2012 Lexus IS 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 16, 2012

The 2012 Lexus IS 350 and IS 350 aren't as focused and fun to drive as sport sedans from BMW or Infiniti, though especially in F Sport guise they still look great.

Since the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 sedans were last completely redesigned, six years ago, much has changed among compact sport sedans. All of its rivals have seen more recent redesigns, and this year BMW and Mercedes-Benz have turned to turbocharged four-cylinder engines in their base models of 3-Series and C-Class, respectively. Except for the IS-F high-performance version and IS C hardtop convertibles that have been added in the meantime, there's not all that much to differentiate a 2012 from a 2006.

All considered, the 2012 Lexus IS sedans still look great, with a sleek, low, and attractive silhouette; the rather low hoodline and rising beltline altogether gives it a wedge-like appearance from some angles--and an undeniable go-fast look compared to the more luxury-oriented (and Camry-based) ES 350. The IS models got a light touch-up last year in front and in back, including new exhaust tips, HID headlamps with LED running lamps on the IS 350, and a new 17-inch wheel design. An F-Sport Package gives the IS an even more serious performance look. Inside, the IS sedans arguably show their age the most, with a rather tight, cockpit-like layout--although trims feel upscale and high-quality.

Lexus positions its cars along two tracks--one plush and detached, the other more visceral and sporty--and the 2012 IS sedans fit into the latter. If you want to make the most of that performance feel, though, just don't go with the base 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6; it's smooth but remarkably short on power, especially with the automatic transmission. IS 350 models come with a much more enjoyable 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 but unfortunately only come with the six-speed automatic. They're a good, responsive team, and overall the IS feels quite agile but never quite on the same high dynamic ground as the BMW 3-Series or Infiniti G37. Rear-wheel drive IS models have a better steering feel than AWD versions.

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Inside, the 2012 IS 350 and IS 250 models are true luxury sedans in that they come with leather upholstery, top-notch materials, and a long list of standard features, even in base versions. But as with most compact sport sedans in this class, there's quite a bit of tire thrum and road coarseness. Front seats are well contoured and firmly padded, bit the IS sedans are tight inside; adults trying to ride in back will find a severe shortage of headroom and legroom, and some taller than six feet might find headroom tight up front.

The 2012 IS Sedans are completely up to snuff with respect to features. Bluetooth hands-free capability is included across the model line, and upgrades include a nav system, retractable moonroof, ventilated front seats, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and a backup camera. The base sound system includes 13 speakers and 194 watts of power and has iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming. A 300-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system includes ten separate amplifier channels and also has the capability to play audio DVDs and DVD movies.

7

2012 Lexus IS 350

Styling

The 2012 Lexus IS 250 and 350 still look good, even though they're the most dated designs in this class.

It's been six years since the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 sedans were last redesigned. That considered, they're showing their age inside, while on the outside they still look contemporary and quite fresh.

The exterior of the two IS sedans, which is virtually the same whether you go with the IS 250 or IS 350, combines a sleek, low, and attractive silhouette with a rather low hoodline and rising beltline--which altogether gives it a wedge-like appearance from some angles, and an undeniable go-fast look compared to the more luxury-oriented (and Camry-based) ES 350.

The IS models got a light touch-up last year in front and in back, including new exhaust tips, HID headlamps with LED running lamps on the IS 350, and a new 17-inch wheel design. An F-Sport Package gives the IS an even more serious performance look.

Inside, the IS sedans arguably show their age the most, with a rather tight, cockpit-like layout--although trims feel upscale and high-quality.

7

2012 Lexus IS 350

Performance

The 2012 Lexus IS sedans aren't quite as much fun to drive as the top sport sedans in the class, but the IS 350 especially is a strong performer.

Lexus positions its cars along two tracks--one plush and detached, the other more visceral and sporty--and the 2012 IS sedans fit into the latter.

If you want to make the most of that performance feel, just don't go with the base 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6; it's smooth but remarkably short on power, especially with the automatic transmission. IS 350 models come with a much more enjoyable 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 but unfortunately only come with the (paddle-shifted) six-speed automatic.

The IS 350 models' powertrain is agreeable and responsive, and overall the IS feels quite agile but never quite on the same high dynamic ground as the BMW 3-Series or Infiniti G37. Rear-wheel drive IS models have a better steering feel than AWD versions, although across the model line it's one of the least communicative steering setups.

An F-Sport Package adds a host of appearance upgrades, including sport suspension, special steering tuning, and larger 18-inch wheels, to rear-wheel drive models with the automatic transmission.

7

2012 Lexus IS 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Lexus IS sedans can be called luxury cars for their materials and features, but they're not all that comfortable.

Inside, the 2012 IS 350 and IS 250 models are true luxury sedans in that they come with leather upholstery, top-notch materials, and a long list of standard features, even in base versions. But as with most compact sport sedans in this class, there's quite a bit of tire thrum and road coarseness.

Front seats are well contoured and firmly padded, but backseat space is tight. Rear seats are cramped and short on headroom and legroom both. Don't plan on having adults ride back there—even across town—if you want to keep business relationships.

In most guises, the 2012 IS 250 and IS 350 models aren't especially opulent, however. Even with the optional wood trim packages, the IS family feels at times too much like the dressed-up version of a less-expensive car inside.
7

2012 Lexus IS 350

Safety

The safety of the 2012 Lexus IS sedans isn't at the head of the class, but there's nothing particularly worrisome either.

The 2012 Lexus IS sedans have an excellent set of safety features--including some that might help avoid an accident altogether--but its crash-test scores aren't perfect.

While the IS sedans' ratings are surpassed by a number of models, its safety-feature list is good, with all models including stability control, side and side-curtain airbags, knee airbags, and anti-lock brakes. And with the optional Pre-Collision System, the IS can anticipate when a crash is imminent; if the onboard computer determines it's unavoidable, the system stiffens the suspension, tightens the seatbelts, and pre-initializes the brake assist in preparation for impact. The feature is paired with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control feature, which can detect other vehicles ahead and maintains a set following distance.

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, the IS sedans earned top 'good' ratings for frontal and side impact, and just 'acceptable' in the seat-based rear impact test; it was also rated 'acceptable' in the new roof strength test. The IS still hasn't been rated in the heavily revised, more stringent tests introduced by the federal government last model year.

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2012 Lexus IS 350

Features

The 2012 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 stacks up well against the competition, with plenty of standard luxury and connectivity features plus some impressive tech extras.

The 2012 IS Sedans might be dated in design, but they're completely up to snuff with respect to features. Bluetooth hands-free capability is included across the model line, and upgrades include a nav system, retractable moonroof, ventilated front seats, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and a backup camera.

All IS 250 and IS 350 models include leather upholstery, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power moonroof, a power-adjustable steering wheel, and a HomeLink garage-door opener, and all-wheel-drive models get standard front heated seats. Newly standard on IS 350 models are HID headlamps and LED running lamps.

There's also a navigation system with live traffic data, and the Lexus Enform suite of services available through subscription allows weather sports, and stock information, turn-by-turn guidance, or roadside assistance.

The base sound system includes 13 speakers and 194 watts of power and has iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming. A 300-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system includes ten separate amplifier channels and also has the capability to play audio DVDs and DVD movies.

6

2012 Lexus IS 350

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Lexus IS sedans aren't very green, but they're about typical for a compact sport sedan.

EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2012 Lexus IS sedans range from 18 to 21 mpg in the city, and 26 to 30 on the highway. At that, the base IS 250 is neither at the front nor the back in this class. But with new four-cylinder entry models like the Mercedes-Benz C250 and BMW 328i, both of which put out more torque than the IS 250 while getting better mileage, there's not a good case for the IS 250. IS 350 models are only slightly thirstier, but they're much stronger.

While you might be temped to get the IS 250 with the manual gearbox, be aware that the automatic's higher top gear leads to more economical cruising. And if you're considering the high-performance, V-8-powered IS F, be aware that it isn't at all green (16/23 mpg).

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7.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 7.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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