2018 Lexus IS 350 Review

IS 350

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2018 Lexus IS 350 Overview

As sporty as it looks, the IS 350 has always been more cruiser than crusher. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s hard to argue with a bit more power and performance. For 2018, Lexus has delivered just that, as the IS 350 gets some much-needed upgrades in the form of more power and a limited-slip differential for the very desirable RWD F Sport.

The IS 350 delivers 311 horsepower from the 3.5-liter V6, backed by 277 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to propel the sedan to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. That’s not bad at all, but the competition does beat it out. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the upgrades this year. A newly standard limited-slip differential, available in the F Sport package means it’s more nimble in the corners, able to put down that power without having to worry about too much slip. And speaking of cornering, you now have the option of making the automatic LED headlights adaptive, meaning they’ll follow you around curves as you turn the wheel.

While the mechanical and technical upgrades get most of the press, the Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect contract shouldn’t be ignored; it's been extended from one year of free service to ten. That’s a major benefit for any potential buyer. Finally, there’s a standard reversing camera this year, for those that have trouble seeing past the prodigious rear end of the IS 350.

Couple these upgrades with its well-balanced chassis, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with the IS 350, even if it can’t unseat class leaders in the performance department. The big question is, how do you want to set it up? There’s only one trim level, so it comes down to the options. The 3.5-liter V6, from which it gets its name, is the sole engine choice, but transmissions are dependent on whether you want rear-wheel drive (RWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). RWD versions come with an 8-speed transmission that will deliver 20 city mpg and 28 highway for a combined rating of 23 mpg. If you prefer power going to all four wheels, the 6-speed transmission offers 19, 26, and 22, and that’s a bit behind most of the competition. For comparison, the 2018 BMW 340i, with its turbocharged 6-cylinder and 8-speed automatic transmission, delivers a few extra miles at the pump.

Beyond that, the IS 350 has a lot to offer, with a standard sunroof, 18-inch alloys, heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone auto climate control and power front seats with leatherette. And if you go for AWD, the front seats gain heat as well. Standard tech sets the IS 350 apart with the aforementioned automatic high beams and newly-standard reversing camera being supported by lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise and a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking.

Go with the F Sport package, and you’ll get additions beyond extra performance. Aesthetically, you’re treated to a redesigned front bumper -- and you’ll immediately notice staggered-width wheels and twin-projector LED headlights outside. A sport-tuned suspension with adaptive dampers makes the most of the limited-slip differential, and upgraded brakes should bring the IS 350’s braking distance down a bit.

Inside, the F Sport gets heated and ventilated sport seats with some aggressive bolstering and a trick sport gauge cluster that’s one of the best-looking out there. Controversially, there’s also an intake sound generator to artificially amplify engine noise.

Drivers can choose over of several packages to get access to additional options. The Comfort Package adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic, driver and passenger memory system, a power steering wheel and automatic wipers. The Navigation Package offers a larger, 10.3-inch display and, predictably, navigation. Unfortunately, this package also replaces the infotainment control dial with the Remote Touch interface that might just be the worst on the market. Even more unfortunate is that you can’t upgrade the stereo to the 15-speaker Mark Levinson system without the Navigation Package. Additionally, you can add front and rear parking sensors as a standalone option.

In standard guise, the IS 350 represents one of the better values in the segment, and 2018’s upgrades only underscore that point. The F Sport package is quite attractive, but it undermines some of the value that positions the IS 350 so well, especially when competitors provide better overall performance. However, if you stay away from the Navigation Package and the Remote Touch interface it forces you to endure, you can have a lot of car for not a lot of money.

Updated

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.

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