Available overseas for five years now, Lexus Australia’s finally landed the 2011 Lexus IS 350 to plug the gaping chasm between the vanilla-plain and slow IS 250 and the bent-eight samurai IS F. And plugged between the entry Prestige and up-town Sport Luxury variants is Lexus’s first F Sport.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s January 2011 issue
Think a sporty M-rated package, ala BMW’s M-Sport or Audi’s S-line, to sit beneath the R-rated IS F and X-rated LF-A exotica - a triple-deck performance hierarchy not doubt inspired by the Germans.
Still with me?
The 2GR-FSE 3.5-litre V6, boasting dual injection – both port and direct systems in one – pumps out a BMW 335i-rivalling 233kW in a silky smooth if workmanlike manner, while the six-speed auto, with its revised AI Shift mapping, makes for an intimate partner, particular in Sport Shift mode.
The V6’s moderate 378Nm shove, though, lands in a 4800rpm stratosphere. Add the ’box’s slightly casual ratio spread and stubborn refusal to downshift (via paddles) on a hot punt and the F Sport’s driveline is often caught outside its sweet zone.
Lexus reckons there’s a 5.6sec in it for 0-100km/h. Hmm. A top speed limited to 270km/h is a nice bit of bragging rights over the (250km/h v-max) Germans, too.
MOTOR comparison: IS F v C63 v M3
Standard equipment’s pretty generous. Brakes are prodigious, if slightly over-assisted, 334mm four-piston monobloc fronts and 310mm twin-pot rears. Sat-nav, heated seats, reversing camera, HID headlights and, of course, the now obligatory daytime running light disease are all par for the course.
And all of the above bodes for all IS 350 variants.
What F Sport brings to the party, then, is IS F-esque body styling and wheels, complete with F Sport front guard badges. Inside are IS F-style big-bolster 10-way-electric sport buckets and tiller, bespoke black’n’grey leather trim, unique black headlining and sporty touchy-feely trinkets.
And, handling wise, the F Sport gets firmer suspension, 18s with meaty 255mm rear rubber (fronts are 225), and slightly quicker steering rack than the Prestige or Luxury Sport.
In fizz and character terms, the F Sport doesn’t fall as far from the Lexus tree as its big brother IS F, but it’s clearly well-honed in many of the details. The steering is clear, direct and nicely weighted, particularly given its electric assistance, and it strikes the balance between ride comfort and body control that many of its German rivals struggle to match. In an all-round sense, it’s a sweeter steer than the IS F, and definitely better damped for the open road.
It’s also surprisingly agile through fast sweepers. Dig in and it grips up nicely, there’s ample composure and, over a smooth environment at least, it’s a brisk and untasked grand tourer.
Over rough surfaces, or in the tighter stuff, the slightest sniff of a rear-end shimmy sends the electronic Fun Police into party shutdown, hard and fast. A homicidal getaway driver couldn’t get this tail unglued. We tried, and failed, to turn the system off, though Lexus assures us some secret button prodding will defeat the ‘smarts’ that otherwise stamps PG all over an otherwise M-rated experience.
The F Sport’s no monster, more IS Plus than IS F Lite. It’s a capable, polite, right-thinkers’ sport sedan. And Lexus will no doubt sell a motza. That’s because, at $71,800, the Germans can’t come close to the F Sport’s blend of mid-sized luxury car power and specification.
Thing is, the equally powerful Prestige base model is 98 percent as fast and friendly as the F Sport, and clocks in at under $65k...
More blasts from the past on classic MOTOR
2011 LEXUS IS 350 F SPORT SPECS
Engine: 3456cc V6, DOHC, 24v
Power: 233kW @ 6400rpm
Torque: 378Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 5.6sec (claimed)
Top speed: 270km/h (limited)
Price: $71,800 (F Sport)
Like: A power and spec combo the Germans can’t touch for the money
Dislike: Needs character, lacks low-end shove, conservative ESP tune