It was in 1989 that Japan’s largest car manufacturer (Toyota) birthed a premium automotive brand (Lexus) into a world dominated by European heavyweights. And here we are, 28 years later, covering the mid-cycle update of the first Lexus model line to achieve one million sales – the medium-sized Lexus IS sedan.
TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR
Launched here in 2013, the third-generation IS scores edgier styling details, enhanced active safety features, and a thoroughly revised suspension tune to ensure this handsome sedan continues to age gracefully.
And of course there’s an obligatory multimedia upgrade, headlined by a huge 10.3-inch colour screen filling the central dashboard space previously occupied by a 7.0-inch version.
- Individuality. The default choice in the premium-medium category is undoubtedly the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, seeing it’s the second biggest-selling medium-sized car in the country (behind the Toyota Camry). Which leaves the rakishly proportioned, edgily styled and beautifully finished Lexus IS as something a little left-field and different, but with the quietly confident allure of a Lexus badge.
- Handling and ride. Mirroring the rear-wheel-drive layout of premium sporting sedans like the BMW 3 Series, Lexus has created quite an accomplished driver’s car in the third-generation IS. And this updated version improves on that further with a more absorbent ride, finessed steering connection and terrific handling balance.
- Value for money. While the Lexus IS is hardly bargain-priced – kicking off at just under $60K for the Lexus IS200t Luxury and stretching to nearly $85K for the IS350 Sports Luxury – it’s a car that doesn’t demand a serious stab at an options catalogue to achieve a proper luxury look and feel. Feature for feature, it’s an easy win for the Lexus IS200t F-Sport, in particular, over its Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Jaguar XE equivalents.
- Tyre noise. The latest Lexus IS has received several improvements in the areas of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), but the one aspect that undermines its polished ride is tyre noise. On coarse surfaces – meaning much of country Australia – the high-performance 18-inch tyres on the F-Sport and Sports Luxury variants produce a persistent rumble that chips away a little at the car’s premium feel.
- Cabin storage and overall space. While the current IS feels right-sized in terms of the real estate it occupies and how it feels behind the wheel, the byproduct of being a compact rear-drive sedan is less-than-stellar cabin space. A large centre transmission tunnel means there’s little chance of seating a centre-rear passenger (besides a child), and there’s nowhere to obviously store your smart-phone besides plonking it in the illogically placed cupholders. But the IS does compensate with impressive seat comfort.
- The ageing 3.5-litre V6 in the IS350. Purists will tell you it’s great to see (and hear) a naturally aspirated, big-capacity bent-six engine still performing hard in a range-topping variant, but that’s a little optimistic in this instance. While the 3.5 V6 performs strongly and has some character to its note, it’s a little underwhelming and lags some distance behind its best rivals. The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four in the IS200t is a more well-rounded engine.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
Probably quite a few. If performance is high on your list of priorities then BMW 340i argues a strong case, seeing it costs only $6K or so more than the flagship Lexus IS350 Sports Luxury.
If benchmark steering, handling and ride (and thus, driver appeal) are paramount, then nothing can beat the Jaguar XE.
If all-round excellence and all-wheel-drive traction make the most sense, then the Audi A4 (and its high-performance S4 sibling) is almost impossible to outclass.
And if you want the cachet of a three-point-star badge, as well as the engineering and sporting brilliance of an AMG version, then the Mercedes-AMG C43 4matic and C63 S are champagne performers.
That said, the Lexus IS has a sweetly balanced personality that shines brightly in IS200t F-Sport or IS200t Sports Luxury guises.