The IS350 is something of a dark horse in this very competitive segment. In this case, I mean that literally, as our test car looks quite stealthy and intimidating in black. The aggressive styling isn't quite as pretty as that of an Infiniti G37 or an Audi A4 but still convinces you this is a sport sedan, and it has aged well. The interior is less successful, as lots of dark trim and modern shapes create an atmosphere more gloomy than sporty. Still, the materials are of high quality and the simple, circular gauges are just right.
The IS-F, which we had for a Four Seasons test, gets lots of attention for being superfast. Its kid brother is no slouch, either. Toyota's 3.5-liter V-6 sounds fantastic and pulls hard all the way to redline, at which point an orange ring lights up around the tachometer. Neat. Unfortunately, the IS350 isn't offered with a manual transmission, but the six-speed automatic does a decent imitation, holding gears and responding quickly to the shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Through a few quick turns, I found the IS planted and stable, with direct and very heavy steering. This is definitely not your typical Lexus.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This Lexus IS350 seems set on breaking every Toyota stereotype out there. A value-priced, comfort-oriented luxury car with an exquisite interior? Not so much. The IS350's most redeeming qualities are surprisingly found in its chassis and suspension with a beautiful balance of composure and suppleness. The steering, although quite heavy in parking lots, is excellent at speed.
I was also stunned to find that Lexus includes a shift light in the tachometer. However, the orange light comes on too early and the red light comes on too late to be truly useful in timing your shifts. Lexus does nail the shift paddles (right for upshifts, left for downshifts)--which is more than can be said for a BMW 3-series--and the IS350 will hold each gear at redline rather than automatically upshifting.
The engine pulls heartily, but it's so coarse above 3500 rpm that it sounds like the oil pan is filled with gravel. The interior, although done in very nice materials, shows uneven gaps and looks dated in its trim and ergonomics. You can find nicer interiors in Toyotas, Hyundais, and Fords costing $15,000 less. Which brings me to my final surprise, the price. I was expecting this Lexus IS350 to ring in under $40,000. The real sticker price is $47,130. That's right on par with an all-wheel-drive BMW 335i, but the Lexus has neither the image nor the well-rounded execution of that iconic sport sedan.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor