Rolling up on the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport performance sedan, Gary Rokosh was, “Kind of blown away by it.” The Calgarian is a fan of performance oriented cars, and recently sold his 2008 BMW M3. A 2015 BMW M4 replaced it, and that’s his daily driver during the summer. He and his wife Mary Ellen also maintain a Ford F-350 and an Audi A4.
“In the Infrared colour, the IS 350 really popped, and I thought it was a good looking car,” Rokosh says. “I like what Lexus did with the back end with the uplifted trunk and the taillights. They also cleaned up the character lines on the side and they even figured out how to make the grille look good.
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“It’s completely improved, and it went from being a not very attractive car to being one of the most attractive cars in this market segment. And that’s amazing to me.”
Third-generation IS models went on sale for the 2014 model year. They were revised for 2016, and now for the second time with the 2021 versions. It’s lower, wider, and more muscular. Depending on the trim level, the IS comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive options. Three different powertrains are available, and the models range from the IS 300 RWD to the IS 350 AWD F Sport Series 3 – and that’s what Rokosh drove. His tester, with the 19-inch alloy wheels and Series 3 package, cost almost $61,000 before taxes. Ticking the Series 3 box on the build form adds features such as a power slide and tilt moonroof, heated leather wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power adjustable driver and passenger seats, adaptive suspension, a dynamic handling package, and a carbon fibre spoiler. Under the hood of the IS 350 F Sport is a 3.5-litre V6 capable of making 311 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. This powerplant is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
“Really, the engine was the most disappointing part of the car,” Rokosh explains. “It’s a good engine, but you really have to rev it to get anything out of it. Once it’s over 4,000 rpm it’s not too bad, but its performance doesn’t really seem to fit the character of the car.
“If you like to wind things out a bit, you really have to work it and it lacks in torque. I think they could have added a supercharger to it, and really done something with it.”
He was also critical of the six-speed automatic, and says while it worked well at all times, he thought it was slightly on the lazy side.
“It’s not horrible, it’s just not up to snuff if you like to drive a bit more aggressively,” he explains.
Criticism of the powertrain aside, Rokosh was enamoured with the rest of the car.
“The leather on the seats and the stitching is perfect,” he says. “Everything you touch feels like quality, and the analog clock on the dash is a nice touch.”
All controls, which are intuitive to use, fell easily to hand, and the navigation system was one of the better systems Rokosh has ever experienced. The 10.3-inch touchscreen allowed access to the various menus and in his opinion, it worked well, but adds, “I’d need to spend more time navigating through the different modes to make it a bit less of a distraction.” Of overall ergonomics, Roksoh says, “The driver’s seat was very comfortable, and it’s better than the seat in my M4. Mary Ellen found the passenger seat easy to adjust and was also quite comfortable.”
According to Rokosh, the IS 350 with its dynamic handling package, “stayed nice and flat and didn’t struggle through corners, The car offered a really good balance with a great ride, too, I think Lexus nailed the suspension. It’s firm, but not harsh.”
On his second day of driving, Rokosh discovered the Sport + drive mode, a fourth option that includes Eco, Normal and Sport. He reports the transmission shifted quicker, and the engine seemed more ‘awake’ with its throttle response in Sport +, and that’s where he left the IS 350 for the duration of his test. Braking was excellent, with a firm pedal and no fading. Rokosh got out on the highway for a short 50 kilometre run and found the Lexus very quiet with no wind noise. At highway speed, the IS 350 provided a ‘a very controlled, and comfortable drive’.
“In the city, if you’re not looking for top performance, it’s a great driver, especially with the ride,” he says. “Going over potholes or railway tracks can be harsh in some cars, but not this one. And not a squeak or a rattle out of it.”
Rokosh was able to fit two full size golf bags in the trunk. The decklid opened wide, and there’d be no trouble fitting most items into the trunk. He did say the 60/40 folding rear seatbacks didn’t lay flat when opened. That might hinder the ability to slide a larger box in without difficulty. Plenty of storage spaces were found in the cabin, and Rokosh says both the glove box and centre console were generously sized.
At the end of seven days, Rokosh says, “It’s sporty, it’s nice handling, and it isn’t a punishing ride. I think the car seems like a good option over German sedans for those who are OK with a little less performance.”
Styling is much improved over the previous model. I was never a fan of their spindle grille, but Lexus has stuck with it and definitely figured out how to make it look good on this car. First impressions on driving away was how smooth and refined it is. Throttle response is perfect, steering is great, and the ride is very good. All controls are solid and refined as you’d expect from Lexus. Loaded two golf bags in the trunk, a bit tight lengthwise but fit easily with some manoeuvring.
Tried out the manual mode for a while, never was a huge fan of that feature in an automatic transmission but this one works well with the shifter placed perfectly. The engine is smooth and sounds decent but falls short on power compared to the competition which has mostly gone turbocharged. Only six gears too, a bit behind the competition who are running eight or more now. Powertrain is very smooth and probably just fine for those who buy Lexus more for the luxury than the performance.
Had a good look at exterior details. Lexus did a great job on the mirrors, and the wheel arches front and rear have subtle bulges that give the car a sportier look. Messed around with the pad that controls radio functions, etc. Not the easiest to operate or the most intuitive to use, a bit of a distraction. The driver and passenger heat control is a vertical touch sensitive bar that seems cool at first but after a while a bit annoying, knobs work much better in my opinion. Not sure how well they would work in the winter with gloves on.
It is very quiet on the highway, would be a great long distance cruiser. The more I drive this car the more I like it. It really needs a better engine though. The new IS has gradually evolved into a larger car with a focus on refinement and quality.
Looks like a higher performance vehicle, that unfortunately does not deliver on the power.
I really like this car for the boring commute to work. Ride is great. Very solid car. Feels substantial with a well sorted out suspension. Used the voice command system to control navigation and audio, worked very well with no miscues on voice commands. The navigation works great with good audio and visual guides to upcoming turns, makes it easy to navigate without being distracting.
Folded down the back seats to load golf clubs and a few other items. The back seats don’t fold down entirely flat making it difficult to slide items all the way in. Dropped by to visit some friends, all agreed it’s a great looking car and especially in red. Fuel economy isn’t going to be a big selling feature, it will not compete with turbocharged competitors that offer better economy with more power. I averaged around 10L/100km which is okay but not outstanding.
My wife Mary Ellen offered her thoughts: interior offered quality and was well built. Liked the analog clock, nice retro contrast to the touchscreen. Black wood finish gives the interior a real classy look. Played with the touch screen and found it way more responsive than our Ford F-350. Took a bit to get use to the track pad, but you learn to use it. Nothing better than a knob or button, though. Love the exterior look of the car. Looks like a higher performance vehicle, that unfortunately does not deliver on the power.