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June 18, 2013

First Drive: 2013 Lexus IS 350 and IS 350 F Sport

Photos by Ulysses Ang and Lexus Press
It takes balls to launch an all-new car on the race track, much less drive it before it’s unveiled to the public. Why? Well, for one, it’s easier for enthusiasts to pass judgment on the car based solely on their experience flogging it on the track. And second, track driving typically magnifies a car’s weakness and can even reduce a perceived strength. In short, it’s a tight rope walk—toeing the fine line between expectation and reality. And where 99 percent of cars fail, the all-new Lexus IS 350 succeeds, managing to exceed expectations by a whole quarter mile.

For starters, it looks crisp, elegant, and sporty—it’s amazing what eight years could do to Lexus’s design.  Taking a page off their LFA supercar, the all-new Lexus IS looks sharp from every angle. Though most compare the new IS’s design to a samurai’s katana, I reckon it’s closer to a Kyocera ceramic knife. Like the Kyocera, it’s the IS’s purposeful precision that gives it the cutting edge (pun intended). At the same time, ceramic looks and feels much more welcoming, more attainable—as if humanizing the very technology that lies beneath the car.

Upfront, the IS carries the same “spindle grille” design found in other Lexus models, but here it’s been given a more three-dimensional look with its chrome-plated frame and dark gray insert from top to bottom. With a single line from both sides, the grille connects to the hood, the shoulder, and all the way to the back of the IS. This single line motion is carried onto the side of the IS where a single upward line linking the lower part of the grille to the bumper, the rocker panel, and to the tail lamps. 17-inch alloys fill in each corner. Perhaps the most controversial styling aspect of the all-new IS is the headlamps which feature separate L-shaped LED daytime running lights and a heavily-contoured HID headlamp cluster. Taken in isolation, it does indeed look odd; but taken in the entire context of the IS’s design, it works very well. Though the IS 350 looks good, for those who want their experience extra strong should consider the F Sport which features an even more aggressive front bumper complete with massive radiator and brake ducts, a lowered stance, and 18-inch gunmetal alloys.

Stepping into the IS’s cabin, it’s clear that the LFA cabin is rubbing itself very well onto Lexus designers. Without realizing it’s a four-door sedan, the IS’s interior can be mistaken for a sports car’s with its raised center console, thick three-spoke steering wheel, and heavily bolstered seats. To give it a straight-forward and easy-to-understand feel, designers divided the dash into two distinct zones: a display zone and an operation zone. This way, the Lexus IS removes all of the confusing and distracting ergonomic issues that plague its rivals. Soft touch leather and plastic cocoon the occupants while the silver metallic trim around the analog clock offers surface-emitting illumination for that sophisticated feel. The seats themselves feature a new quilted pattern for better comfort and better lateral support. Thankfully, the biggest Achilles’s Heel of the previous Lexus IS, which is lack of rear leg room, has been addressed. Though it’s still no ES in terms of space, by lengthening the wheelbase and specially designing the front seats, at least the Lexus IS can now seat four much more comfortably.

The Lexus IS also ups the value factor by not only offering a generous array of standard equipment but by also presenting a very Star Trek way of operating them. Dual-zone climate control is dime-a-dozen these days, but Captain Kirk wannabes can operate it using touch-sensitive switches on the center console. The IS offers a full-featured audio system with the usual array of inputs, but what makes it different is that it’s operated via the highly intuitive Lexus Display Audio (LDA) and the 4.2-inch full-color multi-information display. For those opting for the F Sport, the cockpit experience becomes even more high-tech. First, the traditional analog gauges are swapped for a full TFT unit, with a large central ring serving as the rev counter ala LFA. At the push of a steering wheel button, this ring moves to the right and reveals a second LCD that displays a wealth of information such as trip information, vehicle diagnostics, and so forth. Second, the F Sport is the first vehicle to feature factory-installed navigation as standard equipment. Featuring a full map of the Philippines, it’s operated by Lexus’s Remote Touch Interface (RTI) that gives an intuitive haptic feedback on the center-console mounted control.

Going back as to why Lexus launched the all-new IS on the Clark International Speedway; the answer is very simple: it delivers the driving goods. On the track, it’s quite apparent that the IS feels direct and sporty, with the same levels of responsiveness as a go-kart. It doesn’t offer the same linear response as a BMW 3 Series, but the IS does offer much more tractability and it can take corners with much more gusto. There’s clearly more mechanical grip to play with and riding the curb won’t even upset the balance despite the IS’s rear-wheel drive layout. The F Sport increases this sporty quotient even more thanks to its Adaptive Variable Suspension or AVS. With this system, a driver can change the IS F Sport behavior through a center-console dial with three settings: Normal, Sport, and Sport+. Though for the duration of the track exercise, it was prudent to leave things simply in ‘Normal’.

From the top-down, the all-new IS is designed to be a four-door go-kart. Though the platform is a carryover of the previous generation, the 2014 model offers increased body rigidity thanks to new welding and body-bonding techniques. The new rear sub frame and cowl side braces also enhance handling and steering response. In addition, the suspension has been modified with a 20-percent increase in sway rigidity at the front and a new separate shock/spring design for the multi-links at the back.

Aside from being a corner carver, the Lexus IS has the makings of a drag race champion with the most standard power in its class: 306 horsepower and 376 Nm of torque. This is all due to a 3.5-liter V6 with both direct and port fuel injection technology. Putting all that power down is an eight-speed automatic inherited from the IS F. This transmission features paddle shifters and the G-force Artificial Intelligence or G-AI which automatically selects the optimal gear and downshift pattern in response to cornering. This powerful yet intelligent powertrain results in superior off-the-line acceleration, and in the proper circumstances can result in tire smoking burnouts. The IS 350 surges off the line and the close-ratio gearbox results in an engine that’s always in its power band. The F Sport version adds an even sportier character with a special intake sound generator—again, something learned straight from the LFA.

For all intents and purposes, the all-new Lexus IS delivers on its promise of raising the sports sedan bar. From its sharp new exterior, to its clear cut ergonomics, to its new-found driving abilities, the Lexus IS is now definitely the yardstick by which all premium sport sedans will be measured against. Though our seat time with the all-new IS proved to be short, it undoubtedly left an excellent impression. Again, launching what is a game-changing sports sedan at a race track takes a lot of balls; and it only proves that Lexus Manila has the biggest cajones in the neighborhood. A big hats off to them and the all-new Lexus IS.


  1. hi sir,
    greetings! can i possibly ask for your good opinion, regarding which vehicle would you choose, 2014 mini cooper S, mercedes A250 sport or this vehicle lexus IS350F? im considering this for my next buy, just sold my 2010 subaru wrx sti, thanks and more power to you sir.

    1. i may not be the one youre looking for but i may suggest you buy the a250 if you want pure luxury and the is350f if you want luxury and sport-oriented... i wouldnt personally advice you to buy the mini cause it doesnt give much for the price... if you would also like.. try to consider the audi a4, its just about everything, an all rounder car.. also the bmw 116 or 118d, nice cars... try also the bmw 3 series but youll have it in stock so to sum up...

      a250 - luxury
      is350f - sportier
      audi a4 - all round vehicle luxury/sport
      bmw 116 or 118d - luxurious and sporty
      bmw 3 series - luxurios and sporty


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