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2011 Lexus IS 350 ReviewThe Good
Powerful, efficient engines, classy quality and a new AWD system are all boons for the 2011 IS 350.The Bad
Too much noise and too little room hurt what could otherwise be a very complete package in the 2011 IS 350.
The CarGurus View
In all, the IS 350 is an attractive alternative to the BMW 3 Series or the Mercedes Benz C class, even if it doesn’t manage to best either of them. In order to do so, attention will need to be paid to the suspension to provide better handling with less sacrificing of comfort. The engine could use more grunt down low, and a sturdy manual option for the transmission would be welcome, too. With changes like that, the IS 350 could be a legitimate candidate for whatever you want to call it.
At a Glance
One transmission, one engine, one body style. The Lexus IS 350 doesn’t try to satisfy every craving and scratch every itch, it simply aims to be a very good… well, there’s not really a good label for the IS 350. Premium compact, entry-level executive or luxury sport vehicle, this RWD, 4-door sedan offers V6 performance, luxury features and taut handling in an aggressively sexy package. A new grille and front bumper grace the 2011 IS 350, along with HID headlights with washers and daytime running LEDs to mimic the nearest Audi. Around back the changes continue, with an updated rear fascia and redesigned exhaust tip. Not one to leave all that space between the bumpers unchanged, the standard 17- and optional 18-inch wheels have been redesigned as well for a more symmetrical and aggressive look.
All of this is overshadowed, however, by the introduction of the first-ever AWD IS 350, adding 4-wheel stability to this already nimble performer.
2006 – 2009 saw the 3.5-liter Toyota GR engine in the IS 350 make the Ward’s 10 Best list. It utilizes fancy features such as a twin-injection fuel system that combines direct and traditional port injection and has a high compression ratio of 11.8:1 and all-aluminum construction. DOHC design means 4 valves per cylinder, and all this adds up to 306 horses and 277 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 and 4,800 rpm respectively. Lexus claims 60 mph can be reached from a standstill in just over 5.5 seconds, and the 3.5-liter V6 feels every bit as quick. The 6-speed automatic is precise and quick as well, and may be an even better alternative than the 8-speed that comes in the high-performance IS F, which tends to hunt around, spoiled for choice with too many gears.
Despite all this power, the IS 350 still manages an EPA estimated 20/27 mpg, or 18/25 with AWD. It’s not a bad showing for a car with guts like this, even though you’ll find yourself needing to push the “premium” button at the pump.
Ride & Handling
Double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspensions offer a compromise that is no compromise, with a tuning setup that allows for comfort in a straight line as well as lean and roll control in the curves. This isn’t the best-handling car in the class. Both the 3 Series and the C Class can outperform it in terms of cornering ability and straight-line comfort, but the IS 350 performs more than adequately. Watch for wheel thump when roads get hairy, and some testers have noticed a bit of wallow over larger dips at speed. The optional sport suspension does little to improve handling and takes away a lot from the ride, but thankfully the AWD setup manages to maintain the driving characteristics of its RWD stablemate while still improving handling in the wet and snow.
Cabin & Comfort
Don’t forget, some call this a luxury car as well. That means you’ll get all the upscale amenities you’d expect in a Lexus, such as dual-zone climate controls, remote access and start, leather upholstery and a 6-CD, satellite-ready stereo. Honestly though, these features can all be found at least as options on an ever-increasing list of cars, limiting their exclusivity. But they’re standard here, and the options list is long for the IS 350. Heated and ventilated front seats, front and rear obstacle detection systems, a Pre-Collision Safety System and even headlight washers can all be added just by throwing a bit of money around.
You’ll notice quite a bit of tire and wind noise here, and that’s regrettable. The same can be said about front headroom and rear room in general, both tight for anyone 6 feet tall or larger. The back is especially cramped, with an awkward, slanted seating position and almost no room for feet, especially when sitting tandem to a larger front passenger. Seats are comfortable, at least.
There’s plenty of safety to be had standard as well. Eight airbags come with every IS. Traction and stability control are included, too, along with brake-assisted 4-wheel antilock discs, automatic headlights and daytime running lights. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the IS 350 a Good rating for all frontal and side impacts and an Acceptable rating for rear General and Dynamic categories, while Seat/Head Restraint Geometry also garnered a Good rating.
What Owners Think
While owners of the 2011 Lexus IS 350 are quite pleased with its drivetrain and overall build quality, there are complaints to be heard with regard to passenger and cargo capacity, as well as an excessive amount of noise from both tires and wind. Some have found that the steering wheel blocks lower panel switches to an annoying extent, and the optional navigation system is overly complicated when dealing with audio and climate controls.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.