Comfort, superior ride quality and luxury aren’t often strong sports car characteristics. Feeling the road, shifting gears and making the best of a rugged minimalist interior provides a good chunk of the appeal. The 2019 Lexus IS350 rejects the norm.
Defined as a five-passenger small sedan, the IS350 matches a quiet, relaxing and comfortable sedan with an aggressive-looking sports car. It’s ready for some country road shenanigans or long, smooth freeway hauls.
The Lexus IS (Intelligent Sport) debuted in North American in 2000; the 350 variant arrived in 2008. Its third and current generation was unveiled in 2013, with a revamp in 2016. While 2020 models have just emerged, the still-available 2019 offering remains largely unchanged from recent years. Three-beam LED headlights are a new option as is voice command integration for Amazon Alexa devices.
With its 3.5-liter V6 engine with 311 horsepower, sporty driving is easily accomplished. But the smooth-driving reduced stressed alternative is equally pleasing.
The IS350 is available with rear-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmission or all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic. Normal, ECO, Sport and Snow driving modes, 18-inch, five-spoke wheels and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters add to the fun. Gas mileage averages are 20 miles per gallon in city driving, 28 miles per gallon in freeway conditions.
Standard features also include LED headlights, a sunroof, heated side mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats, simulated leather upholstery (NuLuxe), 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Bluetooth, Lexus Enform Remote vehicle controls, two USB ports, a 7-inch color display, and an eight-speaker sound system with an auxiliary audio input, satellite radio and HD radio flush out a healthy list.
For those with further sporty inclinations, the F Sport trim has its same-named package ($3,195). It includes more than a dozen items — a leather steering wheel to aluminum pedals — and offers more driving dynamics to improve handling and styling. Drivers get a strong sense of the driving experience.
Standard driver assistance technology features include a rearview camera, automatic high beams, lane departure warning and intervention, adaptive cruise control. There’s also a forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and automatic braking.
A healthy supply of further equipment embellishments work well. The 15-Mark Levinson audio system costs $1,600; the complex navigation system adds $2,845. With a few singular further additions added to the mix, the IS350 costs $52,163. The tally warrants a prolonged pause.
Competitors include the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the newly touted and highly honored Genesis G70. The German carmakers’ offerings have loyal followings; the South Korean newcomer was named to many best-of-the-year lists.
The IS350 doesn’t get close to the mainstays’ sales, and its tallies have drastically plummeted. Sales in the United States in 2018 were 22,927, about half of the total in 2014. Lexus has been the top-rated luxury brand for more than a decade, so the sports car-small luxury sedan’s plight doesn’t jibe.
Nearly every vehicle has shortcomings, including the IS350. It has limited console space, small cupholders and mediocre gas mileage averages. The rear seats don’t fold flat and back seat passengers don’t have much breathing room. Trunk space accommodates several grocery bags but not much else.
Lexus has kept its weirdly shaped spindle front grille despite vast disdain. Among other incongruities, the grille on every Lexus looks like it’s mounted upside down.
Still, the IS350 is satisfying on many levels. But it’s a strong choice in a crowded, well-heeled field in which buyers are increasingly shopping elsewhere.
Article Last Updated: October 25, 2019.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.