In 2014, the Lexus IS 350 went through a complete redesign. While that was only a few years ago, it feels like an eternity with all the changes happening around it in the luxury-car space. Can this aging sedan keep pace with the German metal it targets? I spent a week behind the wheel of the 2018 Lexus IS 350, and here is what I think.
Though this Lexus design language is aging, it is doing so as well as possible. The IS 350 still looks fresh and draws plenty of double-takes as it cruises by. Sure, the Atomic Silver color of my tester was “blah,” but it still showed the lines well. My choice would be the Redline or Nightfall Mica (pictured), if given an option. What’s nice is that neither of these colors come at a premium — you hear that BMW and Mercedes?
Inside, the sharp styling continues. The IS 300 boasts a well-laid-out cabin with lots of shapes and angles to catch the eye. But also like the exterior, this cabin is showing its age. This is especially true in the center stack and gauge cluster as both look ripped from the early 2000s. I only wish Lexus would take a few risks with its design, as after a week in the IS 350, things got a little boring. Given the LC and newest LS take some of these desired risks, the future looks bright for the IS.
Overall, the 2018 Lexus IS 350’s styling is solid, but it is showing age and lacks any risk. If styling is a deciding factor for you, wait a few years until the LC and LS designs trickle down to the IS.
Styling: 6 out of 10
Comfort & Features
Sliding into the IS 350 — into the front seats, at least — is a demonstration of comfort. The seats are cushiony but firm and grippy, the cabin is peaceful, and all the buttons are right where you need them to be. With its standard 10-way power driver’s seat and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, finding the perfect driving position was simple.
While the 2018 IS 350 has 44.8 inches of front seat legroom, which is plenty for anyone to stretch out, the rear seats are cramped at just 32.2 inches. This is about 3 inches less than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series. Trunk space is even worse at just 10.8 cubic feet compared to the 12 to 13 cubes in the competition.
The 2018 IS 350 is chock-full with features, especially next to its German competition. It comes standard with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, sunroof, heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, leatherette, and more. Options are equally plentiful and can match just about anything BMW or Mercedes offers — and it offers them at better rates.
If you are an empty nester looking to venture in to the luxury-car realm, the IS 350 is a great value. But with its tiny rear seats and trunk, it is a tight fit for a family.
Comfort: 5 out of 10
Tech is a mixture, but let’s start with the good stuff. My tester had the optional 15-speaker system that came with the Navigation package, and it was incredible. I also hear the 10-speaker system is plenty for most audiophiles. Also included in this package is the 10.3-inch display screen with a Remote Touch mouse interface. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: This system is utter garbage, and I wish Lexus would listen to its buyers and scrap it.
As for the navigation system itself, I’ve had better and worse. It sits somewhere in the middle. I dislike the split screen option, though, it seems to trim everything to a point where you can’t see anything.
In terms of safety, the 2018 Lexus IS 350 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick thanks to its “Good” ratings in all the crash tests, a “Superior” rating in the frontal-collision-avoidance test, and “Acceptable” headlight rating. Also, the required automatic emergency braking comes standard on the IS 350, so there are no options you need to buy to get this rating.
As a package, the tech is good on the IS 350, but it could be great if it weren’t for that terrible Remote Touch system.
Tech: 7 out of 10
Any IS model below the IS 350 is subpar in terms of performance, but this model and its 311-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 does well. No, it’s not on par with the BMW 330i or Mercedes-Benz C350e, but it is also several thousand dollars cheaper than them. Additionally, with this being one of the few remaining naturally aspirated V-6 engines in the luxury-car world, it holds a special place in a traditionalist’s heart.
This engine pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission in rear-wheel-drive models and an eight-speed in all-wheel-drive rigs. I’ve never driven the all-wheel-drive IS 350, so I cannot make a personal comment on it, but several colleagues have mentioned is it the quicker-shifting of the transmission options, but the six-speed is smoother.
The IS 350 falters in the handling department without the F Sport package (pictured). No, it isn’t incapable of taking on the twisty stuff, but it pales compared to the BMW 3 Series and other competitors. Add the F Sport package, though, and you get a sport-tuned suspension and more curve-loving tech that brings it about even with the competition.
Overall, the death of the non-turbo V-6 has been bittersweet as we’ve experienced massive gains in performance and fuel economy with turbochargers, but we’re also losing the steady power swell that comes with these engines. If you are into that swell, the IS 350 is the rig for you, but do yourself a favor and opt for the F Sport model.
Performance: 6 out of 10
One downside to being a naturally aspirated V-6 is the IS 350’s fuel economy is below average at 20 mpg city, 28 highway, and 23 combined. This is a good bit below the BMW 330i and way below the hybrid Mercedes-Benz C350e.
Fuel economy: 5 out of 10
As a whole, the 2018 IS 350 is a good luxury car for the money. But unlike some other budget luxury cars, the lower price is noticeable in many areas. If you only care about front-seat comfort and pricing, and you like the way the IS looks, you can save a ton going with it. But if you want the all-around luxury feel, you may need to go German.
Overall Score: 5.8 out of 10
What Would I Do?
While I enjoyed my time in the 2018 IS 350, it is getting long in the tooth and is due for an update. There are reports that the IS will go through a redesign in 2019 for the 2020 model year — all signs point toward a riskier design and more advanced powertrain. I would save my money until then unless an amazing deal on a current model fell in my lap.