2018 IS 350 New Car Test Drive
For 2018 the Lexus IS gets a small increase in horsepower, and the model names simplified to IS 300 and IS 350.
The Lexus IS might be called a sport compact luxury sedan, because it pretty much covers all those bases. It comes as either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and with a turbocharged four-cylinder or V6.
For 2018 the IS F Sport model gets a standard Torsen limited-slip rear differential. Other changes to all models include a rearview camera and available Adaptive Front Lighting System.
The Lexus IS is a tidy size for a luxury car, so the cabin is tight, not cramped but far from spacious. When it was redesigned in 2014, the wheelbase came out at 110.2 inches, significantly shorter than rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series.
The IS 300 RWD uses a smooth 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four making 241 horsepower and 258 pound feet torque over a wide range, from 1650 to 4400 rpm. Variable Valve Timing intelligent-Wide (VVTi-W) allows the engine to switch between the Otto and Atkinson combustion cycles to maximize efficiency. The D-4ST fuel injection system combines high-pressure direct fuel injection with low-pressure port injection.
The IS 300 RWD uses an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic transmission that integrates the advanced G-force Artificial Intelligence (G-AI) system to choose gears intuitively. Paddle-shifters are optional, but it seems they should be standard, if Lexus doesn't want to waste all this technology.
The IS 300 AWD uses a V6 engine. It's a 3.5-liter making 260 horsepower, which is just 19 hp more than the turbo four, but less torque at a higher range: 236 pound-feet at 2000 to 4800 rpm. Considering how smooth the four-cylinder is, and the fact that it's lighter over the front wheels, it's easier to drive around town than the V6.
The IS 350 takes that V6 and pumps it up to 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. The rear-wheel-drive model uses the eight-speed SPDS transmission, while both the IS 300 AWD and IS 350 AWD models use a six-speed automatic.
The all-wheel drive system is designed to deliver traction and grip in inclement conditions, and for better cornering. It varies front-to-rear torque distribution from 50:50 to as much as 30:70.
A Drive Mode Select system features up to five driving modes to tailor the car's combination of economy, comfort, performance and handling characteristics. All IS sedans feature ECO, NORMAL, SNOW and SPORT modes. Equipping the IS 300 with the F SPORT package also adds Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), controlled with SPORT S, SPORT S+ and customizable drive mode.
There's an F Sport package for each model, that makes the appearance, handling, throttle and transmission tuning more aggressive.
The NHTSA gives the Lexus IS five stars in overall safety, with four stars for front-impact crash protection. The IIHS gives it a top Good rating in most tests, with headlights earning a Top Safety Pick award.
Both engines of the IS take premium fuel. The IS 300 RWD gets EPA fuel-mileage scores of 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined. The IS 300 AWD with its V6 engine gets 19/26/21 mpg, same as the IS 350 AWD with 51 more horsepower. Go figure. The IS 350 RWD gets 1 mpg more than the AWD.
The rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 300 ($38,210) comes with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. It comes standard with leatherette upholstery, a 7.0-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless ignition, moonroof, LED headlamps, steering-wheel audio and phone controls, Siri Eyes Free for Apple iPhones, and 17-inch wheels.
The IS 350 RWD ($41,830) is equipped similarly, but with 18-inch wheels. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The IS 300 AWD is $40,660, and the IS 350 AWD is $43,995.
Options include blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts; navigation with a 10.3-inch infotainment screen, 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, real leather, and heated steering wheel.
The F Sport package includes adjustable dampers (IS 350 only), power adjustable front seats, aluminum pedals, upgraded instrument cluster, 18-inch wheels, silver interior accents, unique front and rear bumpers, and a sound composer for interior engine noises.