F Sport transforms Lexus IS350 into a real gem
It’s no secret that I have always liked the Lexus IS series. I’m not sure if it’s because the rear-wheel drive compact sport sedan is fun to drive, or because it’s so ‘different’ when compared to the rest of the cars in the Lexus lineup. Or maybe with its $33,595 starting price it is the only Lexus that has a chance at fitting into my budget?
Whatever reason, these days I like the IS even more, especially when it is equipped with the new F Sport option package.
The IS250 and IS350 continue to be the sporty sedans in the Lexus lineup. Both are essential the same vehicle with the model number indicating the engine size. While both use a DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, the IS250 is 2.5 liters in size while the IS350 uses a larger 3.5 liter V6 engine.
Since it’s refreshing in 2009, both the IS250 and IS350 have remained basically unchanged. But recently, Lexus has made a new F Sport package available on both models, and it makes the IS even more likeable.
Recently, Lexus sent me a nicely equipped IS350 equipped with the new package for me to sample. I do have to admit at first I confused the F Sport with the IS F, the fastest sedan to ever to wear the Lexus badge. But I quickly learned that the F Sport doesn’t have the five-liter V8 under the hood. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the F Sport.
The F Sport package gets its inspiration from the IS F by combining a special tuned suspension with 18” dark graphite alloy wheels. Adding to its sporty demeanor, the F Sport gets a front lip spoiler, rear deck spoiler along with a dark chrome grille. The F Sport turns the IS into a spirited sport sedan without going over the top like some say the IS F does.
Inside, the F Sport gets special seats that have a microfiber insert and leather side bolsters to keep the driver and passenger better planted during hard cornering. The package also includes F Sport badging on the steering wheel, shifter and door sills.
The package doesn’t add any engine modifications to the IS, but that’s ok – the IS350 continues to pack 306 horsepower and can easily hit 60 mph in under 6 seconds. The only drawback is that it comes one way – with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The IS250, on the other hand, comes standard with a 6-speed manual – probably the last manual shifting Lexus we will ever know, although it does have 100 fewer horses.
On the road, my gloss black (Obsidian) IS350 F Sport felt pretty quick. For those into performance, shifting can be done via paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, which work well, although letting the IS handle the job promises quick, firm shifts every time.
The IS has always had a stiff ride for a Lexus, but with the F Sport package, it’s even harsher. But the ride, which results in some impressive handling, is an attempt by Lexus to make the car feel and perform like a BMW 3-Series.
Living with the IS is pure pleasure. High quality materials are used throughout and the cabin is quite impressive. Everything that you would expect to be standard equipment is, like a moonroof, push button start (no key required), dual zone air-conditioning, and heated power seats. Toss in some options like vented seats, a navigation system that includes a rear backup camera, and a Mark Levinson 14-speaker audio system and life gets really good.
While the new IS is very likeable, it’s not without faults. The backseat is tight for adults and I found the lack of storage room up front quite surprising. There is a single cup holder in the console – if you open the center console storage bin, you get another, but lose storage room. The door pockets also seemed small for CD cases and such.
Even with the minor faults, the IS350 F Sport wouldn’t get kicked out of my garage. Its $45,000 price tag means I’ll still be playing my lottery numbers.
–– Christopher A. Randazzo
By The Numbers:
Lexus IS350 F-Sport
Base Price: $38,570.00 (2011 MY)
Price as Tested: $44,987.00 (2011 MY)
Layout: front-engine / rear-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5 liter V6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 306 hp
Torque: 277 ft-lbs
EPA Fuel Economy: 20 city / 27 highway mpg
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