Curiously though there were no door pockets in the back doors although there were two cupholders in the folding armrest and map pockets in the seatbacks. There are also air vents in the back of the console. While there is a third seatbelt in the back, that middle seat looks far less comfortable than the more sculpted seating positions to either side.
Trunk space though was more abundant than the figure (10.8 cubic feet) would indicate and the rear seatbacks fold 60/40 if more space is needed. At one point I had in the trunk a large plastic storage tote, several big department store shopping bags, a milk crate with dirty boots, a backpack and a winter jacket, all were just placed in there without any thought to how it would fit, it just did and was perfectly acceptable. Basically it’s fine for multiple carry-on bags and likely also for larger suitcases and assorted other stuff for two.
As you’d expect, touching the engine starter button instantly brings it to life, where when cold it idles at a fairly fast speed for longer than you’d think. Sort of old school and a bit charming actually. While the IS series is available with a 241hp turbocharged inline-4 (IS 300 RWD) as well as a 260hp 3.5-liter V6 (IS 350 AWD), the F Sport model in both RWD or AWD form is blessed with a 311hp version of the 3.5-liter V6.
Now, I love me some Toyota/Lexus 3.5-Liter V6 and few would argue that 311hp is a poor showing for that size of engine; however… Yes, there’s a however. Most of the competition at this level is turbocharged or supercharged. While I can appreciate the perhaps increased perception of reliability and longevity of a well engineered naturally aspirated powerplant and it was an almost brand new car with less than a thousand miles on it, it mostly just didn’t feel like what I expect 311hp in a sport-luxury package should feel like. And yes, of course I’ve driven as well as owned numerous cars with significantly more power.
The engine is smooth yet turns a bit gruff at higher engine speeds. It pulls very well but not ferociously, especially at lower engine speeds. The power peaks at 6,600 rpm and the 280lb-ft of torque peak at 4,800rpm, of course I am usually at a minimum of 5,000 feet of elevation which does affect things somewhat as well. While I certainly gave it the beans when appropriate and as mentioned chose to keep it in the most aggressive drive setting available, this engine and the car feels much happier as a powerful but not exorbitantly so cruiser. Perhaps we are getting spoiled by the cheap abundance of power available these days.
It was excellent on the freeway, great around town, and while it was fine on the mountain roads in the vicinity, it also felt a little stiff when cornering. Not stiff as in suspension stiffness, that aspect was alright (great actually as well as the ride itself), just not overly fluid and willing to well, dance. It responded fine, but not in a particularly encouraging manner, though when pushed harder it didn’t give up either, cornering mostly flat.
It was far more enjoyable to just dial it back half a notch and enjoy the scenery as much as the road immediately in front, that scenery still being able to pass by at a very rapid clip. Torque is split 70% to the rear and 30% to the front as a default and can move around from there, but the rear-bias is generally maintained, of course the car is based on a rear wheel drive platform.
The transmission here is a 6-speed with paddle shifters if one should choose to row their own. An 8-speed might increase the perception of power/speed a bit but would make the manual shifting more difficult, the 6-speed was actually quite enjoyable to use manually with the paddles, assuming one was doing their most to work the car in the first place.
In normal use, no, leaving it in Drive was fine, it’s a quick shifting box with decently spaced ratios, especially when in Sport S+, as the car would hold a gear when diving into a corner and downshift when braking, always ready to give it a further go if the driver was inclined to hammer the loud-pedal again.
Wheels and tires have come a long way over the years, and the staggered 19″ BBS wheels here were equipped with 235/40-19 Bridgestone Turanza EL450 tires in the front and 265/30-19s in the rear. Interestingly the rears carried a treadwear rating of 400 while the fronts had a drastically lower rating of 260. Of course these ratings vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but I found such a large disparity from front to rear in the same tire line interesting as that should in fact translate to a notable difference between them.
Quiet on the road and quick to respond to steering inputs, this seems a good all-season performance tire, although when cornering moderately aggressively and hitting a patch of slush mid-bend, it would let the car slide off-line a bit. However that’s hardly the tire’s fault, and if traveling more sedately it handled such situations just fine, and did a very good job of holding on in mixed wet/dry conditions. Winter tires could have been appropriate for part of my time with the car, this time of year is a mixed bag as to what’s better to have mounted.
The official fuel economy ratings are 19 City, 26 Highway, and 22 Average. I drove the car a total of 335 miles and for the first 160 miles the reading was pretty much resolutely stuck at right around 20.5mpg. That was composed of around town driving, spirited mountain road driving, and a fair amount of idling and repositioning while taking photos.
Then towards the end I was able to string together a longer day composed of 170 miles of mostly rural highway and freeway driving with several stops. That day caused the overall average to increase to 21.1mpg but that’s all she wrote. Slightly below the rated average, then. Adding to the pain, premium unleaded is required according to the label on the fuel filler lid.
The weather by the way absolutely did not want to cooperate with me this week, often being dry when the sun wasn’t out and generally wet when the sun was out due to the melting snow and so forth. At least it allowed consideration of the car in multiple types of road conditions.
The 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport starts at $44,900 plus a $1,025 “Delivery, Processing, and Handling” fee. Forgoing the AWD would save $2,000. The least expensive IS 300 RWD is $39,050 so the larger engine and F Sport package don’t really add very much.
Standard equipment includes the vast majority of safety stuff including, finally, the Blind Spot Monitoring System which should have been standard long ago, an 8″ touchscreen and 10-speaker Lexus sound system, Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto (again, finally!), Auto-headlights, Rain-sensing wipers, Floor Mats, First Aid Kit, and the F-Sport Features which are comprised of 10-Way Driver and 8-Way Passenger F Sport Bolstered Front Heated and Ventilated Seats, F Sport Suspension Tuning, 19-inch Staggered Width Alloys with Dark Metallic Finish, F Sport Exterior Styling, Rear Spoiler, and the F Sport Movable Meter (which is the main gauge that physically moves to the side to offer a larger, different display on command) as well as various other features, all described in further great detail on the manufacturer’s website.
However, in a Lexus the options can add up. In this case the first $1,400 in options were devoted to Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking, Rear Pedestrian Detection, and Panoramic View Monitor (I’d choose that). Then $3,800 more goes to the F Sport Dynamic Handling Package which includes the 19″ staggered BBS (as opposed to Lexus) wheels, Drive Mode Select with Sport S+ and Custom Modes, Adaptive Variable Suspension, Ash Heated Wood Trimmed Steering Wheel and Interior Trim and SmartAccess Card Key and the Carbon Fiber Spoiler. That one’s a little tougher, I’d want to try one without that and see if there’s much of a difference.
Triple Beam LED headlights are well worth the $1,250 being asked, and the Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package that includes the 10.3 inch touchscreen, Multimedia Display, Lexus Enform Dynamic Navigation, Dynamic Voice Command, Destination Assist and 17-speaker, 1,800 Watt Premium Surround Sound Audio System at $2,750 would be a tougher nut, but are available as separate options.
The Paint is considered Premium for another $425 even though I could not find the color listed on the sticker as available on the website, and the Power Sunroof is $1,100 for something that for once didn’t cause me discomfort but I’d save the money since I didn’t open it. Oh, there are also Door Edge Guards for $140 on this one to round things out to a grand total of $56,790 of Mr. Washington’s dollars.
I enjoyed the car quite a bit and it (or an IS in general) would appeal to me on some level were I in the market, but I don’t think I enjoyed it as Lexus perhaps hoped for me to enjoy it. It’s a decently strong engine in a good looking (to me) body with a well-crafted interior with a premium badge. It has a few issues that I could overlook, none were deal breakers besides perhaps (maybe) the big one, that being the performance it subtly screams about but doesn’t really seem to fully deliver.
It’s not slow by any means, but it doesn’t push you to push it, at least not in multiple ways at once. It handles and turns great at normal to somewhat but not extremely elevated speeds without any effort, it’s also a great highway cruiser at very high speeds but mainly point to point. Something is missing to resolutely connect the two though.
Lexus themselves are acknowledging they can do better (or saving the best for later) and are thus releasing a version of the IS F Sport with a 5.0 liter V8 producing a very enticing 472hp and 395lb-ft of torque later this year, obviously a significant increase in both aspects. While the price will of course also be somewhat higher, internal combustion power junkies that are looking for a refined sport sedan will likely appreciate it.
But the game has moved on and this won’t be a volume move either. What nobody really wants to talk about is that while it’s acknowledged that sedans are sort of dwindling in appeal, there is one sedan in this general size and price class whose appeal has been, shall we say, electrifying, especially to the technologically savvy buyers that this Lexus would seem to be aimed at.
And that’s the real bogey here that the world’s makers need to address as it has had quite the impact on the entire segment and its volumes over the last few years, far more than just the general move away from sedans, even if it isn’t yet necessarily for everyone. The show will go on, but the cast might not all remain the same.
Thank You to Lexus for providing us this 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport and a full tank of gasoline.
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