Driven: 2017 Lexus IS 350 AWD

Written by Lee Bailie on .

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The best-selling Lexus car in Canada gets a design update and some performance tweaks for the ’17 model year that company executives hope will send sales on an upward trajectory after some slippage in 2016.

While still a strong performer overall, IS sales were down in Canada by a shade under 11 percent last year, something Lexus executives hope doesn’t become a trend.

The IS comes in three grades for the Canadian market (200t RWD, 300 AWD and 350 AWD), but for the purposes of this review I’m going to focus on the range-topping 350, which I recently drove for a week.

Like all 2017 IS models, the 350 features a redesigned front fascia, with larger air intakes integrated into a new front bumper. Also, the brand’s love-it or leave-it Spindle grille (personally, I like it) is updated to look more aggressive than it did previously.

Other styling changes include revised LED headlamps (standard on all models), updated tail lights, new rectangular chrome exhaust tips and new wheel designs for non-F Sport models.

Among the interior enhancements are a ‘hairline finish’ dashboard for improved look and feel, new instrument cowl stitching, a new analogue clock and new cupholders. Hey, it’s the little things, right?

Canadian IS 350 models also come standard with the F Sport 2 Series package which includes a slew of goodies such as a console-mounted Lexus Remote Touch interface, a 10.3-inch multimedia screen, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, electro-chromatic side mirrors and more.

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Lexus upped the ante on my redline tester with the inclusion of the F Sport Series 3 package, which brings a long list of amenities (full list below), among them a Mark Levinson audio system, power moonroof and a pile of F Sport kit – 18-inch wheels, three-spoke steering wheel and heated, sport leather seats to name a few.

Generally – and I’ve driven a few in recent months – I like current design ethic of Lexus interiors. They’re mostly well designed, nicely finished and neither too dull, nor too ostentatious. The F Sport details in my tester were cleverly sprinkled throughout – a badge here, some exposed stitching there – but the cabin isn’t littered with Easter eggs.

Controls for commonly used features, like heated seat and steering wheel buttons, weren’t hidden far down on the dash or deep in an infotainment system menu, but rather right in the driver’s line of sight on the centre console. Well done.

Not so well done, however, is the Lexus Remote Touch interface, which requires some pretty fine motor skills to operate with precision. It’s easy to run the pointer right past your desired menu option and click on something you don’t want thanks to a bump in the road. An audible chime indicates a clickable choice, but unless you avert your attention from the road to confirm it, it can be difficult to make an accurate selection.

On the plus side, it does become easier to use with some practice, but it is far from an intuitive solution.

Under the hood is a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 (306 hp / 277 lb-ft.) mated to an electronic six-speed automatic transmission that powers all four wheels.

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On the chassis front, the IS 350 gets Adaptive Variable Suspension that works in conjunction with the base IS front double wishbone / rear multilink set up.

A few months back, I drove the IS 350 on both public roads and at speed on a closed course during a launch event and came away impressed with its overall comportment on both. The ride is quiet, comfortable and – if you dial the drive mode selector to Sport or Sport+ – quite spirited when called upon. It proved to be no slouch on the track, either.

This time around, my seat time was confined to public roads but my early impressions still hold – the IS 350 makes for a very comfortable daily driver that offers plenty of power, style and luxury content for the price.

The 3.5L V6 doesn’t overwhelm when it comes to straight line acceleration and sheer power, but it has enough muscle to make the IS 350 a pretty quick car in daily driving situations and it emits a pleasing growl when the gas pedal is mashed.

I fiddled with the driving modes quite a bit during my time with it, and while the Sport and Sport+ settings do sharpen throttle response and hold the revs before upshifting, the car’s character doesn’t really change that much – the ride doesn’t become unbearably stiff, nor does the racket emanating from under the hood fill the cabin with too much noise.

Instead, the sportier settings just make the IS 350 a little twitchier, but not in a track-use only kind of way, and I think buyers will appreciate that. It’ll make their commutes a little more fun, but in a very manageable way.

In sum, the IS 350 offers a good amount of performance, style and refinement for the money. The 2017 changes are mostly subtle ones that should have a positive impact on its sales prospects.

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SPECIFICATIONS2017 Lexus IS 350 AWD

BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $53,350 / $56,695 (incl. $2,045 destination)
ENGINE:
3.5L V6
HORSEPOWER:
306 hp @ 6,400 rpm
TORQUE: 
277 lb-ft. @ 4,800 rpm
CURB WEIGHT:
1,695 kg
CONFIGURATION:
front engine, all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic transmission
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.):
12.6 / 9.2 / 11
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM):
48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES:
Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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Photography by Lee Bailie

Optional Equipment

F Sport Series 3 ($1,300)
- Heated steering wheel
- 3-spoke F Sport steering wheel
- Adaptive variable suspension
- P255/35R18 (rear) / P225/40R18 (front) tires
- F Sport centre wheel ornament
- 18-inch F Sport wheels
- 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio system
- Blind spot monitor
- Rear cross traffic alert
- Heated and ventilated front seats
- F Sport seats
- Power rear window sunshade
- LFA-style full TFT instrument cluster
- Power moonroof
- F Sport front grille
- F Sport aero package
- F Sport shift knob
- F Sport scuff plates

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