2011 Lexus IS 350

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$39,720

starting MSRP

2011 Lexus IS 350
2011 Lexus IS 350

Key specs

Base trim shown

Overview

The good:

  • Acceleration
  • Responsive transmission
  • Well-executed steering
  • Balanced handling
  • Reliability for current generation
  • Front-seat comfort

The bad:

  • Mark Levinson stereo option
  • Tight backseat
  • Firm ride
  • Driver's footwell room in AWD models

1 trim

Starting msrp listed lowest to highest price

Wondering which trim is right for you?

Our 2011 Lexus IS 350 trim comparison will help you decide.

Notable features

  • 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6
  • Keyless start
  • Available AWD
  • Updated styling
  • Available F-Sport Package

2011 Lexus IS 350 review: Our expert's take

By Kelsey Mays

The verdict:

Versus the competiton:

For more than 10 years, Lexus has presented luxury shoppers an unlikely offering in the IS, a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan from a brand best known for cushy comfort. The gamble worked: The IS drives better than most of its Lexus siblings. It does not, however, get there without a penalty.

While the Lexus IS sedan performs well, it makes drivers give up ride comfort and roominess in ways that its competitors don’t.

Lexus restyled a few elements on the IS for 2011, which you can compare with the 2010 model here. The car comes in IS 250 or IS 350 form, representing the size of each one’s V-6 engine. Both are also available as a convertible, denoted by “C” in the model name. Compare them here. The lineup’s high-performance IS-F sedan is covered separately on Cars.com. All-wheel drive is optional on the IS 250 and 350 sedans; in previous years, it was optional only on the IS 250.

We evaluated two cars: a rear-wheel-drive IS 250C convertible and an all-wheel-drive IS 350 sedan.

Quick, or Not So Much
Even carrying an extra 176 pounds of driveline, the all-wheel-drive IS 350 moves out. Lexus’ direct-injection V-6 feels on par with the powerhouse six-cylinders in the BMW 335i and Infiniti G37. It pulls strongly, sounds muscular and can generally overtake slower traffic whenever your right foot desires. Aided by a quick-shifting six-speed automatic, the 306-horsepower IS 350 is a confident beast. One editor thought the automatic shifted a bit harshly sometimes, but most agreed it’s a responsive gearbox — not the usual pedigree from parent company Toyota. Still, I wish the IS 350 had a manual transmission. Most competing sedans offer one with their larger engines. Manuals might not sell well, but having one available would make the IS more attractive to performance enthusiasts.

The 204-hp IS 250 does offer a stick, and you’ll probably need it to wring the most out of the engine. Our test car’s pint-sized V-6 felt two cylinders short. It reminded me of a Mercedes-Benz C240 — the cheapest six-cylinder Mercedes of its time, discontinued in 2006. Like the old Benz, the IS 250’s oomph from a stop is modest, though it’s better in the drivetrain’s Power mode — activated by a dashboard switch — which noticeably hastens accelerator and transmission response (at some cost to fuel efficiency). With three people inside, our convertible needed the drivetrain’s full reserves to reach highway speed.

Lexus quotes a zero-to-60 time of 8.4 seconds for the 250 convertible, which is pokey for a luxury car. Weighing 375 pounds less, the rear-drive IS 250 sedan hits the mark in 7.9 seconds, Lexus says. (Incidentally, that’s not far off the C240, which hit the mark in about 8.2 seconds.) Among today’s entry-level sport sedans, the BMW 328i is quicker, and the turbocharged Audi A4 beats both. Lexus has some catching up to do.

Ride & Handling
As a group, sport sedans ride firmly, but the IS sedan takes things to an extreme that could turn off many shoppers. Wearing 17-inch wheels and P225/45R17 tires, our IS 350 sedan picked up all sorts of bumps, from slight expansion joints to sizable potholes. Our editors agreed it’s uncomfortable, and that’s a sacrifice you don’t necessarily have to make. The 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class ride decidedly better. Believe it or not, you could probably get the IS to ride even worse: Options include 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tires, as well as a performance-tuned F-Sport suspension.

Thanks to distinct suspension tuning, the convertible rides blessedly softer. Our IS 250C, which had the same 17-inch wheels, isolated road imperfections the sedan played up harshly. On the flip side, it didn’t have the most rigid structure. With the top down, the windshield frame shuddered a bit over broken pavement, but that’s a common characteristic in four-seat convertibles.

Some may want more power steering assist at low speeds, in the vein of the A4 or C-Class, but the IS exhibits better feedback than either of those cars. The nose pushes a bit at first when barreling into sweeping curves, but the car settles on its rear nicely on the way out, proving nearly as drift-happy as a 3 Series or G37. My only gripe involves body roll, which was noticeable in both our cars.

The Inside
The cabin’s businesslike tones and low-gloss textures are typical Lexus traits, but our test cars’ faux metal trim and rubberized dash contours drew criticism. The door and center armrests felt short on padding. The A4 and G have better cabins, and just about every competitor is roomier. The IS’ cramped dimensions are apparent no matter where you’re sitting. Two editors bemoaned tight headroom in the sedan, and several noted the cabin’s narrowness, in part due to a wide center console that encroaches on hip and knee room.

The power-adjustable front seats are supportive and generally comfortable, and their long adjustment range should accommodate adults up to the low-6-foot range — backseat space be damned. And damned it is; legroom is as miserable there as in the 3 Series sedan, and headroom is tenable only because the seat sits low to the floor. Adults’ knees will either be raised in the air or digging into the front seatbacks, or both. Indeed, with 86 cubic feet of cabin volume, the IS sedan is among the smallest cars in its class. By the EPA’s standards, it’s a subcompact car. Similar money can get you a car one or two sizes larger, in the G37 or A4, and the Acura TL is even roomier. It’s 2011, and a sport sedan need not be this cramped.

Lexus offers the usual gamut of luxury options, from heated and ventilated front seats to a power rear sunshade. The optional Mark Levinson stereo, however, is worth skipping. We don’t often get deep into audiophile territory, but three editors remarked on their strong lack of love for the Levinson. No matter our adjustments, the treble was crashy and distorted, and the bass was a muddled mess. In a league with such aural standouts as the TL’s ELS stereo or the A4’s Bang & Olufsen system, Lexus disappoints.

Safety, Features & Pricing
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the IS sedan earned the top score, Good, in frontal and side impacts. However, rear and roof-strength ratings were just Acceptable — one rung down from Good. It’s important to note these scores don’t translate to the IS convertible, which hasn’t been tested. Standard features include chest and knee airbags, plus seat-mounted side-impact airbags and two-row side curtain airbags in the sedan. The IS convertible has no curtain airbags, but its side-impact airbags include head extensions. Click here for a full list of features. On automatic convertibles, a collision warning system comes with the optional adaptive cruise control.

Reliability for the IS sedan has been good, but the convertible has performed below average. The stick-shift IS 250 starts at $33,295. That’s not bad given its generous list of standard features: an iPod/USB-compatible stereo, eight-way power front seats with power lumbar, dual-zone automatic climate control, a moonroof and leather upholstery. Options include heated and ventilated front seats, a power rear sunshade, a navigation system, the Mark Levinson audio system and a backup camera. The IS 350 starts at $39,720 but comes standard with the automatic transmission. So do all-wheel-drive variants, which add $2,460 to $3,630 to the price tag, depending on the engine. Load up an all-wheel-drive IS 350, and the price nears $50,000. The IS convertible tops out near $57,000.

IS in the Market
The IS has never put much of a dent in 3 Series sales. It’s been as popular as Audi’s A4 and S4, which are distant second-tier players in the heady entry-level luxury class. Lexus, however, looks to be on the verge of a product renaissance, in the vein of what happened to the brand mid-decade. Here’s hoping the IS’ coming makeover solves its practical issues — but doesn’t water down what’s good.

Send Kelsey an email  

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.4
  • Interior design 4.4
  • Performance 4.9
  • Value for the money 4.7
  • Exterior styling 4.7
  • Reliability 4.9

Most recent consumer reviews

4.3

Best car I've ever owned.

This car met all of my needs and more. I recently had all the tinting done which has a lifetime warranty (paperwork included). Brand new battery, front breaks, and throttle body. IS 350 includes 17-inch wheels, fog lamps, xenon headlamps, LED running lights, heated mirrors, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry (1 key), dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats (heated), suede and leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, the Safety Connect telematics system, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a 13-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and iPod/USB interface, powerful V6, sport trim with buckets seats, sport peddles, and front car door logo projector. Minor fading on spoiler and roof trim. Minor chips on front bumper and hood from road debris and a few minor scratches.

4.7

Perfectly imperfect

Its 2020 and i bought a 2011 is350, fully loaded with 72k miles for 14k. The inside is sport luxurious. Black leather is in prestine shape. No rips. Lots of room in front, head space maybe two inches left on top. Im 5'7 and when i look to turn i super rarely feel my hair brush the top. Its great to drive, put it in sport mode and the rpms stay high. Manuel shift or use pedals if you want. Driving experiance great. Cons, the back is cramp but im ok with that since i rarely have people back there. I prefer small sport sedans anyway. Styling is nice but could use more. Add a back rear visor from ebay to add more of a sporty look. Id like to tune the engine but this engine has won awards consecutively for how amazing it is. Reliable? The only way youll lose money on this car is by modifing it. Maintance free basically besides whats recommended. I love the side panels of the isf but unfortunely this model doesnt come with them. Also when fooling around in the seats, because they are leather you do slide. Shame. But they feel great

4.6

Best car

My 2011 is350 is exceptional, even as I write this in 2020. Although I am the 2nd owner, the ride is still smooth, performance is great and reliability is unmatched. Only true complaint is the tiny interior. I am a very small female, 5'4 and 125lbs (wet) and I find that it often feels like the roof is too close for comfort and the back seat, fa'get about it. The trunk room makes up for it- some, but the days I wear big hair styles, I am quickly reminded how small the car truly is. The best aspect about this car, besides the obvious performance and reliability is the fact that most maintenance can be done by the owner. I just hit 90k miles this year and changed my spark plugs on my own (I know, I know 60k it was recommended, but hey, I like to push my luck). For the most part, this is one of the easiest cars to maintain in part because I can do alot of the maintenance on my own. My daughter and sister are actually planning to buy a Lexus as their next cars because they too have become believers. Im looking forward to getting this car to 300,000k plus miles.

See all 19 consumer reviews

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