When Lexus Manila launched the IS 350 F Sport in 2013, we thought it embodied everything we wanted in a sport executive car. The aggressive design, the high quality interior, the driving dynamics, the outright performance, and the price (thanks to JPEPA) elevated the IS 350 F Sport to the top of our list in the class, showing the great changes that Lexus is making to their cars, their approach to luxury, and their target market.
A lot has happened in the four years since the IS made its debut on the track, as new challengers wanted to unseat what we thought was a great car to move up in the world with. To keep the IS up with the times, Lexus gave the model a subtle update, and we're about to put it through its paces.
The changes made to the exterior seem minor, but they're actually more complex. The alteration to the hood and the reprofiling of the fascia are major changes, even though they're quite subtle. If anything, they made the car look angrier with the large spindle grill, the wider intakes, and the fiercer eyes. The rear wasn't changed much apart from the updated LED taillamps, but still, especially in this F Sport trim, the IS 350 is very much a looker.
Pop open the driver's door and you're met by a very sporty cabin, one finished in black and gray, but with red upholstery. The contrast is very striking, and definitely one of my favorite color combinations.
They didn't do much to the dashboard, but that was expected. The minor alterations include the switches on the steering wheel, the larger infotainment screen, and the shroud around the LFA-style gauges are there for this F Sport; a definite upgrade over the conventional gauges in the standard IS 350.
Seating up front is definitely nice and snug, and I like the way the IS seems to surround the driver. The Lexus multimedia control system is still one of my favorites, and definitely adds a touch of high tech quality to the control system for the navigation, the audio, and other functions.
Of course given that the IS was meant to be driven, the legroom in the back seat isn't what you would expect especially with the large tunnel in the middle of the floor for the propeller shaft on this rear-wheel drive sport sedan. For comfort, the ES 350 is still the standard Lexus if you prefer to be driven.
What makes the Lexus IS 350 F Sport special is the way it performs. At the heart of the matter is the engine; a 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated twin-cam V6. The 3.5-liter mill is the smallest engine in Lexus's list that can qualify for JPEPA exemptions, which is why this Lexus is so affordable compared to its peers, and at 312 horsepower driving the rear wheels via an 8-speed gearbox, it's very well motivated.
As a daily drive, the IS 350 F Sport exemplifies the very best qualities of Lexus: comfort and serenity. The insulation that Lexus applies at selected positions around the structure make for a quiet drive, even with the noisy motorcycles and vehicles with loud exhausts around. With the drive selector in comfort, the ride of the suspension is quite pliant even though the wheels are quite big.
Fuel economy, as expected, isn't much to write home about. In traffic it was doing 6.5 km/l (16 km/h average) which wasn't too bad all things considered; it's a 3.5 V6 after all. On the highway that improves significantly to 11.3 km/l (89 km/h average), and does it in silence and with excellent road holding.
When taken for a more spirited drive, however, the IS 350 F Sport really shines. The performance figures of the F Sport and the standard IS 350 are almost identical; 0-100 km/h in 5.9 seconds and a 230 km/h top speed. There's a nice growl from the engine bay too at high revs; it's a good thing that Lexus wasn't able to tune that out with the sound insulation.
With Sport+ mode activated, the LFA-style gauges move to the center and feature a white ring around it. Sport mode activates the more aggressive settings of the engine and transmission, while Sport+ firms up the suspension (for better body roll control) and alters the variable steering to sharpen up the response.
Needless to say, the F Sport is still very much a joy to drive, especially if you live in a mountain accessed by winding roads like I do. As always, the electric steering isn't really that great, but the precision is perfect, allowing the driver to place the tires exactly where he/she wants to.
The power of the engine is more than plenty; so much so that I almost wish this one had the optional all-wheel drive system for even faster cornering. The commute to and from work just becomes that little bit more fun with the sharp handling of the IS, and the quick response from the engine and gearbox doesn't even necessitate pulling the paddles to shift manually.
The way we see it, the Lexus IS 350 F Sport is an M3 at a bargain. Power, performance, style, and luxury all in one, and at great value given its price tag at just over PhP 3 million. The F Sport really is the perfect car for those of us who have moved up in the world, but don't exactly want to grow up yet.