Vince Pornelos / Kelvin Christian Go | February 03, 2017 14:47
The Refreshed Prince
Time really does fly. I still remember the Philippine launch of the IS in 2013 at the Clark International Speedway. It really was a dynamic event that went against what Lexus has been known for up until that point; a brand that was built on highly conservative values of quality, comfort and the utmost refinement.
The transformation brought about by the prince of the Lexus line was profound, turning a brand that was perceived to be a Japanese alternative to Mercedes into a group that was just as exciting as BMW. Sure, they've already been working on things like the LFA and IS F at the time, but those models were already way up there in price; they needed something that could introduce them to a younger generation of drivers, ones that desire the quality and luxury of Lexus, but with more dynamism in the driving and design departments.
Now Lexus has the refreshed version, and we'll see if it's just as enjoyable to drive in 2017, just as it was in 2013.
They actually didn't do much to the original look, apart from a few small tweaks... or so it seems. Lexus made some adjustments to the fascia, but upon closer inspection the changes are more extensive. They exaggerated and enlarged the lower part of the spindle grill and made the top a little smaller. The headlights were reshaped along with the bumper with smaller lower side intakes, but the surprise was that the hood itself was changed. Typical facelifts involve new bumpers and wheel designs, but hoods are major components. The overall impression actually looks a bit more cohesive, and this is still the standard, non-F Sport variant.
Inside, the changes are so hard to notice, it's practically a game of spot-the-difference. By my eye and after flipping back and forth between the photos of the 2013 and 2017 models, the only differences I can spot are the 4-way switches on either spoke of the steering wheel, the cowl for the gauges, and the lack of the Lexus “mouse” switch panel. But no matter, as the cabin of the IS350 is fresher than the generation's age would imply; if anything, it looks more modern than much of the competition.
The driver's seat is cozy and snug, but not as aggressive with the bolstering like the F Sport. The legroom in the back isn't something particularly excellent, but the Lexus IS (Intelligent Sport) is a car meant to be driven, not be driven in. As such it's very much driver-oriented, which we like. Everything is straightforward and designed to make driving easier and more engaging. I like the full grip that the steering wheel offers, though I was really hoping for better paddle shifters; not necessarily fancy like carbon fiber (Ferrari does that), but something like aluminum would do nicely. I do miss the LFA-style LCD gauge, but that's meant for the F Sport (which we'll review a bit later); the more traditional gauges are just fine. There's the drive mode selector for the powertrain on the center console, and allows the driver to select programs that produce better economy or performance.
At the heart of the IS 350 is the 3.5L V6 with VVT-i and direct injection. There are no smaller engines in the local IS lineup like the IS 2.0L Turbo they get in Singapore; the 3.5L V6 is smallest engine that can qualify for JPEPA exemptions, which is why this Lexus is so affordable compared to its peers. I'm not complaining though; at 312 PS and 378 Nm of torque with an 8-speed gearbox driving the rear wheels, this should be fun.
As a daily driven car around the city, the IS 350 performs like before; smooth in ride, slick when shifting (in Normal mode) and unflustered by what's going on around. You see, while Lexus has been trying new things of late, one thing they will never let go of is their penchant for quietness. They make every effort to suppress the noise from the outside world when the doors and windows are closed, promising serenity amidst the noisiness of the world.
The IS isn't particularly efficient, but that's to be expected; it's a big engine after all. As a result, in the city and even with eco mode activated, the best I could muster with traffic is 6.9 kilometers to a liter (18 km/h average). On the highway it's much better, returning 10.8 km/h at an average of 84 km/h. But we really can set the consumption aside; this is a sport sedan after all, and it doesn't even have the F Sport badge yet.
The acceleration of the IS 350 is simply exceptional. 5.9 seconds from 0-100 km/h is a lot of fun to play with on a drag strip, and the gearbox is capable of top speeds in excess of 240 km/h if you push it on a track with a long enough straight.
But the way the IS 350 controls the weight of the car and brings it around corners that is plenty of fun. The steering isn't particularly talkative in the old school sense, but it's very accurate and allows you to place the tires exactly where you want them once you get adjusted to it. If you do decide to turn off the electronic nannies like ESP and TCS, the Lexus will oblige. In terms of driving performance and feel, I'd say the 3 Series is still the benchmark of the class, but not by as much as before when compared to the rest; Lexus IS 350 included.
Overall, the 2017 Lexus IS 350 is still the excellent sport sedan we know it to be. No, this isn't the F Sport with all the goodies, but the standard 350 is plenty good, and half a million pesos less... plenty of change left over for a trick set of wheels.