2017 Lexus IS Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
June 23, 2017

The 2017 Lexus IS gets a new face and more advanced safety features that help it become a viable rival to German and American competitors.

The 2017 Lexus IS covers the basics for the sport compact luxury sedan segment without going too far overboard.

Base cars get a long list of good creature comforts and a newly standard advanced safety suite, top-of-the-line models include everything from rear-drive and a quick trigger to massive infotainment and leather everywhere.

Most buyers will start with the turbo-4 in the IS 200t, but there are all-wheel drive options in the IS 300 and 350. Lexus' own F Sport appearance and handling package is available at every stop, along with a list of optional upgrades.

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The Lexus IS earns a 7.2 overall out of 10 on our new ratings scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Styling and performance

Lexus updated the front and rear bumpers on the IS model this year, but you may be hard pressed to spot the differences on dealer lots. The spindle grille still has its critics, but the interior materials and layout is one of our favorites.

Under the hood of most cars will be a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 241 horsepower and is within spitting distance of similar powertrains offered by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. On paper, the Lexus engine should be just as strong of a performer as the others—some of our experts say that it isn't, others say that the numbers don't lie. Regardless of our opinions, the engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic and rear-drive.

Opting for all-wheel drive adds two cylinders and $3,000 to the bottom line. The IS 300 is the de facto entry all-wheel drive machine, but adds a V-6 that makes 255 hp and swaps in a 6-speed automatic.

Stepping up (or perhaps on top) is the IS 350 that uses the same 3.5-liter V-6, but makes 306 hp here and can be either rear- or all-wheel drive. (Rear-drive versions get the 8-speed autobox that we like, all-wheel-drive versions make do with the 6-speed.) It's the performer of the group but requires the optional F-Sport upgrade to fully unlock all of its performance. F Sport, which is available on every car, is an appearance and handling package that also adds an additional throttle and transmission tune that is more aggressive.

Base Lexus IS 200t models manage around 25 mpg combined, but the rest hover around 20 mpg combined. Premium fuel is required in all engines.

Comfort, safety, and features

The Lexus IS is a little smaller than its competitors and it shows in the interior packaging. The front seats are the best positions in the house, rear seat passengers have to make do with a little less space than others in its class (about 3 inches). Four adults should be able to fit within the IS—we hesitate putting any more in there.

Interior materials are top-notch and the layout is handsome, although the climate control screen is a decade overdue for a replacement.

Safety ratings are still in the mail (and they may never arrive), but the Lexus IS gets new advanced safety systems that put it ahead of many in its class. Forward collision warning, lane departure alert with active lane control, and automatic high beams are all now standard on the IS. We applaud that effort.

We don't get behind the idea that a simple rearview camera is still a $350 option on the $40,000 IS—or buried in a pricey options package with heated seats. Can you hear our fingers waving, Lexus?

Base cars are fitted with a long list of convenience features that are impressive. A 7.0-inch infotainment screen is standard, same goes for Bluetooth connectivity. All models of the Lexus IS also include keyless ignition, a moonroof, standard LED headlights, leatherette upholstery, steering wheel-mounted audio and phone controls, Siri Eyes Free for Apple iPhones, and advanced safety systems.

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2017 Lexus IS

Styling

The looks of the IS haven't changed much this year, and for the most part it's a good thing.

Lexus refreshed the IS this year and added a new front and rear bumper, along with special touches for F Sport models that help bring the small sedan in line with the rest of the Lexus lineup.

You'd be hard pressed to spot the differences on the lots, but we call it good by any measure—but short of great. We feel the same way about the interior. It gets a 7 out of 10 on our scale for style. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

(That's not a dig at the new effort by Lexus designers. Quite frankly, there isn't much that's interesting in the segment right now anyway.)

Despite being new for this year, the Lexus IS sports the same familiar cues including the large, expressive spindle grille. Angular, expressive lines wrap around the front end, continue in lean and graceful curves down the sides and rear. The Lexus IS has a purposeful stance that communicates its readiness to take on whatever the day brings, whether chasing canyon bends or a night on the town.

Although interior materials are good, the real standout inside is the cabin's upscale design. With a wide, squat center console, tiered dashboard, and analog clock, the visual effect is similar to interiors of cars costing twice or three times what the IS does. 

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2017 Lexus IS

Performance

The base turbo-4 takes a half-second longer than others in the class; the transmission isn't helping either.

For 2017, Lexus hasn't changed its lineup for the IS—although it's starting to feel a little crowded and overlapping.

In base configuration, the IS comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that feels reasonably strong once it spins up. It's mated to an indecisive 8-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive that should be the most common version on the roads.

The turbo-4 and the 8-speed aren't a good combo, but not bad enough to penalize both. The Lexus IS earns an 6 out 10 on our scale for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

That 2.0-liter turbo-4 can now be found in many places in the Lexus lineup, and in the IS 200t it makes 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's paired exclusively with rear-wheel drive and a smooth shifting, but lagging, 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

On the road, the IS 200t feels competent without being overpowering. We've found some lag in the drivetrain between a call for power and the car's response. We also found a few transmission hiccups in uphill driving—a searching transmission forced us to use the paddle shifters in a couple occasions. 

On paper, the turbo-4 is right alongside the other turbo-4s from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, but we can't help but feel that the Lexus is just a half-step behind. Blame it on our "butt dynos." Numbers help our case a little: the IS is a little heavier, a little slower to 60 mph, a little softer.

From there, the IS 300 is fitted with a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 255 hp, but is mated to all-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic. It's the de facto "base" all-wheel-drive setup, but at $3,000 more than the IS 200t, it's a big ask for all-wheel drive and a modest power bump.

Step up to the IS 350 and a 3.5-liter V-6 with 306 hp and 277 lb-ft is planted under the hood. It's available with rear-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic, or all-wheel drive with a 6-speed. It's the performer of the group, but it won't be confused with the 340i, C43, or S4 anytime soon. The IS 350 runs up to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, but its potential is best tapped when combined with the optional F Sport packages.

Beyond tacking on extra trim pieces and "sporty" aluminum pedals, the F Sport package adds adjustable suspension and a sharper throttle and transmission mode called "Sport+" that unlocks the car's potential. While the 6-speed automatic is smooth and perfectly functional, the 8-speed shifts quicker and smoother, improving both sporty and around-town driving.

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2017 Lexus IS

Comfort & Quality

Materials, fit and finish are top notch in the 2017 Lexus IS.

The 2017 Lexus IS maintains its luxury credentials with top-notch interior materials, options, and seats.

Overall, the cabin is very nice for front seat and rear seat passengers, provided you're not stuffing three in the back. The Lexus earns a 7 out of 10 on our comfort scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The quality of the interior materials could only come from Toyota. All the plastics, rubbers, and upholstery materials have a durable, solid feel. Lexus ditched last year's chintzy steering wheel controls and we haven't yet felt the new version, so we'll report back once we do.

Lexus stretched the cabin of the IS a few years ago to bring it in line with the rest of the class. Between the wheels there are 110.2 inches front to back, which is slightly smaller than both Mercedes-Benz's C-Class and BMW's 3-Series. Rear seat leg room in the IS is down on both competitors too, only 32.2 inches in the back, according to Lexus.

But the IS is just as wide as both of its main competitors, and accommodating for various body types. We've found the base seats to be comfortable enough for long slogs; F Sport seats could use just a little more bolstering.

Interior gripes are reserved for just a few points. All-wheel-drive models cut into the driver and passenger footwells with a larger center tunnel, widened to make room for the transfer case. The inverted mouse used for navigating the infotainment has plenty of critics, and the climate control instruments look outdated by about 20 years.

The sedan's trunk is spacious, although not expansive, at 13.8 cubic feet. That's bigger than the C-Class, but not as big as the 3-Series.

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2017 Lexus IS

Safety

Newly standard advanced safety features are a bonus, but an optional rearview camera is a letdown.

The 2017 Lexus IS has relatively good safety data, but not great scores. Federal testers have given the car a five-star overall score, including four stars for frontal crash protection. The IIHS gave the Lexus IS mostly "Good" scores, save an "Acceptable" rating in the small overlap crash test.

Those results, and that this year Lexus has made standard its suite of advanced safety features that include forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with active lane control, and automatic high beams, earn it a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

It's also worth noting that the Lexus IS doesn't include a rearview camera as standard—it's a $350 upgrade for a car that starts at nearly $40,000.

The IS comes standard with 10 airbags, including two front dual-stage airbags, two knee airbags for front passengers, front and rear side airbags and full-length curtain airbags.

Blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert can be ordered separately or as part of a pricey luxury package. 

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2017 Lexus IS

Features

The 2017 Lexus IS has impressive base equipment, optional equipment, and customizable features.

The Lexus IS is highly customizable with several powertrains and packages that add to the car's overall luxury and performance capability.

Starting with the rear-drive IS 200t (or Turbo), the IS can be ordered in IS 300 or IS 350 configurations. A sportier F Sport upgrade is available at every stop along the way up to nearly $50,000.

Base cars are still a good value by themselves, and Lexus offers many additional extras that buyers may be looking for. Combined with a large infotainment screen as base equipment and customization options and the Lexus IS is starting to run up the score. It earns a 9 out of 10 on our features scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

A 7.0-inch infotainment screen that includes the Lexus app suite, which they call Enform, and Bluetooth phone connectivity is standard across the range. All models of the Lexus IS also include keyless ignition, a moonroof, standard LED headlights, leatherette upholstery, steering wheel-mounted audio and phone controls, Siri Eyes Free for Apple iPhones, and an advanced safety suite that we cover separately.

New for 2017, top-end IS 350 models are fitted with 18-inch wheels as standard, while other cars ride on 17s.

Most Lexus IS models won't leave the factory bone stock, so navigate the options list with care.

A premium package adds a rearview camera and heated and cooled front seats for an eye-watering $1,140 on base cars. The camera is a standalone $350 option, but we just can't approve of a luxury car coming without one as standard anymore.

Beyond the premium package, other packages include blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts; a navigation package with a larger, 10.3-inch infotainment screen; a Mark Levinson premium stereo with 15 speakers; a luxury package with leather upholstery, parking assistants, wood trim, and heated steering wheel; and the F Sport package that heaps on performance add-ons like adjustable dampers (IS 350 only), power adjustable front seats, upgraded instrument cluster, 18-inch wheels, silver interior accents, unique front and rear bumpers, and a sound composer for interior engine noises.

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2017 Lexus IS

Fuel Economy

The base Lexus IS is fuel efficient, other versions fall from there.

The 2017 Lexus IS manages to be relatively fuel efficient in base form, although it doesn't offer advanced powertrain options like other competitors in the class.

The base rear-drive Lexus IS 200t manages 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined, according to the EPA. That's good enough for a 7 out of 10 on our fuel efficiency scale—but only just. Other versions of the IS are rated lower. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The IS 300, which features all-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic, is rated at 19/26/21 mpg. The IS 350 with all-wheel drive is identically rated.

For performance buyers, the rear-drive IS 350 is a slight improvement at 19/22/28 mpg.

Shoppers should note that Lexus requires premium fuel at every level, which is common for many luxury cars.

In comparison, most versions of the BMW 3-Series manage a combined fuel economy of 25 mpg or higher (even the 6-cylinder models) and most 4-cylinder versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class hover around 25 mpg.

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7.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 9
Fuel Economy 7
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