Lexus has improved a very good sports sedan into a great sports sedan this model year. BMW should take note. There was a time when the German car maker set a standard for fun to drive cars. Over the last decade many of their models have softened to the luxury side.
The IS was introduced in 1998 aimed at providing more performance than other models in the Lexus. Then in 2007, Lexus decided to pursue the performance sedan market at full throttle with the introduction of the F Sport Sedan. The company called it “growing passion for performance and extreme driver engagement.” F Sport is aimed squarely at BMW’s M division and Mercedes AMG. The move was a good one giving Lexus a sharp uptick in sales worldwide including here in Canada and rave reviews from owners and motoring journalists. Aimed at BMW’s 3 Series and the Mercedes C class the IS sedan did everything right from handling, performance, driver comfort and styling.
For 2016 Lexus has boosted the IS series with the IS 300 AWD delivering more horsepower and torque than the IS 250 AWD it replaces. With a 3.5L V6 and a six-speed automatic ECT with sequential multi-mode shifter, this model produces a peak 255 horsepower and up to 236 lb-ft of torque. The numbers don’t seem very high, but put your foot into the throttle and the IS pulls like lightning. All-Wheel-Drive means you don’t chirp the rubber, but get all-wheel grip that propels you quickly in a straight line.
All Lexus IS models are enhanced this year with additional standard equipment including rear seat side airbags (for a total of 10) and the added versatility of a 60/40 split folding rear seat. In addition, all F Sport models now include a moon roof and rain sensing wipers.
An issue with my back muscles made getting in and out of the IS 300 painful as the door opening is a little snug for tall people. Lifting the right hip a little and sliding into the seat like a racing driver helped. Once seated, the sitting position was perfect for reaching controls and reading the instruments. The seats themselves are comfortable and very well bolstered to keep you in place through tight curves. The front seats are also heated and cooled. Back seat passengers will find accommodations snug to say the least. But how often does anyone ride back there, eh? The trunk will accommodate luggage for two people on a weekend getaway. And remember the rear seatback does fold down to give you more cargo space.
The IS 300 is a bold looking car starting at the front with a very aggressive Spindle grille and sculpted headlight pods with bright bi-xenon HID lights. My test car had the entry-level F Sport option package, which includes aero components, 18-inch F Sport rims with larger 225/40 front and 255-35 rear tires. The side profile of the sedan has a character that swoops up from the side sills toward the rear wheel well. At the rear wraparound tail lights add a nice touch. The designers of this car really did a tremendous job on styling.
I was surprised the IS 300 did not have a rear back-up camera or sensors, which are certainly two items found on other vehicles in this price class. Perhaps next year. On the plus side, the heated and cooled seats worked really well, but a heated steering wheel was not part of the option package on this car. It’s tacked onto another option package. I like the Lexus Display Audio which provides good screen display and a rotary joystick on the centre console rather than the sometimes finicky touch surface. The digital instrument cluster is somewhat a gimmick with a movable gauge in the middle. But I had no problem seeing the information I needed from the display.
On the road, this is clearly a luxury sports sedan that can keep up with its competitors including those trendy German sedans. Ride and handling is top notch and AWD means you can push hard into a curve confident the system and grippy tires will make the car stick like glue to the pavement. The F Sport allows you to keep the six-speed automatic in Drive or use the steering-wheel paddles to click through the gears. If you drive like a normal person expect fuel consumption around 12.6L/100 km around town and 9.2L/100 km on the highway. Those figures are very close to what I achieved.
At a base price of $41,700 the IS 300 AWD is competitively priced among cars in its segment. The F Sport Series 1 option package is $4,050.00 but adds features that make the car all the more enjoyable if you’re the type of driver who enjoys a good sprint on curvy roads. In an urban environment the IS 300 will pamper you in luxury, making errands and commuting a lot more enjoyable.
Garry Melnyk is a St. Albert resident and lifelong car buff who has written about new cars and trucks for radio and print publications since the ’70s.