Engines that breathe without the assistance of turbos or superchargers are a dying breed, and it’s a fate that could be in store for the V6 in the Lexus IS350.
Its smaller brother in the IS250, the 2.5-litre V6, is already certain to be replaced by the company’s new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which debuted in the NX SUV and will create a new IS200t badge.
We won’t be shedding much of a tear for the torque-deprived 2.5L, but the grunty-yet-smooth 3.5L makes the IS350 our pick of the Lexus IS line-up as things currently stand.
That’s perhaps just as well, as it is also the most expensive. The Lexus IS350 starts from $65,330 for the Luxury trim grade where the IS250 and petrol-electric IS300h being at $56,500 and $59,500 respectively.
Standard fare for the Luxury includes satellite navigation, digital radio, electric front seats with heating, leather upholstery, power adjustable steering wheel, one-touch power windows, keyless entry/start, bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone climate, front/rear sensors and rear-view camera.
Since its release in 1999, the Lexus IS has traditionally taken on the Germans by offering more equipment for the money, though Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have more than closed the value gap to the latest-generation model released in 2013.
The 328i and new C250, for example, are priced just a bit higher than the IS350 but can brag semi-automatic parking, rain-sensing wipers, blind spot and lane departure warning systems, plus other extra features.
The BMW has head-up display and a surround-view monitor. The Mercedes has 19-inch wheels, stop/go radar cruise control, LED headlamps and daytime running lights, and partial-autonomous steering capability.
IS350 buyers would have to step up to the $73,330 F Sport to get blind spot monitoring (in addition to other goodies such as variable sports suspension, variable ratio steering and grippier seats), or increase their monthly lease payments for the $84,330 Sports Luxury that brings auto high beam, radar cruise, rain sensor, lane departure warning, pre-collision safety and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
Lexus nails the luxury car brief inside, though. There’s a purposeful executive feel to the cabin, from the almost-obligatory analogue dash clock to the smartly presented design and controls.
The 7.0-inch main display is set high in the dash for easy viewing, and manipulated via the Remote Touch controller on the console. Our view hasn’t changed since the launch that the joystick is a bit oversensitive and tends to be less accurate than the rotate-and-click operation of BMW’s rival iDrive.
Lexus’s Enform system is used via Remote Touch and allows owners to check the weather, search for nearest petrol stations by fuel price, locate a restaurant or contact Lexus via the Concierge function.
Seat comfort is fine but not class-leading, and the same can be said for overall cabin space.
Headroom is good in the back seat, but rear knee space still isn’t one of the IS’s strongest assets despite the increased size of the latest model. Toe space is also a bit tight. You’ll find more cabin space in the 3 Series, C-Class, Audi A4 and Volvo S60.
Boot space is more competitive, with the IS350’s 480-litre volume equal best in class with the 3 Series and C-Class. The rear seats split-fold 60/40.
When it comes to the segment’s dynamic benchmark, the 3 Series has hogged that title since time immemorial. Lexus continues to give it a fair crack, though.
There’s significant driver appeal to the Lexus IS350 even without opting for the more focused F Sport.
The electric steering is a touch notchy off centre but continues to impress – as it did on the previous IS – with its accuracy, teaming up with a rear end that feels planted even in both damp and dry conditions to give the driver plenty of confidence.
That aforementioned V6 also encourages the driver to pick up speed, getting audibly angrier – with assistance from an engine resonator – as revs rise.
The new-for-this-generation eight-speed auto helps to extract more performance, with a Sport mode that throttle-blips under hard braking and holds a gear through corners.
Go with the M (manual) mode, and paddleshift levers when flicked can downshift three times faster (at 200ms) than the previous six-speed auto, according to Lexus.
M mode also brings full torque converter lock-up from second gear upwards to minimise transmission slippage.
Eighth gear is calibrated for economy, though this overdrive ratio can’t prevent the Lexus IS350 from being the thirstiest car in its class.
Official consumption is registered at 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres – where its key rivals are in the 6.0s – though during our recent luxury car comparison test this pushed out to 11.3L/100km.
If fuel economy is a priority, you can opt for the Lexus IS300h hybrid, which can offer 4.9L/100km officially.
The petrol-electric IS isn’t quite as nice or sporty to drive, though, with the ride, for example, feeling a bit busier as a result of its exclusive-to-model run-flat tyres.
All Lexus IS models come with a four-year warranty that’s 12 months longer than the average for its segment, though kilometre coverage is pegged at 100,000 – so there’ll be plenty of long-distance-driving owners who don’t make it that far.
According to residual experts Glass Guide, the IS350 won’t hold its value over three years as well as the rival BMW 328i (approximately 56 per cent) but its 47 per cent estimate matches a C250 Benz and is better than an Audi A4 (44 per cent).
The aforementioned turbo-driven update to the Lexus IS should come in 2015, but…
Arguably the most beneficial change would – ironically, for a company with a reputation for long equipment lists – be to load its mid-sized luxury car with more fruit to make it more competitive in terms of value and technology.
That new turbo four-cylinder IS200t model will also be welcome (unless you’re also hoping it won’t delete the 3.5L V6).