2013 Lexus IS 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
September 20, 2012

The 2013 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 look like exciting sport sedans--especially in F Sport guise--though they're not as fun to drive or even as fuel-efficient as other small sport sedans.

The 2013 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 are essentially the most dated designs among compact sport sedans, and with the introduction of the all-new Cadillac ATS this year, an all-new BMW 3-Series this past year, and substantially improved versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class also arriving--with each of these models adding more fuel-efficient options--the IS models are a bit behind the curve. In recent years the IS lineup has been expanded with IS C hardtop convertibles, which stand up a bit better in their competitive set, and the IS-F high-performance version, which has a special sort of enthusiast appeal.

With a sleek, low, and attractive silhouette, the IS sedans do still look great; 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. With a light touch-up delivered a couple of years ago, the IS got 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. But it's inside where the IS sedans do look more dated, as their tighter, cockpit-like layout gives away their age, while materials still look pleasant and upscale. 

Lexus has been pushing its vehicles in two different luxury directions--some toward comfort and plushness, others toward performance. And the IS lineup is part of the latter--although in IS 250 form it would be a stretch to call it a sport sedan. In fact, we recommend skipping the base 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6 entirely, as while it's smooth, it just doesn't have enough power (especially with the automatic transmission). With their 306-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, IS 350 models are much more enjoyable, but here the six-speed automatic is mandatory. 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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Take even a quick look at the interior of the 2013 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 and you'll agree that these are luxury sedans, with leather upholstery, top-notch materials, and a long list of standard features, even in base versions. However a cramped interior and more interior noise than other Lexus models can limit these models' appeal. While the IS 250 and IS 350 appeal to your luxury senses at first look, they're more premium-grade than opulent--and 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.

While Lexus hasn't done much to keep the IS updated by design, it's kept its feature set in pace with the times. Bluetooth hands-free capability is included across the model line, and the options list includes a navigation system, retractable moonroof, ventilated front seats, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and a backup camera. For 2013, Lexus has updated audio systems in the IS models and added HD Radio with iTunes Tagging and automatic Bluetooth phonebook download to models with the navigation system. The nav system also brings Lexus Enform with App Suite, which includes Bing voice search, OpenTable restaurant reservations, and Pandora or iHeartRadio music streaming. Turn-by-turn guidance and roadside assistance are also included.

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