The ability to track change over time is one of the (few?) things that automotive journalists like myself can provide you as a consumer. So it was with great excitement that I took delivery of this 2019 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport almost exactly four years to the day that I took delivery of a 2015 Lexus IS350 F Sport. Let’s see how it’s changed.
You can read back over that article (and watch the video!) to find out more about the history of the IS, I’m just going to focus this on how it’s progressed over the past few years. The short answer is that it’s been a slow go. The IS is now in its third generation here in the U.S. and that came out back in 2013. So even though Lexus did a mid-cycle refresh in 2016, we’re way into this generation.
I’ll start with something I liked in 2015, and I still really like – the exterior. Lexus used to be known for fairly staid, non-controversial styling. Just about every car in their lineup is now very aggressive looking. Love or hate the trapezoidal “predator” grill, it’s evolved well over time in my opinion.
Our Redline-painted test car definitely looks like a sports sedan, helped quite a bit by the $2,365 F Sport package. That adds exterior and mechanical bits like:
- F SPORT 18-in split-five-spoke alloy wheels with summer (RWD) or all-season (AWD) tires
- F SPORT suspension tuning
- F SPORT–tuned Adaptive Variable Suspension with Sport S/S+ modes
- Limited-slip rear differential
- F SPORT exterior styling including unique front bumper, grille and rear valance
The last part is what gives the F Sport a clear differentiator compared to the regular IS line. The front and rear bumpers are definitely aggressive and add a lot to the look of the car.
On the inside, there’s still a lot going on. What started as a fresh take on the Lexus interior several years ago is starting to look a bit dated. On this particular IS, there was a strange mix of textures, colors, styles. It’s all fairly ergonomically friendly and easy to use.
The F Sport package isn’t just for exterior bits, it also adds the following to the interior:
- LFA-inspired instrumentation
- F SPORT bolstered heated and ventilated front seats
- Perforated leather–trimmed shift knob and steering wheel with F SPORT logo
- Black headliner
- Aluminum pedals
I say it’s fairly ergo-friendly, but there are still some little idiosyncrasies that I don’t like. The touchpad-based infotainment system is still a bit maddening. I feel like I always overshoot what I’m aiming for on the screen, or I bump the pad with my arm while driving or reaching for something. Mercifully most functions have real buttons to use in lieu of using the touchpad.
Also, you can’t see which setting your wipers are set. Lexus is using a BMW-like directional click to change settings. Move the stalk up to make the wipers go faster, down to go slower. Sounds easy, but since you don’t actually move the stalk into different positions, just up or down, I felt like I was constantly trying to figure out what setting I was in. Recently updated cars from Kia have displayed which setting your wipers are in up on the driver’s screen, which is super helpful.
All of these criticisms are nitpicky, but for a $50,000 car I feel like they should just be better. But I’ll cut Lexus some slack since we are clearly heading into a full sheet redesign soon.
If you look at the IS 350 on paper, it hasn’t progressed much over four years. Back in 2015 I noted 306 horsepower from its 3.5L V6. In 2019, you’ll get…311 horsepower from it’s 3.5L V6. So there hasn’t been much progress in the power realm.
However! For some reason, the IS feels tighter and more capable than it did back in 2015. Perhaps I’m a better driver (doubtful, I used to win trophies racing, now I win trophies at Pinewood Derby. Errr, my kids do) but the IS felt much more planted around tight turns. The car I tested back in 2015 was RWD and this F Sport was AWD which also could have had something to do with it.
In an era of horsepower wars and 800 horsepower daily drivers, 311 horsepower is likely all that the average driver needs. In normal day-to-day use I didn’t really ever feel like it was lacking in power.
Would I recommend the IS 350 F Sport to someone looking for a luxury sports sedan? Absolutely.
The base MSRP is $44,095 and with the $2,365 F Sport package you’re only at $46,460. Lexus added the navigation and audio package ($2,845) plus triple-beam headlights ($1,160) for a total as-tested price of $51,490 with processing and handling fees. Cresting the $50,000 mark in a luxury sports sedan like the IS isn’t particularly salacious. That’s par for the course in most of the competition’s cars.
So it’s a good car for the money and you get that legendary Lexus reliability, or at least the piece of mind that it might be a thing. I’m definitely looking forward to the next generation IS which should be around 2021 and could share an engine with the Toyota/BMW Supra. I’m pretty excited.