2011 Lexus IS350 AWD

Matt Tierney

The IS remains the only Lexus that truly impresses me. Every other model seems to be an inferior version of the car that inspired it, or -- perhaps even worse for Toyota -- an inferior version of the corresponding Infiniti.

Yet the IS seems like a breed apart. The IS feels slightly smaller than the rest of the field, as if it has better resisted the temptation to bulk up like the Infiniti G, the A4, and the 3-series.

I was also surprised that the transmission has only six gears, but I thought it used everything it had nicely. The power comes up quickly and smoothly, and the car is rocketing along in no time. The engine sounds great, yet was subdued perfectly inside the cabin.

As for the rest of the cabin, I found the materials and styling in the IS to be a step above the LX and RX but still a bit short of the competition. I didn't mind the monochromatic black with only the gray wood and brushed metal and chrome accents, and the instruments were superb. I thought the illuminating warning rings were a tasteful solution. I liked the thick rubberized dash, but noticed the uneven fit around the console. This is inexcusable in a car pushing $50 grand that is going up against some of the best interiors around. The back seat had a surprising amount of room, but the high sills and dark surroundings made it somewhat foreboding.

Outside, this particular IS looked sharp in black, but I'd like to see a more aggressive design for the wheels. I'm not asking for IS-F treatment -- which I think borders on absurd with the stacked tailpipes, etc -- but a bit more visual oomph would be nice.

Matt Tierney, Art Director

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