What it's like to live with the 2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Lexus' IS350 F Sport joins the MOTOR garage, and Editor Enright is at the wheel

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport long-term review
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Introduction: New Old Stock

Enright on the joys of being a late adopter

By my reckoning, McLaren has launched 25 cars since 2013. That’s some going, Woking whipping the hanky off something brand-spankers every three-and-a-bit months.

I only mention that because that’s how long this new long termer in MOTOR’s garage, the Lexus IS has been on sale. Not this specific model, the IS350 F Sport, but this twice-facelifted XE30 generation of IS. It’s not Nissan GT-R (2007), Nissan 370Z (2009) or Lotus Elise (a 2010 facelift of a 2000 model year design) ancient, but be under no illusions that this admittedly very handsome sedan is hardly the acme of modernity.

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And you know what? Many won’t care a jot. In fact, they’ll love it all the more for the fact. I’m confident there’s a significant constituency of new car buyers who don’t actually care for most new cars. They don’t want a car with a chassis that feels compromised because it needs to share that platform with 15 other models.

They don’t want multitudes of driver aids or infotainment systems where the manual’s thicker than a wrestler’s neck. I guess what I’m saying in a roundabout way is that they might be slightly older customers who don’t feel that juiced about buying into bleeding edge tech and desire something that looks plush, rides well, is beautifully screwed together and which offers solid aftersales care.

Worried about the penalty in residual values in buying an older new car like this? Seems there really isn’t too much to worry about there. Three-year residuals for the IS350 F Sport are within one percentage point of rivals from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, although it still baffles me as to why you get a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty on a Toyota Camry, while the luxury arm, Lexus, gives customers a four-year, 100,000km deal. Go figure.

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"0-100 in 5.9 seconds and 233kW is going to be perfectly adequate for fast road use"

With the IS350 F Sport you don’t get a turbocharger either and you don’t get all-wheel drive. There’s no head-up display or USB-C connections. You’ll search in vain for a wireless phone charger. Thankfully the foot-operated parking brake has been ditched but you do get a slot in the dashboard for a CD/DVD which is entirely apt, as the Lexus SC430 was, by my reckoning at least, the very last car on sale with a cassette slot. Clinging on to outdated media is certainly in the company DNA. The last disc I handled came with an old 4x4 magazine so perhaps I can find that and listen to a gripping travel rug shootout on the drive home tonight. Maybe I’ll get a few bearded blokes seized up over a hexy burner talking winch porn.

The 1700-watt Mark Levinson stereo might be a modicum of overkill for that purpose, but combine that with heated and cooled seats, an excellent driving position set low in the car, and a 10.3-inch screen that offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and you have a recipe for a car that promises to be a joy to rack up some kilometres in. Bringing the touchscreen closer to the driver also means you don’t need to use Lexus’ infernal touchpad mounted on the centre console. That’s a major plus.

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I pored over Alex Affat’s first drive review of the IS350 F Sport for MOTOR and can’t really take issue with his dynamic assessments. In its default mode, the accelerator has the response of a darted sloth but is fine for anything that doesn’t involve insant and zesty acceleration.

Wick it up into the sportier modes and it’s a lot crisper, with a delicious metallic zing to the upper reaches of the rev range. Mat the pedal and the dial pack turns a hot orange as if it’s beseeching you to reconsider your reckless course of action. I figure 0-100 in 5.9 seconds and 233kW is going to be perfectly adequate for fast road use, especially since I’m coming out of a run of five SUV long termers on the bounce.

The Lexus does seem to like a drop of juice though, which is entirely understandable given that it’s an atmo V6 that enjoys a few revs on the board. So far I’ve averaged 12.2L/100km, which is an appetite some 36 per cent heartier than the even quicker Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 that’s just been returned to sender.

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Perhaps that’ll ease down a bit with a few more kilometres on the clock and when the novelty of painting the dials orange dims somewhat. Lexus quotes a figure of 9.7L/100km, which could prove a bit of a stretch to replicate.

One thing I have noticed early on is the F Sport’s propensity to lay a single-pegger on corner exit. American versions of the IS350 F Sport feature an optional Dynamic Handling Package, most features of which are built into Aussie cars as standard. Most but not all. There’s no option here of the Torsen limited-slip rear differential. How much will that matter? We’ve got three months to find out. - AE

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Things we love

  • Sonic Chrome hue
  • Ride quality
  • Sharp styling

Not so much

  • Interior storage
  • Bit thirsty
  • Blunt default mode

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Motor Reviews Lexus IS 350 Love Worm
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Update One: Dynamic Issue

Go, stop and steer is under the microscope

Answer me this. What’s the point of having two dedicated sports modes if even the most focused one is about as sporting as dynamiting fish in a barrel?

After a spirited cross-country drive in the Lexus IS350 F Sport, I have to wonder. Even in the lairiest Sport S+ mode, you’ll brake for a corner and when you get back onto the throttle, the tacho will, almost without fail, be reading 1950rpm. This in a car that makes its peak torque at 4800rpm. Shift paddles it is, then.

This sort of dull-witted calibration somewhat dents the IS350 F Sport’s overall appeal as a cohesive sports sedan. That’s a shame, because there’s so much potential there. I love the way the engine finds its voice at 5500rpm, soaking the cabin in a surprisingly exotic vibe and timbre. The steering is beautifully judged, the damping and body control subtly considered through its various drive modes, the pedal efforts near-perfect and the key ergonomic interfaces are, for the most part, excellent.

Motor Reviews Lexus IS 350 Rear Quarter
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The half-witted gearbox logic paired with the lack of a limited-slip differential means that the IS350 will always be a car that ultimately frustrates when pushed beyond eight-tenths, but let’s root this back into reality. This is a road car and the target buyer is only ever going to use it on road.

You probably shouldn’t push a vehicle car beyond eight-tenths anyway on the public highway, so in terms of that constraint, it works and works very well. Yes, you’ll need to get busy with the paddles if you’re pressing on, but since when was a little more interaction and the chance to wind that sonorous V6 to its redline once in a while such a chore?

One thing that is proving tedious is the approach angle of the F Sport. No, I’m not going to get all 4x4 Australia on you, but it’s a fact that the slinky LC500 coupe will climb my sharply angled driveway and the jutting jaw of the IS350 won’t. So, to my considerable chagrin, it remains street parked and I’ve had to gently suggest to my partner, who’s otherwise all-in for buying one, that we might do better exploring other options.

The obvious answer would be a Lexus SUV that rides like the IS350 but, frustratingly, that vehicle doesn’t exist. None of the UX, NX and RX models offer the same glossy ride as the IS, which is a brand consistency issue that Lexus probably needs to address.

Archive Whichcar 2021 02 01 136039 Lexus IS 350 Interior
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The IS350 F Sport’s damping is subtle, relaxed yet beautifully calibrated. In its softest mode, the IS350 glides along, but can bounce and lose a little composure in both compression and rebound over speed humps. Click into a sportier mode and you gain a steelier resolve without the ride becoming terse.

I had the opportunity to drive the GR Yaris Rallye featured in this issue and getting back into the Lexus felt like settling into a brand-new pillow-top mattress. It’s just a joyous place to cover big kilometres.

I have realised that I’m way too impatient for the IS350’s somewhat leisurely starter motor. On a few occasions I’ve pressed the starter button, heard it starting to chunter into life and then pulled the gear lever back into Drive before it’s had a chance to fire up.

The car doesn’t like this and I need to breathe a deliberate one-pause-two when I jump in and fire the IS up. Thankfully there’s no idle-stop feature fitted, which means that your interactions with the starter motor are refreshingly sparse.

Motor Reviews Lexus IS 350 Headlight
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On the plus side of the ledger, the initially eye-widening 12.2L/100km fuel consumption figure has settled back to a far more reasonable 9.8L/100km average with the last couple of tanks being consumed at 9.4L/100km, which is even better than the factory’s 9.7L claim. I’ve also managed to belatedly establish which options this car is wearing.

The box for Enhancement Pack ($3100) has been ticked and this includes the phenomenal 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, a glass moonroof and an electric rear sunshade. The Sonic Chrome paint also carries a $1500 price tag.

I reckon it suits the car’s lines well, but it does seem to show up every mote of dust that settles on the vehicle. That becomes an issue when your route home includes a section of gravel. The piano black interior trim also shows fingerprints and dust, which can get annoying.

Motor Reviews Lexus IS 350 Stereo Stack
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These petty personal frustrations are enough to take the edge off my experience with the car, but it’s worth acknowledging that not everybody lives up a dirt road or has a steep driveway.

For most of the target market, most of the time, the IS350 fulfils an interesting and worthy niche. I could see it fitting the requirements of quite a large section of MOTOR’s readership who desire something swift, discreet, deftly engineered and distinctly easy on the eye. - AE

Things we love

  • Build integrity
  • Slick steering
  • Monster stereo

Not so much

  • White leather
  • Jutting chin
  • Shows dirt

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Motor Reviews IS 350 LTT Love Worm Update 1
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