2011 Lexus IS 350 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 10, 2011

The 2011 Lexus IS 350 and IS 350 look and drive like sport sedans, but they're not as performance-oriented as sport sedans from BMW or Infiniti.

The Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 sedans are feeling a bit dated next to its competition, as most of those models have seen major updates since the IS was introduced for 2006. That said, these sedans have seen some minor updates, including improved handling, revised styling, and an upgraded interior a couple of years ago. And, most notably, the introduction of new hardtop convertible variants last year—they're covered in a separate review.

Even considering that refresh, the Lexus IS hasn't changed much in many years; its exterior is sleek, low, and attractive but not particularly eye-catching. In some respects, the styling echoes that of the larger GS sport sedans, with its rather low hoodline and rising beltline, which altogether gives it a wedge-like appearance from some angles. For 2011, the IS sedans receive another light touch-up that includes a new grille and front bumper, slightly different rear exhaust tip and taillamp covers, HID headlamps with LED running lamps on the IS 350, and a new 17-inch wheel design. Also, the newly available F-Sport Package changes the IS's look somewhat, adding dark-chrome-finished 18-inch alloys, a dark-chrome grille, a front lip spoiler, rear spoiler, and a special Ultrasonic Blue exterior.

While many of the other models sold by Lexus embody a soft, detached definition of luxury, the 2011 Lexus IS sedans have pushed Lexus in a sportier direction. These compact sport sedans have always performed very well—not satisfying in the nuanced, balanced way that a BMW 3-Series (or Infiniti G37) is, but boasting satisfying performance all around. The 2011 Lexus IS 250 is available with either a 2.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 204 horsepower, or a 306-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 (IS 350), and for this year the IS is offered with either rear- or all-wheel-drive configurations for either model. A six-speed manual gearbox is offered with the IS 250 power, but the acceleration on tap from this engine is only adequate for a vehicle that's purported to be sporty. Overall, the IS models drive like proper sport sedans, with a rather taut suspension, strong grip, and crisp steering response. The rear-drive Lexus IS handles a bit better between the two and has a better steering feel, and while the IS 250 can be fun with its manual gearbox, out editors' pick of the lineup is the rear-wheel drive IS 350.

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With leather upholstery and a high grade of standard features in even the entry-level models, the IS is a luxury sedan from the start, and the typical Lexus materials and build quality will meet most people's baseline standards for the price. In most of its guises, the 2011 Lexus IS isn't especially opulent, however. Enforcing that impression is quite a bit of tire thrum from coarse surfaces and a fair amount of wind noise at higher speeds, even though the powertrains remain smooth and isolated. Interior space is also quite limited, too. Though the front seats are roomy and well-padded, headroom borders on tight in front, while the rear seats are cramped and short on headroom and legroom both.

Bluetooth hands-free capability is built into the base audio system, which has a six-disc changer, 13 speakers, and 194 watts of power and has iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming compatibility. 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, and other upgrades include a nav system, retractable moonroof, ventilated front seats, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and a backup camera.

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2011 Lexus IS 350

Styling

The 2011 Lexus IS 250 and 350 are 2010 Lexus IS are good-looking, though far from overt or attention-getting.

The Lexus IS hasn't changed much in many years; its exterior is sleek, low, and attractive but not particularly eye-catching, though the design overall has nice proportions. In some respects, the styling echoes that of the larger GS sport sedans, with its rather low hoodline and rising beltline, which altogether gives it a wedge-like appearance from some angles.

For 2011, the IS sedans receive a light touch-up that includes a new grille and front bumper, slightly different rear exhaust tip and taillamp covers, HID headlamps with LED running lamps on the IS 350, and a new 17-inch wheel design.

The newly available F-Sport Package changes the IS's look somewhat, adding dark-chrome-finished 18-inch alloys, a dark-chrome grille, a front lip spoiler, rear spoiler, and a special Ultrasonic Blue exterior.

The interior of the IS sedans is rich-looking but by no means trend-setting. The four well-bolstered seating positions are split by a console that divides the cockpit. Here the matte-metallic center stack of controls and softly curved dash appear a bit dated, at a time when sport sedans are getting either curvier inside or more overtly angular. Wood and aluminum trims, along with new silver-finished trim for the steering wheel, gauge cluster, and the area above the glovebox, add some richness.

Review continues below
7

2011 Lexus IS 350

Performance

The 2011 Lexus IS 350 especially is a strong performer, though it's not quite as satisfying to drive as top sport sedans in this class.

While many of the other models sold by Lexus embody a soft, detached definition of luxury, the 2011 Lexus IS sedans have pushed Lexus in a sportier direction. These compact sport sedans have always performed very well—not satisfying in the nuanced, balanced way that a BMW 3-Series (or Infiniti G37) is, but boasting satisfying performance all around.

The 2011 Lexus IS 250 is available with either a 2.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 204 horsepower, or a 306-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 (IS 350), and for this year the IS is offered with either rear- or all-wheel-drive configurations for either model. A six-speed manual gearbox is offered with the IS 250 power, but the acceleration on tap from this engine is only adequate for a vehicle that's purported to be sporty. All IS 350 models (and most IS 250s) come with a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic.

Overall, the IS models drive like proper sport sedans, with a rather taut suspension, strong grip, and crisp steering response. The rear-drive Lexus IS handles a bit better between the two and has a better steering feel, and while the IS 250 can be fun with its manual gearbox, our editors' pick of the lineup is the rear-wheel drive IS 350. But if you're a serious enthusiast, you might be a little disappointed with the IS's handling near the limit; it's possible to accidentally push the IS too hard in a corner as the steering is one of the least communicative we've felt in this class of sport sedan.

For 2011, an F-Sport Package is an official factory option and adds a host of appearance upgrades to rear-wheel drive models with the automatic transmission. In addition to those, it should drive differently thanks to the sport suspension, special steering tuning, and larger 18-inch wheels it includes.

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7

2011 Lexus IS 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 feels luxurious, but it's not particularly comfortable.

With leather upholstery and a high grade of standard features in even the entry-level models, the IS is a luxury sedan from the start, and the typical Lexus materials and build quality will meet most people's baseline standards for the price.

In most of its guises, the 2011 Lexus IS isn'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. Enforcing that impression is quite a bit of tire thrum from coarse surfaces and a fair amount of wind noise at higher speeds, even though the powertrains remain smooth and isolated.

Interior space is also quite limited. Though the front seats are roomy and well-padded, headroom borders on tight in front, while the 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.

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2011 Lexus IS 350

Safety

The 2011 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 look about typical for this class in safety.

The 2011 Lexus IS earns only a few top-tier scores for occupant protection, though there are no red flags either.

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. And while the IS hasn't been rated in the heavily revised, more stringent tests being introduced by the federal government for the 2011 model year, It earned four stars in frontal protection and a mix of four and five stars for side protection in the former tests.

Standard stability control, side and side-curtain airbags, knee airbags, and anti-lock brakes are included in all IS sedans.

With the optional Pre-Collision System, the IS can anticipate when a crash is imminent; and 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. It's packaged with the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control feature, which uses radar to detect obstacles out in front.

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9

2011 Lexus IS 350

Features

The 2011 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 sedans have up-to-date connectivity items as part of a strong feature set that stacks up well in any comparison.

The 2011 Lexus IS sedans have a strong list of standard features, even when compared with other sport sedans in its price range. 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.

Bluetooth hands-free capability is built into the base audio system, which has a six-disc changer, 13 speakers, and 194 watts of power and has iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming compatibility. 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.

Optional upgrades for the IS range include a retractable moonroof, ventilated front seats, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and a backup camera. 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.

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2011 Lexus IS 350

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Lexus IS family isn't that green, but it's about typical for this class of sport sedans; on the other hand, the IS F is a guzzler.

With EPA ratings ranging from 18 to 21 mpg in the city, and 25 to 30 on the highway, the IS 250 and IS 350 models are about on par for the class, relative to other compact sport sedans like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3-Series, and Infiniti G37.

One thing worth noting if you're considering the IS 250: Automatic-transmission models of the IS 250 get significantly better mileage (30 versus 27) on the highway, due to a much taller top gear. It could make a big difference in the long run.

The one model in the lineup that isn't at all green is the high-performance IS F. It earns just 16 mpg city, 23 highway from its big V-8.

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Styling 7
Performance 7
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