By on September 8, 2017

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD - Image: © Timothy Cain

2017 Lexus IS350

3.5-liter DOHC V6 (306 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 277 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

19 city / 26 highway / 21 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

12.6 city / 9.2 highway / 11.0 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

19.3 mpg [12.2 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $38,820 (U.S) / $42,295 (Canada)

As Tested: $51,635 (U.S.) / $57,445 (Canada)

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2,145 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Before you’ve even pressed its starter button, you’re already mindful of a number of reasons most sports-sedan buyers veer away from the 2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport.

The IS’s decidedly Japanese styling, which I’m personally quite fond of but many TTAC authors detest, is an instant turn-off for luxury-car buyers who prefer subdued Teutonic touches. The Lexus IS is a look-at-me car, especially with $595 Ultrasonic Blue Mica and F Sport bodywork.

The third-gen Lexus IS is also bizarrely packaged. Driver’s ingress is made nearly intolerable by a small aperture. The doorframe lusts after your right hip; the center tunnel is waiting to aggressively greet your right knee. Entering the IS is like crawling under your kitchen table. Sure, you’ll fit once you’re under there, but adult frames aren’t designed for such maneuvers.

More obvious, now that you’re primed to ignite the 3.5-liter, 306-horsepower naturally aspirated V6, is the array of buttons and switches and controllers and contraptions that encompass the cabin’s frontal lobe. Few are where you’d expect them to be. Many do not operate in the conventional fashion to which you’ve grown accustomed.

Buyers could be put off by the 2017 Lexus IS350’s design, by its awkward access, by its unusual ergonomics, or by all three factors. If so, they’re missing out on an exceptionally balanced driver’s car.

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD profile - Image: © Timothy CainSpace Oddity

It’s not as though the IS350 F Sport’s design won’t appeal to anyone besides yours truly — I’m not the only one who loves the look of this car. Distinctive Lexus cues arguably work best on the company’s rear-wheel-drive architectures. That rising line that disappears at the rear wheel and then appears again beneath the taillight adds character. The headlights and vast spindle grille tell a story of surprise.

This much is certain: the Lexus IS350 doesn’t look like anything else on the road.

The IS’s odd packaging also pays dividends in certain areas. The large 13.8-cubic-foot trunk is enhanced by a squared-off shape that’s capable of cargo hauling above its dimensional class. The rear seat, while not expansive, is comfortable enough for two adults and entirely sufficient for children — the same can’t be said for all IS competitors. And once you’ve managed to wriggle your way into the driver’s seat, you’ll be charmed. The seat in this F Sport model is among the very best I’ve sat in this year.

As for the bewildering interior array, at least it’s representative of a broad feature count. Blind-spot monitoring and sunshade controls are to the left of the steering wheel. The signal stalk is of the return-to-center variety. Steering wheel controls include, on the right side, far from the BSM button, tiny buttons for lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Regular cruise-control functions are controlled by a short stalk below the upshift paddle. On the center stack, driver and passenger temperatures are selected on touch-sensitive sliders, between which reside 11 climate buttons and one extra button Lexus installed for a function this car lacks. Hazard lights sit immediately to the south, above the audio controls. Bless’em, there are even volume and tuning knobs. The duo is mated to six more minute buttons for audio.

Farther down the stack are large square buttons for seat heating and cooling as well as the heated steering wheel. Alongside the gated shifter is Lexus’ mouse, by no means the easiest means of operating the widescreen infotainment cluster even when aided by four shortcut buttons (including an enter button for your thumb) and a forward/back rocker. Drive modes are selected alongside your right thigh with a rotary knob, an ESC-off button, and a separate Snow mode button. Sunroof controls, up above, serve as bookends to four light switches.

Let your fingers do the walking.2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD rear - Image: © Timothy CainFantastic Voyage

Mode swings don’t change the 2017 Lexus IS350 F-Sport from a dog with a Valium to a dog with a bone. Eco to Normal to Sport S to Sport S+ is a progressive wave. Indeed, progressive is the key word in Lexus’ IS vernacular. It describes the way the engine responds to throttle inputs, unlike so many of today’s smaller turbocharged engines. Progressive: yes, that’s the way the IS350 F Sport’s steering weight builds up, appropriately so, when a corner tightens and your inputs become more urgent. Brake feel is spot on. The six-speed automatic’s shifts are inconspicuous when they ought to be, but hastier and ever more crisply defined the more you require them to be.

The 2017 Lexus IS350 is not a multiple personality kind of a car. A flick of a software-altering switch doesn’t result in an ES-aping IS350 that exchanges its identity for an LFA-copying IS350. You, the IS350 F Sport driver, are the switch. This Lexus is responsive, it places the onus on you, keen driver that you are.2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD interior - Image: © Timothy CainAs a result, in many ways the 2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD could come across as a car that’s a decade late to the party. The engine game, for instance, has moved on. Drivers in 2017 don’t want to build revs — pfft, don’t be so silly — they want a great slug of torque just off idle. Drivers today want their sporty cars to shout, “Sporty!” with suspensions that refuse to suspend — not Lexus ISs that reveal their suspensions’ athleticism in various team-building exercises. Drivers today don’t want handling — they want grip.

Despite low-profile tires — 225/40R18 fronts, 255/35R18 rears on Bridgestone Turanzas — the IS350 F Sport rides remarkably well. Upping the ante with the drive-mode selector won’t result in adaptive dampers that sorely diminish ride comfort, either, nor does it induce unnatural weighting in the steering. The IS350 persists as an IS350, just in slightly larger or lesser quantities.2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD interior - Image: © Timothy CainThat means the 306-horsepower V6 always pleases but does not wow. The all-wheel-drive IS350’s six-speed automatic (RWD models get an eight-speed) never awes but never disappoints. Cornering prowess is notable because of the IS350’s ability to cosset, not necessarily because of outright roadholding mastery. There’s a level of interactivity, but never so much feel that a typical Lexus client will be overwhelmed by the incoming communiqués.

While evidently not a dynamic masterpiece, the 2017 Lexus IS350 AWD F Sport is consistently composed and appealingly balanced. That’s increasingly a lost art.

Modern Love

The Lexus IS350 operates in an arena where top-tier German competitors have made gouging an art form. Don’t be fooled by their base prices. While IS350s begin at $42,365, similar to a $41,245 BMW 330i, the price comparison is deceiving. The 330i is now a 2.0T affair. IS350-comparable power in a 3 Series requires spending $49,945 on a (quicker-than-IS350) 340i.

But to build a 340i equipped like this luxuriously equipped IS350 AWD F Sport (all-wheel drive, sporting extras, heated steering wheel, Mark Levinson audio, power rear sunshade, ventilated front seats, full suite of active safety kit) would require more than $60,000 in BMW’s configurator.

The Genesis G70 apparently doesn’t represent the dawn of the value-minded entry-luxury sports sedan.2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD interior detail - Image: © Timothy CainCh-Ch-Changes
But does the IS350 AWD F Sport tell the entire Lexus IS story? Unfortunately not. The personality swings that don’t occur in this particular car do, in fact, appear across the IS range. The entry-level IS Turbo’s 2.0T, for instance, is poorly linked to an uncooperative eight-speed automatic. The IS300’s 3.5-liter V6, for example, is de-powered but consumes just as much fuel as the IS350’s 3.5-liter.

Only in its maximum iteration does Lexus allow the IS’s personality to shine through. It’s never wise to assume that the behavior one encounters in a Chevrolet Silverado with a 6.2-liter V8 and 22-inch wheels will be similar to those of a 5.3-liter truck on 18s with 9.5 additional inches of wheelbase. Likewise, in the Lexus IS’s case, don’t assume this particular IS350 AWD F Sport’s balanced response to the sports-sedan questions of our time will be answered the same way by less costly IS variants.2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD rear three quarter - Image: © Timothy CainUnder Pressure

Regardless of how enjoyable the 2017 Lexus IS350 is to drive, regardless of the maladies you’re willing to overlook, there are compelling reasons to look elsewhere.

The BMW 3 Series remains an obvious choice, and won’t soon lose that status. Plus, the 3er’s bigger engines are mighty. Not unlike the Lexus, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class provides an appealing blend of comfort and athleticism, and it does so with a more conventionally attractive and more obviously luxurious interior, albeit with a cheap, tacked-on, imitation iPad. The Audi A4 meshes most of the segment’s best attributes and does so with few faults, but it doesn’t offer the man-machine connection of the Lexus. There are other, less obvious alternatives from Infiniti, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Acura, and Cadillac, as well.

Of the roughly 211,000 U.S. buyers who purchased or leased a vehicle in the Lexus IS’s segment during the first eight months of 2017, 194,000 chose one of those other cars, not the Lexus IS. Did those 194,000 buyers make a mistake? Not invariably, but there are surely thousands who, unable to look past a few eccentricities, don’t know what they’re missing.

[Images: © Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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33 Comments on “2017 Lexus IS350 AWD F Sport Review – Why Can’t We Give Love One More Chance?...”

  • avatar

    The color goes good with those New Holland tractors in the background.

  • avatar

    Beautiful cars but the I in IS350 always makes me wish for an INLINE 6.

    Around here the IS (when purchased new) has always been popular with DINKs.

  • avatar

    Nice interior, but somebody left a generic Android tablet in the dash cubby. :P

    I always found the IS way too claustrophic, but at least the first-gen (US Altezza) had a decent sized greenhouse, especially in SportCross guise.

    And that brings me to my next point: This is another car for me that would be 10x more appealing as a wagon, or at least a hatch. As it stands, it’s a niche player in a shrinking segment. Now that the Europeans are mostly giving up on wagons, maybe the Japanese should test the waters.

    • 0 avatar

      That interior is flaming hot garbage and is worse than a base model Kia Optima. If this had a GM badge on it, there would be 50 TTAC follow up articles on how horrid it is

  • avatar

    I’m one of the exterior detractors. I cannot abide by that styling – the last IS which was appealing to me was circa 2012.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I prefer the non-FSport prior to the refresh, the grille is toned down. I periodically see a red one in my area and I think it’s a good example of this styling language tempered by some sanity. Sharp but not so shouty.

    • 0 avatar

      These are one of the few cars that I would immediately go buy an aftermarket body kit for just to replace that grill. The rest is a handsome enough car. Otherwise that look is a deal breaker for me. They look worse in person.

  • avatar

    I generally like the IS350. My two biggest gripes:

    1. I don’t like the infotainment ‘mouse’.

    2. If you get the F-Sport you are stuck with vinyl seats and plastic trim. You can get leather with wood and aluminum trim on the regular IS350, but then you forgo the dynamic enhancements.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I know I’m constantly saying I want this or that car, but this is #1 on my list and has been for over a year. I’m keeping my eye on the 2015 model which came with cooled seats absent in the first year 2014 F Sports. Do I need cooled seats? Hell no. But if I can have them for the same price as without I want them.

    I love the looks of this generation… despite the hideous grille. I’m anxiously awaiting someone coming up with a grille cover. I’ve done an amateur photoshop and the front end would look soo much better with a bar across there.
    I’ll take mine in Atomic Silver, even though I swore I wouldn’t buy another silver car. Atomic is such a rich and dramatic color, I just can’t get over it.

    I love the interior, and with red seats I love it even more… despite the dopey mouse-control. I see the 2017 has a much larger screen than the previous years, which I don’t care about, aside from the fact that the previous screens came with some sort of film on them that scratches at the slightest touch of a cloth or the curious passenger who refuses to ask before poking.

    I wasn’t blown away with the distinction between the sport modes. And I was never really impressed with the acceleration, but it feels so well put together and handles curves and bumps so smoothly I felt like I didn’t need to spin the tires when I put my foot in it.

    This is the car that will some day replace my beloved Legacy GT wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Forgot to add a couple things – since everyone is dying to know more about what I think.

      The front door frame is really thin and cheap feeling right where I grab it when I open and close it around the base of the B-pillar area. It feels very plastic-y and is unpleasant to feel unexpectedly.

      Folks who tried out the previous gen IS would do well to try the back seat again in this new one. The previous one was cramped and near impossible to get into and out of. This one is much roomier, and a bit better ingress/egress, but it still requires contortioning when parked next to another car in a parking lot.

      I never had any trouble getting in and out of the front seat and I’m not aware of the knee-guided-weaponry Tim is referencing in the article. I’m 5′ 10″ and it feels like this car was made specifically for someone like me.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for sharing Land Ark.

        I just moved to the UK and noticed these cars are strangely cheap. Internets say the 2.0 and 2.2 diesels are very problematic, but the 2.5 gas (IS 250) are great and of course can be head with stick shift. 2008s or so with 100,00 miles run just about 3 thousand pounds. Clean ones! Maybe I’ll get one of those in that dark blue color, and hopefully not black interior.

        My family is small people, they can squeeze in the back I don’t really car.

        I REALLY like the exterior of this generation. However, I DO NOT like the interior of this generation. It’s just too different from the VW/AUDI/BMWs I’ve had. But I do like the look of being in a smaller cockpit.

  • avatar

    I don’t doubt the IS is a fundamentally good car: reliable, decent drive, reasonably spacious for the class, but it just comes off as trying too hard. Not just the styling but the car in general.

  • avatar

    The ingress/egress clumsiness, along with the sedan’s b pillar blocking shoulder checks; is exactly why 3 series sized cars were always at their best in coupe form. The short front doors on the sedans are nice for opening them in tight parking spots, but are otherwise unbecoming of a premium anything.

  • avatar

    Not a lot of interior space. Driver and passenger seats seem cramped.

  • avatar

    As for pricing compared to the BMW, how much does the manual transmission option cost? Yeah … NEXT!

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Tough segment to compete in, particularly if leasing when the long term reliability and probable resale benefits aren’t going to be realized.

    Lexus IS seats are marvelous and the backseat of this generation is large enough for a six footer to sit behind himself and have a couple inches of open air between knees and the front seatback. So it would work far better as an around town kiddie hauler than the old one.

    I’m not sure the 340i is the natural competitor to the IS350. The turbo-six Bimmer is a performance and price step above. As noted, this IS350 and 330i are closely matched in price and acceleration, malleable hp ratings be damned, with the IS200 likewise competing with the 320i. The de-tuned IS300 is an odd offering, but viewed as an AWD IS200 with a better engine it retains some appeal.

  • avatar

    “doesn’t look like anything else on the road.” That statement only works when viewing the front. Which I suppose you can say about most cars these days.

  • avatar

    I too really like this car, or want to like it I should say. Love the styling, it is a very good drive. One thing I didn’t see (and don’t feel like reading back to check) is a gripe about the bulge on the floor next to your right foot due to the mechanical linkages for AWD system. It is rather intrusive and would no doubt be a long term annoyance.

    In any event, I looked at these cars with the intention of pulling the trigger. I really wanted one. I was more in the IS250 or 300 price bracket and like you said, the 350 is the engine/transmission combo to have no bones about it and the others are for people who want to drive only the badge at a somewhat more reasonable price and driving characteristics don’t really matter. There are two Lexis dealers in my area both owned by the same dealer network unfortunately. I did not like the salespeople I dealt with, no transparency, talk about bait and switch. Not to mention the fact that they think their product is the second coming, no willingness to deal. No thanks. Too many quibbles to justify the price and I don’t buy from jerks…period.

    Just an observation, all the examples I see on the road are 250’s and mostly 300’s. Pretty rare to see a 350.

  • avatar

    Interesting to point out the man/machine connection that the Lexus IS offers. Lexus has something that the competition doesn’t and that’s the ES. Yes, the ES. Lexus can use that car to appeal to people looking for luxury and the badge but care little about driving and engagement. That allows them to build the IS and GS from the ground up with little regard for those customers. BMW, Mercedes, Audi, etc. all have their merits but those manufacturers know they need to sell their sports sedans across the entire market, most of which really doesn’t care much for driving engagement. Lexus can let the ES handle the bulk of the market and tune their sports sedans for people who crave this connection.

  • avatar

    The blue paint makes me miss my old IS-F somethin’ fierce. I might just have to look for a 2013+ in good shape but they’re hard to find…few owners are giving them up currently. The RC-F does nothing for me, in addition to being absurdly pricey.

    Lexus should’ve kept running with the true F-variant IS even if it meant stealing some coupe sales.

  • avatar

    Lexus was a car company that grudgingly respected for making a product that needed to be made – in the SC 300/400 days they were a breath of fresh air. They made a good quality car sold at a premium and they gave a lot of value for money.

    Whatever they’re selling now makes me feel sorry for the people that buy them. Brain damage is no joke.

  • avatar

    Before it was discontinued, the meager-powered IS 250 was by far the most popular trim – which kinda denotes the type of buyer.

    Apparently, the 200t hasn’t exactly picked up from the IS 250.

    The sheetmetal is a prime example of an automaker trying too hard (can make striking designs that aren’t hard on the eyes) – in particular, the pre-fresh headlights were a complete, jumbled mess.

  • avatar

    Remember I didn’t like the current IS when it came out but it’s grown on me. Will never be in the market for a premium brand vehicle but it’s still less try hard and pretentious than anything BMW or Mercedes make. Really though the IS is still coasting on the original IS/Altezza which is a strong candidate for best looking, most iconic sedan of all time.

  • avatar

    Back in the day I seriously considered getting a first generation IS. It was roomy (for its size) and looked the part of a sports sedan. The styling was just right, a perfect harmonious blend between athleticism and understated elegance. The value for money was unbeatable. It was rightly so an interesting and desirable vehicle.

    That was the only Lexus IS generation that caught my eye. The replacement models all suffered from I like to call “penalty box interior” – they were claustrophobically cramped and as a result incredibly uncomfortable. That fact alone scared me away.

  • avatar

    I’ve been driving a 14 IS350 F-Sport RWD w/ mark levinson and VGRS for 2 years and I love this car. I personally think it looks great, predator grill and all. while the front is love it or hate it, the side and rear views are great. It handles very well and has enough power for a DD. Moar power is always welcome, but honestly it’s a fine vehicle.
    I cross shopped and chose it over a used E90 335i, A4, C300 and Q50.

    Biggest complaints are no sunglass holder, mediocre fuel economy vs the rest of the competition, and the center media control and interface is complete garbage. My wife’s 07 Lexus had a touch screen and it was way more responsive and intuitive.
    There’s also no need to complain about the Non-leather seats. The material feels great and is holding up fine, i’m 170lbs so YMMV.

  • avatar

    I best IS deal is a 2013-2015 IS250 AWD. Can be bad in the mid $20’s. Almost bought one last year. I did t because I felt the insides where to tight.

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