market for a Lexus to ride the back seat in, it's better if you look at models like the ES 350 or larger. The Lexus IS is intended to be a sport executive sedan so rear legroom is not a priority like your stereotypical executive premium saloon like the Mercedes E Class. One tell tale note is that “IS” actually stands for Intelligent Sport.
One look around the dashboard and it's clear that the IS 350 F Sport makes use of some very impressive tech. There are your expected features like the dual zone climate control, the multi-media audio unit, auto headlamps, auto wipers and a very long list of other power features. Of course the dashboard gets a bit of button overdose, but that's understandable given the level of features in the car. The good news is that the IS 350 F Sport gets the same unified interface system that allows the driver to control most of the pertinent features and settings via a hat switch beside the gearstick.
Press the ignition and that 3.5-liter twin cam V6 elicits a rumble, signifying that it's raring to go. We've driven the GS 350 before, and this one shares the same direct injection dual VVT-i engine; one that has a maximum output of 306 PS and 375 Newton-meters of torque. Transferring those figures to the tarmac is an 8-speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic gearbox; a transmission derived from the IS F super saloon.
Driving the IS 350 F Sport around town is a pleasant experience. The drivetrain actually has a variety of modes that can be activated via a knob just below of the gearstick. In Eco mode, the transmission and engine are taught to behave and drive as efficiently as possible, and returns a respectable fuel economy of 7.4 km/l in the city (19 km/h average). Normal mode turns off the Eco settings so the fuel economy dips down a bit to 7.2 km/l as the powertrain gets a bit more relaxed, especially with regards to throttle response.
The suspension and NVH of the IS 350 F Sport do get top marks considering it rides on wider and larger diameter (read: louder) wheels and tires. Maneuverability is also good in the city though sometimes the large mirrors tend to obstruct the view when negotiating tight city streets.
Now it's time for the good part: seeing what the IS 350 F Sport can do up in the mountains.
Just before turning in the direction of the more handling intensive mountain roads just east of the metro, I activated the most aggressive setting of the powertrain: Sport+. This setting ultimately sharpens up the throttle response, giving the driver full command of the 306 PS V6. It also makes the gearbox more alert and the shifts more immediate. Best of all, however, is how the uber-cool digital LFA-derived gauges light up in white. Game time.
Floor the throttle and the IS 350 F Sport just goes; there really is not substitute for the music that a properly tuned V6 generates. I'm selecting the gears via the paddles, and they do work very well. For the acceleration enthusiasts out there, 100 km/h is dispatched from a standstill in just 5.6 seconds.
Dive on the anchors and the IS F Sport digs deep to scrub off speed quickly. Turn in and the front just points to where you need to go. The steering may not be as communicative, but it gets the job done and it's still a big improvement over the previous IS 300. The suspension is also adaptive, so even when you push the car from one corner to another all over a mountain road the IS 350 F Sport never showed signs of strain, though the traction control and stability control system are a bit eager to get in on the action. Nevertheless, unless you push this Lexus way over its limits, the body and suspension seem to give the driver confident control of the situation.
It comes as no surprise that the 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport garners very high marks by our yardsticks across the board. The best bit about this Lexus is that it is covered by JPEPA, meaning Lexus Manila can price it very, very competitively. To put the IS 350 F Sport in perspective its chief rivals (sport variants) are already well over the PhP 4 million mark, all while this top spec F Sport is at PhP 3,088,000.
Need we say more?