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2017 Lexus IS 300 Overview
Compare the current Lexus IS sedan to the ones in showrooms just a few years ago and you'll notice a significant difference in exterior styling, especially up front and along the sides. For most of its history, the IS has offered an understated exterior and a comfortable yet reserved cabin, marketed to the discerning buyer who prefers a competent car over a flashy one. But that changed in 2014 with the launch of the third generation, when the IS began its transformation from a sedate car into a bold one. This trend continues into 2017, as the Lexus IS 300 entry-level luxury sedan undergoes a mid-generation refresh. It's an early update for the IS 300, which reappeared in showrooms just one year ago after being absent for the entire decade-long second generation, but the rest of the lineup (the IS 200t and IS 350) is due for a refresh.
The 2017 upgrades sharpen the IS 300's exterior styling, giving it a snazzier appearance that helps it stand out in a highly competitive market. In 2014, Lexus introduced the IS's eye-catching hourglass-shaped "spindle" grille, now a distinguishing design element for all Lexus vehicles. For 2017, the automaker has fine-tuned the grille's appearance by moving its two narrowing points higher for a larger drop-mouth look. Lexus also added horizontal inserts and turned the top of the grille inward toward the reshaped hood, creating a more uniform curved shape that leads from the lower fascia all the way to the windshield. It gets larger vertical front air scoops, flatter reshaped LED headlights, and a longer and sleeker nose. The sides have been sharpened for better design flow, while new taillights and rectangular chrome exhaust tips freshen up the back end.
Other updates include new designs and finishes for the IS 300's standard 17-inch wheels and two new exterior colors, Nightfall Mica and Caviar. Overall, the exterior changes are subtle but noticeable and build on the bolder design direction. It's certainly an appealing look, and it aligns the IS's exterior styling with that of other Lexus vehicles like the ES and GS sedans and the RC sport coupe.
Interior changes to the IS 300 are less extensive and focus primarily on the dashboard and center console. The most noteworthy update is the newly available widescreen 10.3-inch HD display screen. It's a definite improvement over the standard 7-inch screen, especially when using the add-on navigation system. Some controls and knobs on the dash and center console were redesigned for 2017, including the speedometer, the tachometer, and the available Remote Touch Interface knob. Redesigned cup holders and stitching over the dashboard instrument cluster are among the other updates. In addition, Lexus offers a new Chateau interior color with lighter shades of ivory and gray.
The IS 300 continues to come well-equipped, as befits its luxury-oriented badge. Power-adjustable sport front seats with NuLuxe faux leather upholstery, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and a 10-speaker audio system with a 7-inch LCD display are among the standard features. Options include leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a reversing camera, and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson Surround Sound audio system.
As in previous years, owners can outfit the IS 300 with an F Sport package, which replaces the grille's horizontal slats with a black mesh design and adds functional black mesh brake ducts that flank the grille, for a sportier appearance up front. Other F Sport enhancements include bolstered sport seats, aluminum pedals, a sport-oriented instrument cluster with supercar-inspired digital instrument gauges, 18-inch wheels, and upgraded tires.
While the IS 300 receives visual upgrades both inside and out, everything under its skin remains essentially the same. The 5-passenger sedan continues to ride on an all-wheel-drive (AWD) platform, augmented by an independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. Under the hood, a 3.5-liter V6 powerplant generates 255 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Although the same engine produces 306 hp powering the IS 350, it's still good enough to get the IS 300 from 0-to-60 in a fairly respectable 6.1 seconds. Because of its AWD configuration, the IS 300 gets a 6-speed automatic transmission rather than the 8-speeder found in its rear-wheel-drive (RWD) siblings. Lexus does include steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for quick manual gear changes, however. Fuel-economy numbers for the IS 300 check in at 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 21 combined.
Finally, Lexus has enhanced the IS 300's safety features with its new now-standard Safety System+, which includes a pre-collision system, lane-departure alerts with steering assist, automatic high beams, and radar cruise control. A set of 10 airbags also comes standard, and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert is an optional add-on.
The IS 300 runs in a highly competitive class against challengers like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Cadillac ATS. However, the IS 300 holds its own thanks to its peppy performance, precise handling, and comfortable ride. The interior likewise gets good marks for its high-quality materials, supportive seats, and upscale design. Some would like to see better fuel economy, and its 10.8-cubic-foot trunk capacity might be on the tight side for families, but reviewers are generally pleased with the IS 300’s fusion of balance, design, and performance. Overall, Lexus's continuing efforts to enhance the IS 300's visual profile with a bolder look appears to be working. The IS lineup is far from boring, and that's a step in the right direction.
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 California.
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