Lexus IS350: Can it Compete with a 3 Series or C Class?
Yes Yes Yes oh YES: sexy looks, comfy seats, classy cabin
Oh dear me no: old engine, Bluetooth/usb issues, moody cursor controller
Gorgeous isn’t it? Some hate the lines swooping and dipping from front to back but I think they are stunning. To get the full picture you might consider other offering like BMW’s 3 series and Audi’s A3 (and A4 and A4 and A6 and A7) that are just a touch on the bland side. Although Mercedes Benz has released the delicious new C Class, I’m still leaning towards the Lexus. Let’s just say it is too close to call.
On a serious note: The wheelbase is 70mm longer, there are more airbags, the body is 10kg’s lighter and there is a new electric power steering system. These and other changes are meant to add a touch of value and luxury to the Lexus experience. You see, Lexus is meant to have a sense of occasion. They want you to feel that you’ve arrived. You never ever want to hear the phrase “so, why didn’t you buy a Merc?” or “gosh, and you didn’t want a BMW?” because that is the market shamelessly targeted, and why not. One important thing to note is that what the Germans make you pay extra for, comes as standard in Lexus.
Our 350 F Sport had oodles of extra stuff like: Keyless smart entry/start, radar cruise control, bi-xenon headlights, LED day lights, lane departure warning, proximity warning etc. The IS has an extra 85mm of legroom over the old model and feels more spacious in the rear than any of the Germans. And, any old auto maker can stick in a pair of heated front seats in the front, but Lexus has the chutzpah to pump cool air through them at the flick of a button.
The classy cabin has a club-like atmosphere. The leather is softer than a baby’s bum and is wrapped around anything that doesn’t move. I suspect Lexus has pulled a fastie by using Pleather on some surfaces. Still, if you can’t tell, it doesn’t matter. The perforations which allow wafts of arctic air make the seats look even more luxurious.
The best part about buying a Japanese car is that it needs no conversion to be driven here.
Think about it: Every car made in Europe or the USA has the steering wheel on the left-hand side. That means all controls are in the wrong place. Most importantly the turn indicator is on the right-hand side, so you won’t be hurtling down the highway with wipers waving like demented Rabbitohs fans. For an extra 3 grand you can have your IS as a hybrid hybrid. There take THAT Germany!
Every IS has Satnav controlled by a Touch pad on the console. It is a massive jump from the fiddly toggle joy-stick it had previously but is still a bit of a faff, making easy tasks difficult. Because there are no pre-select radio station buttons, selecting a specific station can be a bit of a kafuffle because it’s is under a menu somewhere. If you get really desperate, there is the tuning knob. Unlike some of the Germans, you’re able to give the knob a good twist to get to a station. The other way is to select either Favourites or Full Station List from the menu, then use the steering wheel or console buttons to scroll. It is very chi chi and takes a bit of getting used to. I love the centre analogue clock which posh auto makers appear to be falling in love with all over again.
Sometimes doing something just because you can seems a frivolity too far. Such is the case with the instrument panel. The LCD screen displays whatever info the driver desires but the centre dial is a physical ring which moves when a button on the steering wheel is pressed. Why? It would be easier just to have one large LCD divided at the whim of the driver. Instead, pressing a button marked with little squares causes the ring to slide to one side allowing a larger single area of screen for various statistics. Personally, I think there is far too much info at a driver’s fingertips.
I like the cabin very much. It is classy and feels expensive.
The first few days was spent trying to make the USB/Bluetooth streaming play nice. To my chagrin I discovered that the IPhone 5 confuses the audio system no end, so the driver has to choose either USB or Bluetooth. He then has to disconnect which ever option he didn’t choose. This is a dreadful oversight considering the number of IPhone owners who might want a Lexus. If you don’t disconnect, which ever option you chose will eventually stop working.
We decided to take the Lexus to a family wedding. Gay boys and weddings can be hit and miss, and this one was quite remarkable, in one way or another. Jervis Bay is pretty enough, but country locations lack the convenience most of us are used to. A single pub and only one Coles and both close early. Mental note: If you’ve been to a wedding where you chose not to eat, have a few nibbles in the fridge for later, or drink incontinently.
Jervis Bay is a large inlet containing many smaller picturesque bays. It resembles the Greek Islands with pristine blue waters and blinding white beaches. Getting there via the Princes Highway (please note it is princes not Princess highway) can be a truly hairy experience. The trip out of Sydney is usually a slow one. The federal treasurer is quite wrong, poor people do drive, and they drive quite some distance. You wind you way through dreary suburb after dreary suburb, dreary traffic after dreary light. Once out of town, the trip turns from bumper-to-bumper, to post-card pretty. We relied on the Satnav once past the Gong, but she can be moody, especially if you fail to notice the “other” route options.
We were on the clock because we couldn’t leave Sydney until after an early morning commitment. Instead of taking the prettier Royal National Park route, we stuck to the dull-as-dish-water highway. We were mildly concerned at a truck sitting about a metre off the back bumper for 10 kilometres at 100KPH. Neither of us thought to video the incident but it highlights the offhand way truck drivers treat the roads and other drivers. Before you say it, yes we were overtaking slower drivers, and we were at the speed limit. We were perfectly entitled to be where we were but the truck driver obviously felt otherwise. We pulled into the left lane once past the caravans and P platers and watched the truck disappear into the distance at very much more than the legal limit. Perhaps he had somewhere to be.
The aging engine is very capable but not terrible economical. Rather than update the engine, Lexus added an 8 speed auto. As good as the auto is, Lexus should look at a smaller turbo’d unit because under the botnet feels a bit low-tech. The auto is superb but in normal mode wants to get to 8th as quickly as possible. It is annoying beyond belief but in sports mode your economy takes a nose-dive. You chose.
Once past the Gong, the lady in the dash board became insistent we turn off the aforementioned highway. Pretty though it was, the scenic route was much longer but gave the IS a decent workout.
The corners were a joy with the new power steering having much more feel than electric units previously. The adjustable settings make the throttle, transmission and suspension adjust to a more spirited trip. Again, anything other than normal makes the fuel use climb alarmingly.
We arrived in plenty of time. We got out of the car feeling fresh after a 2.5 hour trip. We parked at the kerbside angled parking spot and stood bereft at the sight of out 60’s motel staring back at us. What a depressing sight it was. For those who know Husskinson as the charming bayside town, there is a certain allure of beach and bay. However, that does not extend to the motel untouched since the Whitlam administration, and its sad exterior. Anyone hoping for more from the interior would have been even more depressed. It’s a note to always check ratings and reviews before booking. Doors slammed and feet thumped overhead making sleeping nothing more than a distant hope.
I awoke next morning to take a walk on the beach. As I walked along the cracked cement path I longer to get into the Lexus and drive off. Then I remember hubby still asleep. I got to the front of the motel and stood gaping at what looked like a crime scene. The car had been taped off during in the night. Barriers had been erected as if the graves of a serial murderer had been found in the park near the beach. We were trapped in the middle of a surf event we hadn’t known about. After an interesting wedding the night before, I had had enough. I marched inside and roused hubby. Fifteen minutes later we had backed through the tape, negotiated the barriers and were heading away from that awful nightmare.
We discovered the gorgeous villages in and around Berry and stopped for a Maccers brekky but were both so tired, all we wanted was our own bed. Many of the roads were closed for a charity bike ride between Sydney and The Gong. It seemed much of New South Wales wanted to be active, and all we wanted was sleep.
The Lexus performed beautifully but we did not. The trip marred a brilliant drive
I like the IS 350 very much. It handles like the sporty Euros whose sales it aims to take. The package is a good one with a long list of standard inclusions. The cabin is on a par with the Germans and the exterior is stunning. The question is would I buy one over a new C Class or 3 series. I could only answer by driving one after the other, then looking at the standard gear. For me, the badge is irrelevant because I love the IS 350 very much.
Would I buy one? Please see above.
Price IS 350 range $72,286 – $92,656
Engine econ fuel 3.5 V6, 233kw, 278Nm, 9.7l/100k, std unleaded
Trans 8 speed auto driving rear wheels
0-100 6.6secs (unofficial)
For more on the Lexus IS350 see:
The Lexus IS350 page was posted “By Mike Armstrong”