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2009 Lexus IS 350 ReviewThe Good
The Lexus IS 350's sporty exterior, which received subtle updates for 2009, matches the sedan's sporty 3.5-liter V6 engine, and improved handling and steering make for a fun and spirited driving experience.The Bad
Legroom in the '09 IS 350's rear seat and headroom in the front seat remain tight for taller drivers, causing some owners and reviewers to compare interior cabin space to that of a sport coupes rather than a luxury sedan.
The CarGurus View
Drivers seeking a comfortable luxury commuter with some power under the hood should consider the 2009 Lexus IS 350, which can be a good value when compared to competitors such as the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C300. While not as spacious as some of the other sedans from Lexus, the IS 350 displays sporty, contemporary styling and comes with a well-equipped cabin that helps set it apart from its competitors.
At a Glance
The Lexus IS 350 sedan receives a few mid-generation updates for 2009, including subtle changes to its grille, taillights, and front and rear bumpers. In addition, Lexus moved the turn indicators from the front fender to the exterior side mirrors. New safety features include knee airbags, which join a long list of standard safety equipment. The IS 350 also receives updated 17- and 18-inch wheel designs and new Amber Pearl and Truffle Mica exterior colors for 2009.
Inside, Lexus redesigned the IS 350's center instrument cluster and added fold-down rear-seat headrests, which help improve visibility out the back. In addition, the automaker added new Ecru and Light Gray interior colors.
The IS sedans compete directly with BMW's 3-Series, Audi's A4, Mercedes-Benz's C300, and Infiniti's G37 sedans. Lexus offers the IS 350 in a rear-wheel-drive Base trim only for 2009.
A 306-hp, 3.5-liter, all-aluminum V6 engine powers the IS 350. The V6 features dual continuously Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i), which increases torque at lower speeds and horsepower at higher speeds to improve performance, reduce emissions, and ensure good fuel economy of 18/25 city/highway mpg. Emissions are so low that the IS 350 qualifies as an ultra-low emissions (ULEV II) vehicle, which means it meets strict environmental standards.
While the IS 350's entry-level sibling, the IS 250, gets knocked by some drivers and reviewers for its less-than-stellar performance, the IS 350 receives high marks for its peppy V6, which produces 277 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm and drives the IS 250 from 0 to 60 in just 5.6 seconds. The engine links to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with intelligence, which was designed to provide smooth shifting and respond to an individual's driving style.
Ride & Handling
In previous years, Lexus received a number of complaints about the IS's dull handling, so the automaker made improvements to the sedan's handling and steering for 2009 to make it more responsive and provide drivers with better control. Lexus also retuned the IS 350's suspension, making it firmer and more in keeping with a sport sedan's ride. The retuned suspension decreases body sway and provides drivers with better feedback from the road. The sedan also comes equipped with speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering and rides on an independent front and rear suspension with coil springs and gas-
pressurized shock absorbers.
The Lexus IS 350 offers a quiet cabin with comfortable seats for long trips, but taller drivers will find the back seat cramped, and even the front seats may not provide enough legroom and headroom for tall drivers. In addition, interior storage spaces are limited, and include cupholders in the front and back and storage bins in the center console.
Cabin & Comfort
The IS 350 comes equipped with a plush, well-appointed cabin with soft-touch surfaces, contemporary metallic-finish trim, and backlit, easy-to-read gauges. Standard features include leather-trimmed seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control. A 13-speaker audio system with an automatic sound levelizer and an in-dash 6-CD changer also comes standard.
Options include wood interior trim, heated front seats, a voice-activated DVD navigation system, a backup camera with a full-color display, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and a 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system with a 6-CD/DVD auto-changer.
In addition to its small cabin, which can be tight for taller occupants, the IS 350 has limited cargo space with a small trunk opening and rear-wheel arches that intrude into the trunk space. Cargo space checks in at 13 cubic feet, which still beats the BMW 3-Series at 12 cubic feet of space but comes up short when compared to such sedans as the Infiniti G37, which offers 15.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the 2009 Lexus IS 350 five out of five stars for protecting front-seat passengers in a side-impact crash test, but only four stars for protecting rear-seat passengers in the same type of crash. In addition, the sedan earned four out of five stars for front-impact crash tests. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2008 IS 350, which has an almost-identical body style, frame, and safety features to the 2009 version, a top score of Good in all crash tests.
The IS 350 comes equipped with such safety features as active traction control, electronic stability control, and four-sensor antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, which adjusts the amount of fluid pressure on brakes to improve control during braking. Standard safety features also include the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system, which integrates braking, steering, stability control, and traction control to minimize the loss of traction in turns, according to the automaker.
What Owners Think
Owners give the 2009 IS 350 high marks for its exterior styling, comfortable interior, and overall value. They also like its smooth ride and improved handling, although some owners find the ride too firm, especially over bumpy roads. The IS 350's brakes, navigation system, and fuel economy also get good marks from owners. However, the cramped rear seat gets a thumb's down from many owners, as does its small cargo space. In addition, some owners note limited visibility out the sides and back due to small windows.
CarGurus owners give the IS 350 similar marks. They have positive comments about the sedan's comfortable interior, good handling, and smooth-shifting automatic transmission, and many like the IS 350's aggressive acceleration and sports-car feel. Rear-seat legroom remains a drawback, though.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.