By David Thomas on October 30, 2013
We reviewed the all-new Lexus IS 250 and 350 earlier this year but recently had the IS 350 F-Sport in the office for a thorough test. Our editors weighed in on what they liked and were unabashed about what they didn't.
The looks of the Matador Red Mica tester were a high point. Here are other hits and misses from the Cars.com editorial staff.
"From the side, the IS is pretty unassuming, but move to the front and everything changes. No one can pass by the car without checking out the in-your-face grille." Jennifer Geiger, news editor
"Despite the grille's striking similarity to the mouth of the 'Predator' alien from the [Arnold] Schwarzenegger flick, I love the attention to detail in the IS 350's styling. Especially how the rear bumper flows into the lower profile's side cladding. The F-Sport's wheels and stance seal the deal." Joe Bruzek, editor
"I didn't care for the front end at the [Detroit's North American International] auto show. Thought they had thrown too much at it. To me the giant grille was never the problem. I like the whole thing a bit better now, possibly because the red color is kind to the design. The F-Sport grille treatment is bolder, but I think the subtle gray makes it work pretty well. If brighter, it would be too much.
"Also, that front bumper begs for sonar. It just clears a regulation-height curb, but not all curbs are regulation. ... " Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor
"The color, the grille, the slick back end ... the IS is one of the best looking cars I've seen this year." David Thomas, managing editor
But there was one dissenter in the group. "The giant mesh hourglass-shaped grille is a bit much for me. It's clear Lexus wanted to make a statement but I think they went too far. The non-F-Sport grille is more to my liking: distinctive, but less in-your-face." Mike Hanley, research editor
Does the cabin match the exterior's striking style? The interior didn't receive quite as many raves but most agreed with Bruzek that "it stood out as an improvement in every way compared to the old one."
"The materials are decent but not exceptional. They lost me when the joy knob became an enter button (it used to be separate buttons on the side); never a good idea. Cursor easily moves off the correct button when you push down. As always, I don't care for the capacitive temperature controls, but, of their ilk, they do work reasonably well. At first I thought the lower buttons were capacitive too, but they're just tiny buttons. Sadly, they're very clicky and cheap feeling." Joe Wiesenfelder
"Materials quality seems appropriate for the entry-luxury class, though the 7-inch screen looks small compared to the giant 12.3-inch screen available in the larger GS." Mike Hanley
Most editors also noticed that the IS sports an unusual feature: white stereo knobs among the standard array of black buttons.
"I noticed the white stereo knobs before I even sat down. The cabin's design and materials give it a sleek and stylish look, until your eye settles on the white knobs — they're out of place and strange looking. I rubbed them wondering if maybe they had a sticker on them." Jennifer Geiger
"The ridge at the end of the stereo knobs feels a little weird at first just because it's different from any other knob I've ever used in a car." Mike Hanley
"The white knobs are interesting. Not my thing, but certainly interesting, and they feel fine. I'm happy just to see knobs." Joe Wiesenfelder
"I'm surprised no one else has thought of this before. They could have been even brighter white to really set it apart." David Thomas
This time a different editor was left unfazed. "I don't have any ill feelings toward the white stereo knobs." Joe Bruzek
The old IS was a cramped car up front and in back, and when the new one debuted at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit we thought it seemed small for drivers as well as those in the back. In reality it wasn't quite as bad as we expected.
"I didn't think the IS was cramped at all. The front bucket seats were very comfortable for the hourlong morning commute. It's not a big car by any means, but it's big enough that taller adults — I'm 6-foot-1 — should be able to find a driving position that works for them." Mike Hanley
"There was more front-seat legroom than I even needed. Headroom only so-so. It's the backseat legroom that's snug for the class." Joe Wiesenfelder
"The driver's seat was plenty roomy for me, and I think rear passengers will be OK over short hauls. It is a similar amount of space in both regards to the new Mercedes-Benz CLA we recently tested." David Thomas
"I wasn't cramped, but I also didn't think there was much additional room to spare." Joe Bruzek
And one of us clearly didn't have an issue with space. "At 5 feet 5 inches I fit perfectly in the driver's seat and found it very easy to get to a comfortable driving position." Jennifer Geiger
The driving experience is a major concern in this competitive class and is an area where the old IS came up short. The editors were mixed about how the new version measures up.
"Lexus' sporty cars used to be criticized for not having a soul, but I don't think this is far from most cars in the class. I think what's happened is the rest of the market has moved toward isolation and away from feel, so it's hard to single out the Lexus. Being a 350, it drives quite well. Plenty of power, even with all-wheel drive. The dynamics are pretty good too. More body roll than I'd expect, but it improves in a Sport mode." Joe Wiesenfelder
"Even in Sport S+ mode the IS 350 didn't seem to have a punch of acceleration from previous car. I didn't drive them back to back, so can't say definitively. Or the cabin just soaked up the engine noises better than before and it only sounded that way." Joe Bruzek
"I liked driving it quite a bit. Lexus has found a sweet spot between sportiness and comfort — no easy task — that makes the IS very livable for everyday commuting." Mike Hanley
"Smooth, quick power made highway driving fun. It definitely exudes a confidence on the road." Jennifer Geiger
"The performance aspect did not resonate with me at all. It seemed fast enough but certainly didn't exude the traits that a car looking like this should." David Thomas
Wiesenfelder pointed out that the six-speed led to crisp shifts but there is a flaw versus competitors moving to seven- and even eight-speed transmissions: "Mileage isn't great."
No, no it isn't. A 21 mpg combined rating may be right in line with the similarly optioned Cadillac ATS and Infiniti Q50, but in reality it was woeful. Thomas couldn't get it much past the 21 mpg figure even in mostly highway driving in near perfect weather where it's rated at 26 mpg. Another editor did get it between 25 and 27 mpg on a longer highway haul, however.
Knowing all of the above, would any of our editors buy an IS over the Q50 or 328i?
"The redesigned IS is a more credible sport sedan than its predecessor. The Infiniti Q50 edges it on the available technology front, but the IS packs its share of tech features, too. Sport sedan purists may gravitate to the BMW 328i, but the competition is steadily closing in." Mike Hanley
"It's hard to beat the overall package of a 3 Series that does everything near perfection. Of the IS 350 or Q50, I'd lean toward the Q50 because it's larger, more comfortable and I'm a fan of the Q50's looks over the IS. Plus I'd feel awful carrying around friends and family in the IS' backseat." Joe Bruzek
"This is tough, but I'd probably go Q50. The Infiniti feels more powerful and has an absolutely stunning interior. I also can't stand the IS' multimedia system controls. The Q50's double touch-screen setup is way more intuitive." Jennifer Geiger
"If price weren't part of the equation the 328i is the way to go ... still. But the Q50 has a lot of qualities to like and value. The IS can't win on the looks alone." David Thomas
"For me, the 328i is still king. I haven't had enough time in the Q50, but from what I've experienced, it's not going to topple the 3." Joe Wiesenfelder.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David