Review: 2015 Lexus IS350 F Sport
An ode to the V6
The dark paint of this IS350 F Sport hides the crazy exterior design details well. In lighter colors, the exterior is a bit too busy, but I think it’s overall a handsome car. The wheels are a bit too small, proportionally.
Lexus knows how to make a comfortable, high-quality interior. This IS is no different: I’m slowly coming around to the new design language of late Lexus models.
The biggest problem, however, is the steering wheel. It’s far too large. The reason I love the E90 BMW 3-series is the size of the wheel. You feel like you’re grabbing a puppy by the scruff of its neck. The larger the steering wheel, the less control you feel over the car.
The paddles are relatively nice, although the “clickiness” is dampened slightly.
The infotainment mouse thing that Lexus designed sounds good in theory, but works terribly in practice. It requires too much driver attention to use safely in motion.
The instrument cluster, as you might be able to see in the above pictures, is inspired by the glorious LFA. The all-digital display grew on me the more I drove: seeing the tach respond immediately to throttle blips was novel and addicting.
Twist the drive mode controller to Sport, and the tach lights up in white. Very cool, and definitely one of the best interior features I’ve seen in a car in a while.
We’ll start with the handling dynamics. This car has a fantastic ride-handling balance. The engineers nailed it. Even in Sport+ mode, the car is comfortable and controlled as it attacks the mean streets of SF. Cornering is flat despite the weight of the car.
The brakes are sensitive and offer easy modulation. They don’t have the initial bite that I’ve come to expect from European cars, but once you find the sweet spot, the car feels tight as you scrub speed.
The steering feel isn’t superb. In sport mode, the steering is direct but still a bit numb, like me after a couple of drinks. In normal mode, it’s the same story — to be completely honest, I’m not certain the drive mode button does anything except hold lower gears.
Speaking of gears, the 8-speed automatic transmission is butter. Is it a dual-clutch? It certainly feels that way. Occasionally, I’d find the engine shifting too much, but you don’t notice it after driving the car for some time.
And now, the engine. The engine.
In 2015, Lexus offered the IS250 and the IS350. Both had V6 engines, making about 200hp and about 300hp, respectively.
The Lexus has all of the benefits and all of the drawbacks of a V6 in a sport-sized sedan. Pros: great sound, smooth revving, and linear power delivery. Cons: heavy and thirsty relative to 4-cyl engines.
The 2015 IS350 felt like every other Japanese V6 I’ve driven. OK, so the only other Japanese V6 I’ve danced with is the V6 in my 08 Acura TL. All of the pros listed above ring true, yes. The cons really only come out when you drive the car hard.
And that’s the inherent flaw with the IS350. As a daily driver or city car, it works perfectly well. With the Butter by Lexus™ ride, the Baby’s Butt Leather by Lexus™ interior, and the Everything Always Works by Lexus™ quality control, it’s a car you’ll never have to worry about. It’s a car that will coddle you in traffic.
But once you put on the sport mode hat and start tearing into corners, smoking others at the lights, and pulling hard stops, the car falls short. The V6, with all of its beautiful power delivery characteristics, lets it down.
I firmly believe a car cannot be both truly luxurious and truly sporty simultaneously. As much as the marketing folks want you to believe you can have it all, you cannot.
If Lexus tried to brand the IS as a small, well-made, luxury grand tourer, the V6 would be perfect. Unnecessary amounts of power to propel you forward at great speed paired with unnecessary amounts of comfort to coddle your ass as you eat up the highway miles on a true grand tour road trip.
If Lexus tried to brand the IS as a small, well-made sports sedan, a lighter engine would be perfect. If the goal is sport, then weight is the enemy. The reason the Miata is my gold standard for handling is because it’s light. Even if you aren’t going quickly, you’re truly resonating with the handling.
The 2015 Lexus IS350 F Sport is the unashamed ode to the V6. It’s an almost-last hurrah for one of my favorite engine types of all time. It’s a heavy kid — sorry, big-boned kid— that can run a 6 minute mile. It’s the opposite of what Colin Chapman would’ve wanted. As everyone else went for turbo-4’s, the IS is proudly unique among its class.
And that’s something special, no doubt.