2016 Lexus IS 300 AWD Review
Being great can be one of the easiest levels to achieve. In fact, it usually occurs quite innocently enough. Someone has an idea, puts it to paper, a car is built, and lo and behold, it turns out to be segment-defining, category-busting, and bar-raising. One of my all-time favourite examples of this is the Mazda MX-5 ― it simply brought the roadster back and had a massive impact on sports cars.
One segment that’s had its share of innovative, mega wow-factor cars is the compact luxury sedan. It seems as though nearly every player here has set a standard at one point or another. Think E30 generation BMW 3 Series, W201 Mercedes 190 E, and 1998 Lexus IS 300.
When it hit the auto show circuit then dealership showrooms, the aura surrounding this car was like nothing ever before seen from a Japanese carmaker. It was not just an appliance; it was a performance sedan with style, substance, and a desirability factor that managed to take some lustre off of the BMW, Mercedes, and Audi of the day.
Tragically, eight years later, all that greatness that had been achieved was brutally killed with an appliance of the blandest kind. Even an IS F version could not bring it back to life. Something good happened in 2014 with the arrival of the third-generation IS, but Lexus made one mistake.
I like the current Lexus IS, generally speaking. The car’s exterior styling, for one, is far more alluring than that of the previous model, and the overall package is attractive. However, Lexus should have stuck with two trims and two engines. The 200t and 350 AWD are all the market really needs.
The “300” designation should have been reserved for a 300+ horsepower 2.0L version of the IS. It’s a number that should have been used for a performance or sportier version of the car, in commemoration of the original, and not for the mid-level model in the range. If the goal of bringing back the name was to arouse the interest of enthusiasts, it won’t work. If it’s to get more people behind the wheel, perhaps it will.
This particular engine has become extremely common among Toyota and Lexus products, from the Camry to the GS, from the Highlander to the RX. It’s a good thing as this mill is gifted with power, generous low-end torque, and a lovely engine note. I’ve enjoyed its abilities in all Toyota/Lexus products except for one: the 2016 Lexus IS 300.
You see, in this application, it’s been detuned to a level that slots it below that of the turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder (241 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque). How? The V6’s extra 14 horsepower come on at 6,400 rpm, 800 rpm higher than the 2.0L, and its torque, which is down 22 lb-ft, arrives 350 rpm later. What’s more, the engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission compared to the 4-pot’s 8-speeder. The IS 300’s only advantage over the 200t is AWD. And yet, Lexus wants $2,250 more for the base 300.
The Lexus IS 300 is not a bad car; it’s just very wrong for the reasons enumerated above and for the following: The 300 feels as though it’s had its mojo sucked out of it. The week after the IS, I roamed the earth in a GS 350 AWD and I rekindled my love affair with the 3.5L V6.
My tested $49,200 IS 300 AWD included the F SPORT 2 package which throws in 18" F SPORT wheels, an aero package and front grille, a staggered tire setup, a 3-spoke steering wheel, and more. On paper, there should be fun to be had. Sadly, flooring the throttle results in little more than that lovely engine note I was talking about. Is this the old man’s version?
I could almost see the V6 looking back at me apologetically with a grin saying: “They did this to me”. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying out the 2.0T, but I’m convinced the outcome would be sharper acceleration, better passing manoeuvre times, and many more smiles behind the wheel. The IS 350 will deliver on all these points. Thankfully, the 6-speed autobox is present and will do what is required of it.
On the road, the 2016 Lexus IS 300 AWD drives like a luxury sedan should. It is well enough isolated from the road, yet feels firmly in contact with the pavement at all times. Steering is quick and pleasantly heavy, but with little communication from the front tires. The suspension is calibrated for just enough comfort and handling ability ― this is perhaps one of the car’s best attributes.
Kudos on the cabin
Sliding aboard the IS is a retro-chic affair. The dashboard’s design and layout are unique and functional. The silver rotary audio controls are simply cool, while the screen is smartly positioned at the very top of the centre stack. Unfortunately, getting used to Lexus’ Remote Touch remains a very touchy problem.
There is a certain lack of storage space, however the very supportive front bucket seats are much appreciated. Fit and finish are good in typical Lexus fashion.
I want to like Lexus’ sportier and compact offerings, but I can’t get around to it. The RC coupe and NX crossover are fine, but as is the case with FCA, the larger the vehicle, the better the experience and product.
In this segment, the new 2017 Audi A4 stands as my No.1 choice followed by the other Germans. The new Infiniti Q50 has more bite than the IS, too.
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Overview: Shortly after the third-generation Lexus IS was unveiled in 2013, it faced down a BMW 3-series and a Cadillac ATS to win our comparison test. It was an impressive feat, but we later discovered that the greatness of the little Lexus trails off sharply the further you get from the top-spec rear-wheel-drive IS350 F Sport. In all its iterations, though, the four-door, automatic-only IS sedan is a swift-handling and downright radical-looking small luxury car festooned with slashes, swooping cutlines, and an oversize spindle grille, all in the manner of the current Lexus design ethos.
For this review, we drove (but did not photograph) the mid-grade IS300 F Sport, which shares its naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 with the IS350. Here, however, it’s detuned to 255 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque (down 51 horses and 41 lb-ft) and comes only with all-wheel drive. As in the IS350 AWD, the IS300’s big V-6 mates to a six-speed automatic. Order a rear-wheel-drive IS350, like the 2017 F Sport we recently tested, and Lexus treats you to a newer eight-speed unit. The same goes for the base, rear-drive-only IS200t with its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four making 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. Our loaded $49,084 six-cylinder IS300 faces off against like-priced four-cylinder competition, such as the BMW 330i, the Mercedes-Benz C300, and the Audi A4.
What’s New: As part of a 2017 refresh, Lexus fiddled with the shapes of the headlights, the front bumper, and the taillights so they zag instead of zig. The oval exhaust tips became rectangular, and the front outer air intakes (which cool the brakes on F Sport models) are longer and deeper. Minor tweaks to the interior include an armrest near the Remote Touch Interface, which gains a second enter button that doesn’t make the infotainment system’s mouselike controller any less wonky to use. Lexus added stitching to the instrument-cluster hood and revised the clock face. Most notable are the driver-assist systems that are now standard across the entire IS lineup: forward-collision alert with automated emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beams. (Blind-spot monitoring comes standard on F Sport models.) Competitors charge thousands more for such features.
What We Like: No matter which IS you choose, Lexus does a good job blending sensory engagement and luxurious isolation. In comparison, the latest BMW 3-series requires a careful selection of options to avoid becoming too cushy or too hard-core. That said, the rear-drive IS350 F Sport remains the pick of the litter, and its firmer damping doesn’t result in any harshness. F Sport models are denoted by an aggressive appearance package that includes a blacked-out, diamond-textured grille that replaces the normal model’s thin horizontal chrome strips. (On F Sport trims, Lexus restricts upholstery choices to NuLuxe, a synthetic material so rich and supple we thought we’d been sitting on leather the whole time.)
Lexus engineers must have held meetings in a sauna, because the interior details are appropriately sweated. The F Sport’s central tachometer is motorized and will slide right to reveal a secondary LCD screen for viewing various vehicle settings. The window motors slow their force upon initial opening and final closing to soften the deafening roar of glass against rubber seals. The V-6 engine emits a pleasing snarl without any coarseness, and both the six- and eight-speed transmissions shift smoothly. The driver’s seating position is appropriately low and offers good visibility, although the back seat and trunk are tight—not surprising given the tidy overall package.
What We Don’t Like: We’ve been pleading with Lexus for more power, but no one in the sauna listened. With any of the three engines, acceleration suffers against its smaller-displacement rivals by wide margins. By the spec sheet, the 306-hp IS350 looks plenty strong. But in reality, this port- and direct-injected V-6 pushes too many pounds. The rear-drive car we tested weighed 3785 pounds, just 92 below the mid-size GS350 F Sport we tested in 2016 (that car rides on the same platform). The IS300, meanwhile, barely exceeds the four-cylinder IS200t’s horsepower and trails behind in torque, so why pay extra for a V-6? And the software engineers who designed the central display’s mouse-style controller need a cold shower. The controller is continually one wobbly finger away from usable, and once you’ve conquered it, the navigation map greets you with dated graphics.
Verdict: An all-around satisfying luxury sports sedan mostly in need of extra speed.
2017 Lexus IS
front-engine, rear- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
IS200t RWD, $38,800;
IS300 AWD, $41,175;
IS350 RWD, $42,345;
IS200t F Sport RWD, $42,945;
IS350 AWD, $44,510;
IS300 F Sport AWD, $44,920;
IS350 F Sport RWD, $46,100;
IS350 F Sport AWD, $47,825
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 241 hp, 258 lb-ft; DOHC 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6, 255 hp, 236 lb-ft; DOHC 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6, 306 hp, 277 lb-ft
6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode, 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 110.2 in
Length: 184.3 in
Width: 71.3 in
Height: 56.3 in
Passenger volume: 92 ft3
Trunk volume: 11 ft3
Curb weight (C/D est): 3600-3800 lb
EPA combined/city/highway: 21-26/19-22/26-32 mpg
C/D TEST RESULTS FOR:
2017 Lexus IS350 RWD F Sport
Zero to 60 mph: 6.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 14.4 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 27.0 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 6.4 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 3.3 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 4.2 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.4 sec @ 100 mph
Top speed (mfr's est): 143 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.84 g
Curb weight: 3785 lb
C/D observed fuel economy: 22 mpg
c/d testing explained
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The 2016 Lexus IS lineup brings two new models: the IS 200t and IS 300. The IS 200t uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder, while the IS 300 is all-wheel drive only, using detuned 3.5-liter V6. They join the 2016 Lexus IS 350, using a more powerful version of that V6 with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. This third-generation Lexus IS was introduced for 2014.
An F Sport package is available for any IS, a performance enhancement that changes the character of the car, so the IS is basically six different cars.
The turbo-four, rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 200t offers 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, with its paddle-shifting 8-speed transmission. It's no rocket but it's quick enough, 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds. But the powertrain has a quirk we've seen and commented on in other Lexuses, a lag time between your foot and the engine's acceleration, a long pause in the programming before the transmission and turbocharger wake up.
The V6 in the all-wheel-drive Lexus IS 300 makes 255 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. The IS 350 wrings 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque out of that 3.5-liter V6. The Lexus IS has good electric power steering, but the F Sport models upgrade to variable-rate steering, among other changes that enhance the dynamics and spirit of the car.
Naturally, the Lexus IS 200t gets the best mileage, EPA rated 22/33/26 mpg City/Highway/Combined. The Lexus IS 300 is rated 19/26/21 mpg, and Lexus IS 350 19/28/22 mpg, with 1 mpg less for all-wheel drive.
The 2016 Lexus IS is offered in four models, starting with the new IS 200t with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine; then the mid-range all-wheel-drive IS 300 with a modest V6; and the rear-wheel-drive IS 350 with 306 horsepower from its V6. The F Sport package is available for each model.
Standard equipment includes 10 airbags, LED daytime running lights, 60/40 rear seats, eight-speaker sound system, Bluetooth and voice recognition, but not a rearview camera nor navigation. Optional safety equipment besides the camera includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dynamic radar-based cruise control, lane departure warning, and park assist. Optional fun equipment includes 18-inch wheels, twin projector LED headlamps, and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system.
Lexus 300 2016 reliability is
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