For years, Lexus’ IS sedan lagged behind the prestige afforded by its big brother, the LS, which many in the industry had pegged as a game changer as the Lexus marquee shook the luxury sedan segment to its very core. Slowly but surely, Lexus’ entry-level sedan has evolved into a model proud enough to stand on its own, away from the shadow of its big brother. Now, the IS has been reborn, ready to challenge the European aristocrats in the compact luxury sports sedan segment.
At the Dynamic Launch of the IS350 and IS350 F-Sport at the Clark International Speedway, the all-new Lexus IS, which showcased as much as 12 firsts in terms of features and technical innovations, impressed the motoring media present. To spice things up, Lexus brought in two competitor sedans, as well as the previous-generation IS, for the media to get a proper comparison: to see how the new IS has progressed.
The most obvious visual exterior aspect of the new Lexus IS350 and 350 F-Sport is the prominent spindle grille, which flows well into the L-Finesse design cues. Second to it, particularly on the F-Sport, are the LFA-inspired 18-inch wheels in the same satin finish. Visually, the regular IS and F-Sport variants differ with the F-Sport by having a bigger, more aggressive spindle grille attached to a more aggressive front bumper with ducting for the larger 4-piston brakes and 340-millimeter rotors, the aforementioned wheels (the IS350 gets slightly smaller 17-inch wheels), sport seats and steering wheel (also inspired by the LFA supercar’s tiller) for the F-Sport and a more extensive LCD display monitor for the F-Sport. Bespoke interior color schemes have greater variety in the F-Sport as well.
The new IS is 75mm longer and 12mm wider than its predecessor, with a wheelbase that is 70mm longer. These changes, though seemingly minute, contribute to a better handling, more sure-footed, more responsive and more engaging driving experience, as witnessed by the motoring media on both the long and short courses of the Clark Speedway. As an added benefit, the slight increase in size has tremendously helped in interior roominess and comfort: from being a snug fit from the previous model, to simply intimate and cozy for the newer one.
The use of laser screws and body bonding techniques helps increase chassis stiffness, while a new electronic power steering system provides the light-feeling Lexus touch, and offers improved feel, feedback and accuracy without the nervous twitchiness at high speeds. The front suspension offers a 20-percent increase in roll-resistance while the rear utilizes an all-new multilink design similar to the GS sedan that improves rear-end grip and stability. Lastly, the 2GR-FSE dual-injection V6, displacing 3.5 liters and with dual overhead camshafts and 24 valves, delivers an amazing 317 horsepower and 38.3 Newton-meters of torque through Lexus’ much-vaunted 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, called SPDS or Sport Direct Shift, first seen on the previous-generation IS-F.
The SPDS Transmission now features G-AI, a form of artificial intelligence software that detects your driving style, studies it and, with g-sensors, provides the ideal gear, particularly when powering out of tight corners. It also offers full-torque converter lock-up from second to eighth gear, providing much improved acceleration performance and a more connected feel for the driver. When combined with the Drive Select Mode (Eco, Snow, Sport, Sport S and Sport S+), the transmission, as well as the engine’s throttle response and willingness to rev, the new Variable Gear Ratio steering system, which reduces steering lock and increases in weight, plus the AVS suspension firming up, the IS comes alive on the track, slicing through the apex points, riding the FIA kerbing on the sweepers like a tin-top racer and engine-braking when the driver brakes hard for a slow corner, adding an extra layer of excitement, involvement and willingness on the IS’ part to engage on on-track histrionics, something which could not be said for the previous model.
Inside, the smallest change, a slight adjustment by 3mm on the steering wheel and column hugely improves the new IS’ driving position and feel. With 12-way sport seats that have a larger range of adjustment, as well as steering wheel rake and particularly the reach adjustment that extends further by 23mm, the seating position is that of a proper sports sedan. In fact very close to a sports car which means your hands, wrist, elbows and shoulders are all at an optimal position that provides a greater, freer range of motion, thus improving control over the new IS and increasing the performance potential of both car and driver. You feel very free, with no constraints whatsoever, should you encounter a series of tough switchbacks and hairpins in succession.
Like real prosOn the tight west course of Clark International Speedway, both the IS350 and F-Sport took the turns like real professionals, confidently scything through the apex, riding the curbs and powering out with just a small bit of sideways shift as you apply the throttle carefully but steadily, the throaty roar of the V6 providing a full aural feast to the senses. The chassis and suspension have been honed well as the IS isn’t reliant on the electronic aids: On tight corners, powering out aggressively makes the Lexus shimmy outward a bit, but the electronic aids don’t trigger immediately to stop the fun; give it a chance and the IS finds grip predictably and consistently, and catapults you out of corner exits confidently.
But it’s not all fast fun and on-track action with the new IS: The roomy interior provides greater comfort when you’re just pootling about. The Remote Touch Interface, Lexus’ take on the single multifunction interface button, makes accessing climate control audio settings and the Satnav system easier, more intuitive and less obtrusive. As a matter of interest, the Satnav/GPS with full Philippine mapping fitted on the IS is a Lexus first and is also the first in the luxury-car segment, as other manufacturers are still at the testing stage. Entry and exit points are also improved, particularly in the front seats where the gap between the rear headrest and b-pillar has increased by 8mm to aid in access.
Like any Lexus, the IS is a very safe car. Lexus’ highly vaunted Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management allows the IS’ ABS-EBD brakes, traction and stability controls, the EPS and, when fitted, the Variable Gear Ratio Steering System to interact freely to help steer you out of danger, or when being driven at 10/10 on the track, lap faster and more consistently. Eight airbags come as standard as well: dual front, dual knee airbags, side airbags for the front passengers and a curtain airbag on either side.
The IS350 and the F-Sport are paving the way for a more exciting, more emotion-filled, aggressive and inspiring Lexus. The IS350 feels very much like a European sports sedan that has been honed on a variety of tracks worldwide, including the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife, a mecca for sports cars and sports sedan development. It is exciting and engaging to drive; it still possesses the Lexus qualities of unmatched refinement, efficiency and reliability. The technology packed within not only makes the IS better-performing but more intelligent so that it helps the driver stay safer, go faster and be more efficient. It’s also the best-priced model in its segment at just over P3 million. Expect the new IS350, especially the F-Sport, to start taking up the fight squarely against the Europeans.