Click here to View Our Other Publication
Drive Life : January 7th 2011
1HERSA1 F014 DriveLIFE road test 14 Friday, January 7, 2011 The Sydney Morning Herald Toyota's high-end brand has come out swinging at its German competitors with this offering, writes Toby Hagon. LEXUS IS 350 SPORTS LUXURY After Lexus made a big splash in the luxury market early in its relatively short existence, the past few years haven't been nearly as kind. Toyota's luxury brand has been pummelled in the sales race, prompting a rethink. While Lexus is known for its all- encompassing models -- something that's prompted competitors to add more fruit to their wares -- the one-size-fits-all approach hasn't been a roaring success with luxury buyers, who are often keen to individualise. Enter the IS 350, a more powerful addition to the IS range that went on sale in 2005 and is now Lexus's best-selling vehicle. The IS 350 finally gives Lexus some compact sedan muscle between the volume-selling IS 250 and V8-powered IS F. The 3.5-litre V6 is the headline for the IS 350 but the extra goodies make for a great support act. And with a starting price tag of $64,800 (plus on-road costs), it pitches the new Lexus bang in the volume end of the luxury market but with the promise of a little more. WHAT DO YOU GET? Since arriving on the scene about 20 years ago, Lexus has been slowly creeping up in price to more accurately match its predominantly German competition (albeit with the requisite equipment advantages) but the IS 350 has rewound the clock to an era when the brand was significantly undercutting the rest. At the same time, Lexus has ramped up the goodies for the IS. As well as the usual luxury fare that incorporates leather trim, cruise control, climate-control airconditioning and Bluetooth, there's also satellite navigation, brighter and more-efficient xenon headlights, a reversing camera, classy illuminated Lexus badges on the door sills, radar cruise control that can set a distance to the car in front and an electric steering column that lifts when you switch the ignition off. The colour touch screen also looks the part, although it houses some functions (such as aircon fan speed) that could work better as individual buttons. Still, it's a tantalising tempter for a car that's about the same price as less powerful, sparsely equipped German competitors. As well as the entry-level Prestige, there are two other IS 350 variants -- the F Sport and Sports Luxury. The F Sport gets spoilers; sports seats; a lower, firmer suspension set-up; wider, lower-profile tyres and a sharper steering ratio to give it a more agile feel (at the expense of ride comfort). There's also additional equipment to justify the $71,800 price tag, including a great premium sound system. The Sports Luxury tested here sells from $81,300 and brings extras such as heated and cooled electrically operated front seats, classy wood-look trim, rear parking sensors, a sunroof and a smart-key entry system. Safety is taken care of with eight airbags (including knee airbags for front-seat occupants) and stability control; there's even a first-aid kit. There's also a pre-collision system, although it can beep when you don't want it to, such as when a car ahead is turning out of your path. The four-year warranty and loan car during servicing also can't be sneered at. However, the IS doesn't have the vast array of trims, colours and wheel options that allow owners of German competitors to customise their car. WHAT'S INSIDE? There's a distinct lack of woodgrain in the IS 350 and even the subtle charcoal finish in the Sports Luxury gives it a more modern, rather than traditional, feel. There's also beautiful attention to detail and delicate chrome touches that give an upmarket feel. The sunroof on the Sports Luxury model encroaches on headroom but otherwise it has comfortable and supportive seats and a driving position that places all major controls within easy reach. The sculpted rear seat is tight for legroom, although the flat-floored boot (with small underfloor storage area) is more capacious. UNDER THE BONNET While all Lexus IS models have a V6 (except the IS F), the IS 350 takes it to the next level with a 233kW 3.5-litre. It's a smooth, sophisticated unit that leaps off the line with enthusiasm, pulling hard throughout the rev range. While it doesn't have the surging mid-rev response of BMW's (more expensive) turbocharged six-cylinder, it still responds well and keeps charging towards its rev limit. The six-speed transmission is also relatively intuitive, downchanging into corners and generally doing a good job of picking the right gear, although the staggered gate can be annoying to run through. ON THE ROAD It's clear Lexus wants the IS 350 Sports Luxury to be an enjoyable drive and one that appeals to drivers gravitating towards the dynamically excellent German choices. The steering, while a tad numb, is direct and engaging, confidently pointing the car in the right direction. The relatively compact body feels lithe through bends, gripping tenaciously. The ride is tending towards firm over bumpy roads but it's far from jarring and never feels flustered. The cabin is very quiet and refined, too, adding to the luxury experience -- at least until you turn the engine off, when it beeps at you, presumably as a reminder to take the key with you. VERDICT The IS 350 is one of the most impressive newcomers from Lexus in recent years, the irony being it's based on one of the older body styles in the range. The addition of a barrage of equipment, revised suspension and a fiery new engine make it a convincing case for those looking for a smaller-than-most luxury sedan. THE COMPETITORS AUDI A4 3.2 FSI QUATTRO Price $91,000 Engine 3.2-litre V6, 195kW/330Nm, 6-sp auto, AWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 9.3L/100km, 220g/km Safety 8 airbags; stability control. Pros Quality interior; attractive price. Cons V6 doesn't match rivals. Our score Not yet tested. BMW 335i M SPORT Price $110,900 Engine 3.0-litre turbo six-cyl, 225kW/ 400Nm, 6-speed auto, RWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 8.7L/100km, 202g/km Safety 6 airbags; stability control. Pros Brilliant turbo engine and six- speed auto. Cons Firm ride; tight rear seat. Our score Not yet tested. MERCEDES-BENZ C300 AVANTGARDE Price $90,850 Engine 3.0-litre V6, 170kW/300Nm, 7-sp auto, RWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 9.5L/100km, 226g/km Safety 9 airbags; pre-safe system. Pros Spacious; comfortable. Cons Thirsty; less equipped than some. Our score Not yet tested. THE DETAILS ? Price $81,400 plus on-road costs Country of origin Japan Engine 3.5-litre V6 Power 233kW at 6400rpm Torque 378Nm at 4800rpm Consumption and CO2 emissions 9.4L/100km and 223g/km Transmission 6-sp auto Weight 1645kg 0-100km/h 5.6 seconds (claimed) Safety 8 airbags; stability control; pre-collision system. Pros Punchy V6; loaded with equipment; classy interior; agile. Cons Engine could be more frugal; tight rear seat space; annoying beeps. IN THE REAL WORLD Sound affair Excellent 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. USB input allows control of iPods, although it's not as easy to scroll songs. Luxury Lexus tries to minimise similarities with Toyota but cheap-looking digital clock and generic cruise control stick out. Trivia Revised aerodynamics improve a package developed in the NT and with the same wind tunnels used to develop Japan's famous bullet trains.
December 17th 2010
January 14th 2011