Quicker Lexus a balancing act
More power gives confidence, writes Paul Pottinger
WELL, it’s about time. Five years since the launch of the second-generation Lexus IS, it finally gets the engine it needed.
For all its visual appeal, rear-wheeldrive dynamics and a 2.5 litre V6 for German four-cylinder money, the lardy IS250 is hard put to trouble the Mercedes, Audi and BMW.
Now Lexus has the IS350, the variant with a litre greater capacity than its underdone sibling, massively superior output and the capacity to reach 100km/h from standing more than three seconds quicker.
Moreover, they’ve bought it in at a price that has embarrassed pundits such as yours truly, whose prediction was out by a good $25,000.
FOR $64,800, the Prestige packs satnav, heated seats, reversing camera, HID lamps with daytime running lights, 17-inch alloys and metallic paint. At $71,300, the F Sport has dedicated suspension, lower profile tyres, great front seats and go-fast bits.
The more supple Sports Luxury is $ 81,300 and gets everything — 18-inch alloys, active cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio, ventilated/ heated seats, moonroof and self-dimming and heated side mirrors.
THE dual VVTi 3.5-litre engine, familiar from other Lexus lines, uses direct and port injection driven via a six-speed sequential auto that has a gratifying degree of manual override via shifting paddlers with the self-shifting smoothness of a torque converter as opposed to a dual clutch.
Hardly innovative, but a quick, seamless marriage with this engine.
THIS is still where the whole IS package falls down. It’s just a bit cramped in there, especially in back, where it’s no more a true five-seater than it is a people mover. Up front is more cockpit than cabin and I for one would happily pay extra not to have the headroom-eating sunroof.
THE Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Package houses stability and traction controls and hill-start assist. Brakes are formidable, 334 x 30 mm front discs, four-channel ABS with brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
The top variant gets active cruise control and a pre-collision safety system that automatically tightens the seatbelts under heavy braking.
THE Lexus is a little too polite for gratification. Even in the sports variant, the engine is refined to an eerie extent.
So too is the electric rack and pinion steering — a little numb around the centre, plentifully informative and progressive when called upon. It is, especially in the sport version, a confidence-enhancing balance/ride/handling compromise.
How do you say ‘‘Show us where the money is, Fritz’’ in German?
Value: the Lexus IS 350 is a better car for a reasonable price.