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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2013 Lexus IS 350

Styling

The Lexus IS sedans are among the most dated designs in their class, but they still look good.

The Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 are by far the oldest designs in this class, and they enter a seventh model year essentially unchanged. As it is, the 2013 IS lineup shows its age the most inside, while what was at its original launch a somewhat conservative exterior has stood the test of time very well.

The exterior of the two IS sedans, which is virtually the same whether you go with the IS 250 or IS 350, somehow manages to look contemporary, fresh, and handsome, combining a sleek, low, and attractive silhouette with a hoodline that's a bit lower than most other recent designs, plus a gently rising beltline--giving it a pleasant, wedge-like look from some angles, and an undeniably sportier, more aggressive look than the comfort-oriented ES 350.

In recent model years Lexus has also kept the exterior updated by giving it new exhaust tips, along with HID headlamps and LED running lamps in the IS 350. An F-Sport Package gives the IS an even more serious performance look.

With a relatively tight cockpit-like layout, a rather wide center console, and smooth, continuous dash surfaces, the IS models arguably show their age the most inside--even though trims and materials remain quite good.

IS C convertible models are closely related to the IS Sedans--not just mechanically, but design-wise--and they carry over with essentially the same front-end design, as well as a rear design that's only a little taller and more bulbous. Side sheetmetal is a little taller and more slab-sided in convertibles.

7

2013 Lexus IS 350

Performance

The 2013 Lexus IS 350 especially is a strong performer, although the IS 250 isn't as athletic as other base sport sedans.

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.

The IS models feel quite agile, but they're not quite on the same dynamic ground as the BMW 3-Series or Infiniti G37. We've noted that rear-wheel-drive models do have better, more communicative steering than the other models, and steering-wheel paddle-shifters help make the most of it.

The F-Sport Package that's available on rear-wheel-drive models includes plenty of appearance upgrades, but with a sport suspension, special steering tuning, and larger 18-inch wheels, it does sharpen the driving feel somewhat.

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2013 Lexus IS 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 aren't all that comfortable or quiet, but their cabins look luxurious.

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.

Front seats are well contoured and firmly padded, but the footwells are narrower than in other sport sedans this size. Rear backseat space is surprisingly tight, with nearly no legroom available when front seats are scooted back for taller drivers; pair that with the IS's relatively narrow cabin, plus tight headroom, and there's really no usable space for adults back there. The trunk is adequate but hardly spacious, at about 13 cubic feet.

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.

As with most compact sport sedans in this class, there's quite a bit of tire thrum and road coarseness.

The IS C convertible models, compared to other convertibles in this class, actually stand are among the more spacious and practical, however. The rear seatbacks are a little more upright in back, but thanks to a slimmer front seatback there's enough space for two normal-size adults--for a short stint. Although the tall, wide side sills and rather tall doors and roll hoops in the convertible could leave you feeling a little too pinned-in.

We've also noticed that IS C models are surprisingly quiet and refined--relative to other hardtop convertibles, that is.

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2013 Lexus IS 350

Safety

The 2013 IS sedans aren't safety standouts in any way, if you look at crash-test results.

The 2013 Lexus IS sedans and IS C convertibles include a respectable list of safety features, although their crash-test scores aren't the best. That's likely due to improve next year, when the IS gets a complete redesign and bolstered body structure.

While neither the IS sedans nor the IS C convertibles have been rated in the latest federal crash tests, the sedans earned top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal and side impact. But their scores for both the seat-based rear impact test and the roof strength test are just 'acceptable.'

In the meantime, the IS offers a strong list of safety features, including stability control, side and side-curtain airbags, knee airbags, and anti-lock brakes. You can also option the IS with a Pre-Collision System, which anticipates when a crash is imminent; if the onboard computer determines it's unavoidable, it also stiffens the suspension, tightens the seatbelts, and pre-initializes the brake assist in preparation for impact.

Dynamic Radar Cruise Control feature, which can detect other vehicles ahead and maintains a set following distance, is paired with the Pre-Collision System.

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2013 Lexus IS 350

Features

Updated audio systems and improved connectivity keep the 2013 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 in sync with tech needs.

Lexus has done a good job in keeping the Lexus IS sedans and IS C convertibles up-to-date in features, even if the sedans especially might be looking pretty dated by design.

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.

Equipment is otherwise virtually the same whether you choose the IS 250 or IS 350. Leather upholstery, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power moonroof, a power-adjustable steering wheel, and a HomeLink garage-door opener are standard features even on base IS 250 models, while all-wheel-drive models get standard front heated seats. HID headlamps and LED running lamps are added in IS 350 models.

The sound system on most of the IS line has 13 speakers and 194 watts of power, with iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming. Available only with the navigation system (the nav system is offered separately) is a superb 300-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system that can play audio DVDs and DVD movies.

Intuitive Park Assist is an additional standalone option that could prove very useful for those who live in the city, and several option packages bring upgraded perforated leather upholstery plus heated and ventilated front seats, along with other features and appearance extras.

In addition to performance enhancements, F-Sport models get heated sport seats, aluminum pedals, a sport grille, a sport steering wheel and shift knob, and rear spoiler.

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2013 Lexus IS 350

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Lexus IS sedans don't look particularly green--especially when you consider their size and space.

The 2013 Lexus IS sedans aren't entirely at the back of the pack among premium or luxury sedans, but their EPA fuel economy ratings are nothing to brag about.

At 21 mpg city, 30 highway (IS 250) or 19/27 (IS 350) for the rear-wheel-drive versions, the IS models lag behind both base four-cylinder versions of rivals like the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4--as well as some six-cylinder versions of some sedans this size. And neither of these models makes up for it in sheer performance. 

Otherwise, if you're considering the high-performance, V-8-powered IS F, its ratings of 16/23 mpg will send green-minded shoppers running.

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