by Bill P. and Daryl Payne
The Lexus IS goes under the knife, and comes out with subtle stylish tweaks. Lexus designers have done well updating their luxury whips to meet the desires of new millennials. And the 2018 IS F Sport package, with new Torsen limited slip differential and active sound control boast innovations that make it more of a sports car in spirit.
The 2018 Lexus IS is a carryover model that offers new standalone features like adaptive front lighting and the new and improved Comfort Package that includes the blind spot monitor, power steering, memory front seats and heated outside mirrors.
We reviewed the 2017/2018 Lexus IS 350 F Sport, taking it around Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Many luxury car brands offer a competitive compact whip, but the Lexus IS is still one of the most popular in the Midwest. Especially with young people, the versatile Lexus IS is the luxury whip with sporty character that’s still ideal as an efficient everyday whip. The IS can fit in tight parking spots and bob and swerve at high speeds. Plus the luxurious customizable interior with 10-way heated and ventilated seats, leather and wood, a dope digital dash plus the center premium display is still ahead of the game.
Sporty Upgrades with Subtle Sophistication
Millennials have driven the IS design scheme to more of a sporty everyday whip with more swag inside. For model year 2018, Lexus dropped the IS200t- a smart decision and left the IS 300, IS 300 AWD, the IS 350 and the IS 350 AWD we reviewed. The lineup is well-rounded without the oddball 200t. And Lexus has beefed up the IS with efficient powertrains, so there’s no need for a hybrid-like coupe.
The new IS was a head-turner around Chicago with the stuntastic chrome grille optional 18 inch aluminum wheels, LED headlights, dual exhausts, a cool rear diffuser and its slick daytime running light design. The mesh spindle grille looks like it’s been pinched tight at the center and stretched wider at the lower region like an hourglass. And the low slung IS has a longer nose giving it a fastback profile.
The front fascia of the new IS is truly recognizable at night. Huge fog light haunches are flanked by a thin strip of LED daytime running lights in a boomerang shape. LED brake, low/ high beams, tail and license plate lamps are standard. In the rear the boot has a special F Sport design, and dual chrome exhausts are standard.
The sleek F Sport trim attracts more working guys and young businessmen with a unique grill and silver performance trim, aluminum sport pedals and stainless steel scuff plates. The inside of the IS F Sport boasts a leather upholstery, in black, chateau, and rioja red with contrast stitching and a black headliner. Drivers sit low with abundant legroom thanks to the concave dash design. A large chromed-out steering wheel and a functional center stack have controls for audio and drive dynamics. F Sport badging is all over.
We’ve reviewed the Lexus IS over the last four years and with updates and tweaks to the interior and exterior design has yielded many renderings great and not-so-good. This model is near perfect with a sportier design and luxurious interior with the advanced technology of Lexus full-size sedans.
Though the 38 inches of headroom in the front and 36 inches of rear headroom are more comfortable for drivers under 6 feet tall, driver and front passenger have abundant legroom at 44 inches. The 10 cu.ft. of trunk space is huge. But storage in the inside along with rear legroom is scarce.
Our favorite F-Sport feature aside from the soft leather is the digital dash taken from the LFA sports car. With a press of a button on the steering wheel, the TFT instrument cluster shifts to reveal the digital display settings for the lane departure alert and pre collision system along with navigation, audio and cruise control information.
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And the expanded 10.3 screen with Remote Touch Interface can now be customized to show a split screen view of navigation and audio, or to show a selected primary info view.
Navigation is on-point in the IS and all Lexus vehicles showing a 3D view that includes traffic patterns, icons for gas, landmarks, construction sites even “do not enter” signs. Drivers can zoom in to see almost every detail of their route. Also included with the navigation is the speed limit display, alternate route previews, and predicative traffic.
The slim center stack houses the drive mode buttons and leather and chrome shifter and remote touch interface in a sweeping layout that’s functional and clever. Options include heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade and intuitive park assist. An available Mark Levinson sound system includes 15 speakers and Clari-Fi technology. Siri Eyes Free, voice recognition and Bluetooth are all standard and controllable via the steering wheel and remote touch interface.
Powerful Drivetrain with Sporting Character
The 2017/2018 Lexus IS 350 AWD boasts refinements to the automatic transmission and adds a few more horsepower. While the IS 300 base offers a 241 horsepower 4 cylinder and the AWD 300 a 260 horsepower V6, the IS 350 we reviewed has a 24-valve V6 with 311 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Both the 3.5 liter V6 engines have dual continuously variable valve timing with intelligence and electronic fuel injection.
Refinements to the 6 speed super electronically-controlled automatic transmission can be felt in how smooth the IS 350 is in virtually every driving situation. The IS 350 cuts through the air like butter, gliding on the pavement. Cornering and rack and pinion steering is fluid.
A drive mode selector offers Eco, Normal and Sport modes, each will turn the TFT instrument cluster a specific color as it calibrates the trans, torque, braking and suspension. Versatility is the IS 350’s major advantage as the whip performs well in all drive modes and each have the best of each other’s attributes. Eco mode is amazingly efficient and very comfortable. Eco mode can also stave off the gas guzzling nature of the F Sport. The sparky lift-off is amazing yet the whip in still very efficient in Sport mode. And sport mode has more ready torque and tighter suspension.
The IS 350 F Sport has a combined EPA of 22 mpgs (28 mpg highway / 19 mpg city).
Still I wish the double wishbone front and multilink rear suspension was better calibrated for comfort mode. It seemed rough in every mode. And in sport mode, the galvanized steel cage felt harsh on railroad tracks and craters.
The 2017/18 Lexus IS 350 F Sport has the familiar standard safety features like traction control, vehicle dynamics integrated management and the tire pressure monitoring system. The standard Lexus Safety System includes the lane departure alert, steering assist, and high speed adaptive cruise control. The Pre-Collision System, also included can warn and stop the IS 350 if in danger of causing a collision. Intelligent High Beam will dim the high beams for approaching cars.
New for 2018 is the standard backup monitor and Lexus Enform Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, emergency assistance, stolen vehicle location and more.
The new Lexus IS and its derivatives continue to be one of the most popular sporty lux compacts. With small upgrades and standard innovations younger professionals are taking notice. Unfortunately the sticker price is going up, as the MSRP for the IS 350 is nearly $40k. Fully loaded with the F-Sport package, the ISF costs $49k. That’s more than the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Infiniti Q50. That’s likely why consumers rank IS lower than their luxury competitors.