Mark Jones
Road Test Editor
4 minute read
28 Aug 2013
11:00 am

Lexus IS 350 so good, but…

Mark Jones

I really like the new Lexus IS 350 and even more so in F Sport guise like we had on test.

The local media press release supports this statement and then some by stating: “With its totally redesigned third-generation IS sedan, Lexus has thrown down the gauntlet – build the most fun-to-drive sport sedan in the world.

“Question is, does the newest gladiator in the auto arena pull off a victory? Absolutely, unquestionably, assuredly, undoubtedly…” they say.

Massive words indeed in the light of stiff competition from the likes of BMW’s 3 Series, Audi’s A4 and Merc’s C Class. But I guess it really depends on what you interpret as fun or, for that matter, as a sport sedan.

So what do I think? From a styling point of view I think it hits the mark perfectly.

The more conservative German crowd will try and dismiss it as typically Japanese. But it is quite different to what we are used to in this premium segment.

Jumping inside the F Sport is also a pleasure as the highly supportive sports seats and top class interior immediately make you feel welcome. I would go so far as to say that the interior trim detailing and F Sport steering wheel, shift knob, aluminium pedals and scuff plates promise plenty in the sporty department.

Turn the key and this theme continues as the F Sport instrument cluster, which incorporates a funky and innovative driver’s meter with moving centre ring from the LFA, comes to life along with a decent burble from the twin exhaust pipes.

The new bodyshell is claimed to be lighter – just – by five kilograms and is more rigid than its predecessor. The front suspension system has been revised, and an all new rear suspension system adopted along with a new steering system that offers a lighter and smoother steering feel.

You also get a new Drive Mode Select system that features up to five switchable driving modes in ECO, SNOW, NORMAL, SPORT/SPORT S and SPORT S+. The latter two settings are available only in the F Sport model which is equipped with Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) to fine tune things to your mood and driving style.

 

 

 

When you do move off the steering feel and handling is immediately good and right at the top of the class. But only in general day to day driving and probably in mildly spirited weekend mountain pass form at best.

This is also where almost all the driving of the Lexus will probably be done and for this purpose the car does exceptionally well.

But if you see fun or sporty as hitting your local track for a few hot laps, chasing a BMW or really carving up a mountain pass then you are going to be disappointed – no matter what the marketing material says. Although the Lexus is lighter, the competition is even lighter and more nimble.

Up to this point the Lexus has the competition on the back foot.

Where the Japanese charge is comprehensively halted is in the power and powertrain department. The engine is a carryover from its predecessor and although it has direct port injection and Dual VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing-intelligent) to both intake and exhaust camshafts it was then, and still is, an old school 3.5 litre naturally aspirated V6.

It never has enough urge, especially on The Reef, when compared to its more modern turbocharged or supercharged German competition.

Producing on paper 228 kW at 6 400 rpm and 375 Nm of torque at 4 800 rpm, which is slightly down on the outputs of the old engine, the claim is 0-100 km/h in 5.9 seconds and a maximum speed of 225 km/h with fuel consumption pegged at 9.7 litres/100 kilometres for the combined cycle.

I am not so sure how Lexus can get it so wrong, but even making the best use of the eight-speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) Automatic Transmission from their acclaimed Lexus IS F we came nowhere near the 5.9 seconds with a best run of 7.26. And our measured true top speed came in at an electronically limited 235.59 km/h with 242 km/h showing on the clock – so where did 225 km/h come from?

Either way the equivalent 335i BMW and 3.0T Audi will hurt the Lexus IS 350 in a performance battle. And it is this no rush of addictive force fed torque and power that is felt on the Lexus, when trying to get on the boil, that will still see many performance mad South African customers finding their way into the German offerings – when perhaps they shouldn’t be. It would unfortunately alsokeep me out of one.

Address this issue and I think the Lexus IS 350 F Sport will give the competition the run for its money that it deserves. It has the rest of the package at a price that can’t be beaten and should come out tops in any shoot-out.