By on December 19, 2005

A hedge against ego inflation?Jinking through traffic somewhere above the ton, it quickly became apparent that the Lexus IS 350 wasn't the ideal car for the job. The erstwhile sports sedan bumped and jiggled over surface imperfections like a tied-down tunermobile. It rolled through directional transitions like a luxobarge, helming with unacceptable imprecision and unwelcome lean. While the powerplant provided more than enough shove for the work at hand, the IS 350's dynamics drew a definitive line between "doable" and "enjoyable." If further proof were needed that I was in the wrong car at the wrong speed, the BMW M3 keeping pace provided it.

After a few polite lead exchanges, the M3 dropped the hammer and disappeared. I rejected the idea of visiting V-Max. The IS 350's 3.5-liter V6 holsters a surprising percentage of the mighty M3's oomph (at a fraction of the price), but it's no Bimmer beater. More specifically, maxxing-out a 3-Series anything is like gently drifting through the tunnel of love, compared to the baby Lexus' Autobahn of Doom stunt show. What upmarket motorist needs THAT kind of excitement? Indeed, why would anyone suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous ride and handling when any number of similarly priced cars offer a more pleasurable driving experience?

A pillar of the establishment?It's all about the big O: ostentation. The IS 350 may be as manic as a radio controlled Kyosho Inferno, but the Lexus badge on its nose and tail tells the world that its driver is a man of wealth and taste. Thanks to a few meticulously-engineered models and exceptional dealer service, US public opinion has elevated Lexus to level-pegging with BMW, Mercedes, Audi, et al. Meanwhile, back where the rubber meets the road, Lexus has lost the plot. Although the company continues to manufacturer some superlative wafty coddlers, the IS 350 is yet another Lexus displaying a stunning lack of brand consistency. It's no more a luxury car than a Mustang GT.

Thankfully for sales, looks can be deceiving. The IS 350's combination of sharply-tailored creases and sensual curves create a perfectly judged blend of accelerative intent and stately elegance; a recipe that's bound to make upmarket buyers feel good about driving a small car. The bland butt is a tad too Toyota, but the rest of the IS 350's sheetmetal projects all the restrained modernity that Chris Bangle failed to realize for BMW. Overall, Lexus' mid-market model proves that their new house style– "L-Finesse"– is more than a pissed-off Pokemon in a Brioni suit. It's a pissed-off Pokemon in a Brioni suit with a touch of Maserati thrown in.

Haptic Hell on wheels. The IS 350's cabin certainly isn't the swish inner sanctum you'd expect at this price point. Although you can't fault the pliability of the soft-touch plastics or the leather's Velveetatude, close your eyes, press a button and you'll swear you're sheltering inside a top-spec Avalon. The sooner Lexus replicates Audi's haptic hit squad, the better. And while they're at it, the Japanese designers should L-finesse some of that lustrous wood onto the main fascia; the dark grey plastic surrounding the IS 350's instruments and gauges is about as classy as a quilted toilet roll holder. Still, you get some aluminum paddle shift wings and a dead cool "engine start" button…

That hooks you up to one of the most mental motors made. It sure doesn't sound like much– a Pontiac Grand Am's pushrod powerplant whines to mind– but the Lexus' V6 is ready to go anytime, every time, all the God damn time. With 306 horses underfoot, and a six-speed automatic gearbox that grabs the next gear like a two-year-old coveting her sister's Nintendo DS, going fast is simply a matter of forgetting to go slow. Drop a couple of cogs via the paddles, plant your right foot, and the IS 350 will punch through the ether at a ferocious clip, belied by a dearth of engine vibration. Not to put too fine a point on it, this dog will hunt.

Where's MY billiard table tarmac?But it won't dance. The IS 350 is only slightly less hard-riding than a Skyline GT-R– with none of the corresponding car control. Woe betides any hard-charging enthusiast who finds an expansion joint or a big old bump in a tight corner; the little Lexus will hop, skip and jump like a colt struggling to get out of a horsebox. Switch off the electronic Nanny, and it's woe Nellie!– oversteer oblivion courtesy of the sharpest yet least progressive brakes money can buy. By the same token, I pity the poor bastard who bought an IS 350 thinking he could cruise through an urban landscape without an overly-intimate exploration of the concrete topography.

In short, the IS 350 is a bad BMW, rather than a great Lexus. Shame. As I watched the M3 evaporate that afternoon, I wished I was driving an LS, SC or RX. I could have cranked-up the tunes, kicked back and… relaxed.

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18 Comments on “Lexus IS 350 Review...”

  • avatar

    You have no idea what you are talking about. Every site I go to people are raving about this car. I bought one a couple of months ago and all around it is a better car then the BMW (box back ugly BMW) One of my friends just got the 06 3 series and is kicking himself ever time he gets in my car. Next time you write a review try not to be so one sided and really be honest with yourself.

    Lexus owner

  • avatar

    I’ve driven the new BMW’s and I own the IS 350. I traded UP from a 98 M3. I’ll never go back to BMW. I won’t deny that they have some nice designs, except for the Bangle-7, their cars are sharp! But unless your every drive is on the twisty-turneys with nobody in front of you, I’d rather be walking. Besides the fact that I wouldn’t take my worst enemy’s car to a BMW dealership for repairs. The IS 350 is superbly luxurious in comparison, and I reiterate my comments regarding the daily commute, whatever that may be – unless you’ve got nothing but mountain roads to drive on, I’m much happier with a cush ride than something that can turn on a dime.

    Regardless, I can’t imagine purchasing a car from any other manufacturer ever again – unless I can’t afford it. The car, the sales people, service department – everyone I dealt with at Lexus was TOP NOTCH. I cannot say the same about BMW….

  • avatar

    And I just have to add that if this is ‘truth about cars’, maybe a little more focus should be placed on the specific qualities of the cars being reviewed, rather showcasing the lame regurgitation of semi-relevant stolen literate phrases that do nothing more than confuse any reasonable consumer’s attempts to make the right new car purchase decision.

    “Woe betides any hard-charging enthusiast who finds an expansion joint or a big old bump in a tight corner; the little Lexus will hop, skip and jump like a colt struggling to get out of a horsebox.”


  • avatar

    One of the problems with this report is that the writer is comparing the IS350 to the M3. The fair comparison would be the IS350 vs. the 3 Series, but not the M3. He would need to wait until the IS500 hits the states to compare the two.

    It’s like Comparing the 3 Series vs. M3 class… not the same car.

    And comparing the car to the Mustang GT is horrendous. I’ve personally worked on the Mustang GT and it is nothing in the same league as the IS350…

  • avatar

    Can’t someone build me a new 1986 BMW 325iS? I suppose this comes close except for the generic mushroom factor.

  • avatar

    great review for driving enthusiasts. but i would still buy this car or the is250. why? cuz i don’t have the skills to enjoy a bmw.

  • avatar

    I must say, from reading the reviews by Robert Farago, this guys has something against Lexus, or even Japanese Cars.
    Another thing… I absolutely agree with BUDDYLEXUS, Why the hell would you compare a M3 to an IS? and the phrase, “It’s no more a luxury car than a Mustang GT,” that is just DISTURBING. I used to drive the Audi A4 2.0T and switched to 330i last year. I recently test drove the 2007 IS350 and.. the car does not deserve this review.

  • avatar
    Infamous Dr. X

    This is why I read this site. Even if RF or any of the other reviewers get it wrong, there’s always a legion of commenters to set the story straight…I’ve been wondering about the IS300, whether I should bother adding it to my list of vehicles to try out. Glad to see it’s worthy of consideration.

  • avatar

    this is, in my opionion a useless article. I tried to find one actual negative point he made well, and all I found were verbose, inarticulate complaints. Let me counter this article with a bit of reality- the lexus is350 is the best performance luxury sedan out there in it’s price range. no, it’s not perfect, but your best choice in this category for this price. the only other competition is the acura TL, or if you like sluggish handles and response the audi A4. People really love the A4 for various reasons, but it does not have the performance. It is safer than the lexus, and that’s great. I’ve owned all three, as well as a mercedes E350, BMW 535, a few hondas and a volvo. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a 3 series BMW. Love the 5 series but, it’s a different price point. For that matter, the M3 is a different price point as well. the two cars are not in the same price range or category, so why is he comparing them? The author probably isn’t actually interested in a luxury/performance sedan under 40k. I like to drive fast. I like responsive cars, and I don’t like to more than $550 a month. My advice is to disregard this article and just test drive the car yourself.

  • avatar

    Perhaps the author’s hatred stems from the Lexus’s lack of the main enthusiast ingredient: a manual transmission. I know that did it for me when shopping for a sports sedan. How can you call yourself a competitor for the sports sedan title when you offer an automatic as the only option?!

  • avatar

    You guys don’t get it! If you take a 3-series around a race track and then take the IS350 around the same track. The 3-series is a better driving car. It doesn’t matter M3 or regular 3-series. The BMW just handles better. This fact has been stated in numerous reviews R&T, C&D, …etc.. In fact any sports sedan from Europe handles better than the IS350…BMW, Benz, Volvo, Audi, Alfa, Peug…etc.. Toyota still lacks the engineering excellence to make a fine handling sports sedan.

  • avatar

    Boy, I didn’t relize how over sensitive Lexus fans are. I’ve never heard so much whinning in my life! What’s wrong with a little honesty every now and then. Tell it like it is. I’ve been subscribing to R&T & Car and Driver for 25 years, and in that time they have lost their bite. No one wants to stand up to the new all powerfull Lexus. All of these other magazines are afraid to say the truth for fear of a reduction in advertising dollars.

  • avatar

    Although this review is old, I would like to add my 2 cents from experience. This comparison is not fair and not all truth. To pit the Lexus against an M3 and say that the former is not as fast, direct, or focused is simply a straw-man argument. (Full disclosure – I own an M3.)

    I went to a Lexus event last year where they introduced the IS350 as their new model and pitted it against its targeted competitor, the BMW 330i (with 255hp). I got a chance to test drive both a few times.

    The Lexus was more luxurious than anything BMW could conjure up. It was a softer, quieter, and more relaxing ride. And it had more grunt when you stomped on the gas.

    But, it had too much Lexus DNA in it, and not as much as the RWD, sportiness that the old IS300 used to have.

    Even when the event was stacked in the big L’s favor, my brother (who drove a Lexus and called my M3’s interior subpar) and I came away more impressed with the 3 series. It was slower and weaker, but the power delivery was smoother and the engine note was richer, making you FEEL you were going much faster that the actual speed indicated.

    The BMW was a harsher ride, but that resulted in less body roll coming into and out of a corner. The more direct steering wheel also helped. The BMW simply handled better and felt faster.

    There is no contest in terms of the interior and luxuriousness of the 2 cars. However, I only noticed that when I first entered the cars. As soon as I was engulfed in the engine sound and the tight turns around the corners, who cares about radios, AC, etc.

    So, to sum it up, if you’re the kind of driver who loves the the feel and connectedness of the car and the road, and who enjoys the sound of a revved-up engine, than the Lexus is not for you. But, the Lexus is probably a much, much better car for someone who hates driving. Thus, my dad, mom, and all of my extended family would pick the Lexus over the bimmer anytime and any day.

    However, it’s interesting to note that even after about a year since its introduction, the number of IS’s I see on the road pales in comparision to the number of 3-series (the newer, Banglized model targeted by the IS) I see.

    And to make the matter worse, BMW decided to up the ante (even when it was winning) by introducing that twin-turbo 300-hp listed (but more like 330 actual) 335i to the market. The Lexus stands no chance.

    But to compare a Lexus to an M3 is another matter.

  • avatar

    I enjoyed the test drive of the IS350, but could not buy a sports sedan without a manual transmission. The IS 250 all wheel drive automatic is dog slow (apologies to my dogs). The only manual available is the IS 250 rear wheel drive. Even the IS-F has an automatic.

  • avatar

    rbr623 is so right. why is the 250 the only model with a manual?! this may be the only reason I will not buy an IS over a 3 series

  • avatar

    Let me tell you this, I’m a BMW Step Technician, recently I found a Job in a better company, thanks to my engineer background, and I love the BMW’s but for myself I bought an IS350 Is this tell’s you something??? which one you think would be better??? jejejejeje LExus will never visit the dealer again, BMW keeps you there, fighting with me at all the times, jejejejejejej
    July 2008 Brand New IS350 granite gray, premium package, GPS black leather interior.


  • avatar
    lexus junk

    I have both a IS 350 and a BMW 3 series. Lexus has had Issues with rear brakes, gas line, seat belts and front breaks and rotors. BMW none. 35,000 miles on lexus who has a technical service bulletin about front brake pads which they say should be under warranty for 48 moths or 50,000 miles. I had to pay $600.00 for new pads and rotors that Lexus will not cover. I will never buy another Lexus or Toyota because of all the issues and very poor customer service department.

  • avatar

    Well well well.

    I see that others have already expressed what I wanted to say, albeit more rudely.

    Robert, disappointing review style and irrelevant comparison.

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