The Lexus IS has had its eyes set on the BMW 3 Series for years, but it’s never really managed to get out in front of the German sedan. Now in its third generation the IS remains a competent compact sedan, but do its more aggressive looks help it stand out from rivals, like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4?
The Lexus IS received a refresh for the 2017 model year, so for the 2018 changeover the updates are small with the IS 200t now being called the IS 300, even though it retains the 241-hp turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder. As you move up the lineup, there’s the IS 300 AWD with its 260-hp 3.5L V6 and then the top IS 350 that’s powered by a 311-hp 3.5L V6. The IS 350 is also available with either rear or all-wheel drive.
On the outside the IS features an aggressive front fascia that’s dominated by the Lexus spindle grille, that’s flanked by large air intakes. The IS’s face is far more aggressive than any of its German rivals, which is a statement that can be applied to every model in the current Lexus lineup. As you move back the design is a little less aggressive, but clean and somewhat sporty with its strong shoulder line and angular taillights. The overall look does stand out, but it’s not nearly as expressive as the new LS or the beautiful LC.
Inside the interior has remained largely unchanged since the current IS was introduced in 2013. The interior’s design is dominated by horizontal lines with a wide center console. A 10.3-inch infotainment screen sits smack in the middle, but its too far out of reach for your fingers, so Lexus makes you use an annoying joystick to control it. Also my biggest compliant, just like every other Lexus, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto isn’t available. While the front of the interior is comfortable for yourself and your best friend, your friends in the back will likely complain about the lack of legroom. This was an issue with the second-generation IS and it wasn’t really fixed when the third-generation debuted.
Ever since the IS F departed, the rest of the IS lineup hasn’t really managed to use the performance label. While the base IS 300 with its turbocharged four-cylinder is an improvement over then old 2.5L V6, its performance will hardly burn any rubber. At the higher end there’s the 311-hp 3.5L V6, but the IS 350 won’t make you as happy as the BMW 340i or Mercedes-AMG C43 will when the road opens up. In the middle, there’s the IS 300 AWD, which I spent a week with. The naturally aspirated 3.5L V6 is competent, but at the same time it’s not too exciting. The IS 300 features a six-speed automatic transmission that sends the power to all four wheels.
With only 260 horsepower, the IS 300 AWD isn’t too impressive on paper. Behind the wheel, it’s a good sports sedan with the added confidence that all-wheel drive provides. There are three driving modes: Eco, Comfort and Sport. The Eco mode is pretty pointless, since it manages to kill any fun that the powertrain can muster up. You’ll find yourself largely picking between Comfort and Sport, with the latter obviously being the best choice. Once on the road, the IS’s chassis is stiff and the brakes are up to the job to stop the sedan, but sadly the total package isn’t that much fun.
For three generations the IS has been a strong rival to the BMW 3 Series, but it seems to always come up a few points short in the race. The IS is a good sports sedan, but it’s not great. It’s engine lineup isn’t very inspiring and there are a few quirks, like its small back seat. With the arrival of the throughly reworked LS, let’s hope that Lexus has some big things in store for the next IS.
Pricing for the 2018 Lexus IS 300 starts at $38,210, while the IS 300 AWD starts at $40,660 and the IS 350 starts at $41,830.
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