2023 Lexus IS 500 Review: Exactly What You’d Expect
2023 Lexus IS 500 Premium
The sports sedan, as a concept, once stood for something very different than what we see today. It was a four-door conveyance with a bit more verve than the pedestrian trim of a similar vehicle but generally unadorned with flash and frippery. Subtle differences were a gentle head nod to those enthusiasts of a likewise mind, but an uninformed onlooker knew nothing of the differences between it and a bland family sedan.
No longer. As tastes change and more steer toward lumbering crossovers, the builders of most sports sedans feel compelled to shout both audibly and visually. Roaring, farting exhausts, garish colors, and outrageous fender flares barely covering massive wheels scream “I AM SPECIAL” on behalf of the dwindling dozens of buyers who must announce their arrival among those who can afford the monthly nut.
Who am I to judge what one buys with the bank’s money? I’ll admit to swooning over some of Germany’s finest at times. But Lexus isn’t typically one to shout. The brand that famously balanced champagne glasses upon an engine in a commercial tends to hew firmly to the old-world belief in subtlety. Thus, this 2023 Lexus IS 500 is perhaps the most Lexus of all sports sedans.
A glance at a spec sheet might betray these notions of automotive maturity. A quad-cam five-liter V8 pumping 472 horsepower at a screaming 7,100 RPM is anything but demure. But while you can - and should - wind out the lovely Lexus at times to let it sing, this car is perfectly happy to trundle along on a commute. The IS 500 does ride a touch more firmly than the four or six-cylinder IS models, but it is never punishing. It is simply sublime to drive in any manner.
It ain’t half bad to look at, either. Again, a very nuanced upgrade of the standard IS is all that stands out here, with a bulging hood, quad tailpipes, and flat black BBS forged 19-inch wheels making a statement only to those in the know. The predator grille is as always prominent, but years of familiarity across the entire Lexus lineup have blunted the impact a bit.
I’ve lamented before about the rear seating space in the IS. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that my kids are growing, but knee room does feel a bit tight back there when I have my seat set where I need for my large frame. Just turn up the always-excellent Mark Levinson stereo - still with a CD player! - and drown out any complaints from the spoiled teens.
Just don’t expect to fumble your way through the touchpad with anything resembling grace. I’ve a feeling that this smallest sedan In the Lexus lineup isn’t a priority with the product planners, as this interface was outdated half a decade ago. It quickly turns shiny with french fry grease and is generally awkward to use. It’s long overdue for replacement with the latest screens introduced in the NX two years ago.
Stash spaces for pocket detritus like keys or a cell phone are similarly not up to modern standards. With the elimination of the touchpad, one could easily rearrange (says the guy NOT holding an industrial design degree) the central console to accommodate a wireless charging pad.
But once ensconced in those buttery red leather seats with nothing but the road ahead, all else is forgotten. I had a couple of hours to explore the tertiary roads of Appalachia during my time with the IS 500, and the hills were alive with both color and with a sonorous revvy V8. That suspension, just that much more firm in commuter duty, reacts to every input with precision and grace. It’s not a track-day special that demands ten-tenths to wring out a smile. Rather, the IS 500 asks little in return for a joyful jaunt through the backwoods.
Perhaps the most fitting competitor for the 2023 Lexus IS 500 isn’t another wild sports sedan from Bavaria or parts nearby. Rather, I see this more as a refined alternative to the modern pony car. Both have presence and agility when needed, but should the need arise for hauling four adults to a business luncheon or the like, asking colleagues or the boss to clamber into the way back of a muscle coupe might be a career-limiting move.
[Images: © 2023 Chris Tonn/TTAC.com]
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