Lexus IS 350: Little Car with a Big Heart

by The Car Family

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Lexus has produced its IS line to cater to those who wanted something trim, quick, and easy on fuel. They succeeded. The problem is that the competition also succeeded. Lets call it a push. The Infiniti G37 and BMW 3 Series have similar pricing and are more playful, if less plush.

The rear-wheel-drive 2010 Lexus IS 350 has a big heart in the form of a 3.5-liter V6 with 306 horsepower that pushes energy through a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. It can get to 60 mph in under six seconds while still achieving fuel mileage in the range of 21 mpg in mixed driving on premium gas. On paper all of this looks good, but when driven on a daily basis the 350 isn’t all that enthusiastic about being driven over rough roads and its playful nature sometimes can be trying when in traffic because it reacts quickly to anything but a light touch on the accelerator.

The engine noise inside the car is excessive, but it does make you feel fast and that’s what counts to many potential buyers who like the idea of a frisky compact with luxury trappings and the safety of the Lexus quality ratings.

Lexus has also added some unique features that will challenge those still reading their VCR programming manuals. The Safety Connect telematics service reports collisions, gives a signal to police if the Lexus is stolen and offers the reassurance of emergency on-call service.

Perhaps what is best about this vehicle is that it is a Lexus and, dare we say it, an entry level Lexus with a potent engine, stern suspension, and an attractive, if not overly luxurious interior. It is certainly a consideration for the young at heart and those with well endowed parents.

Mom’s view: Too small, with a cramped back seat, limited trunk space, and an exhaust that growls at the slightest whisper of go pedal pressure. Safety wise there is a plethora of good things such as antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, a tire pressure monitor, side curtain airbags and an optional Pre-Collision System with adaptive cruise control that stiffens the suspension, tightens the front seatbelts and initializes brake assist if a collision is eminent. Great brakes and test scores have been good.

The interior is claustrophobic for large bodies. The wood and aluminum trim are nice, but, as the engine, it is a compromise. Lexus indicates that you can get five in this sedan, but those in the back seat better be short. The usual great electroluminescent instruments lights make reading the gauges easy day or night and the interior lighting is okay, too. We didn’t test one, but Lexus has indicated that an all-wheel-drive version of the IS 350 is onsale for those who live in the mountains or want to challenge the Cajon Pass in winter.

Dad’s view: The 350 wants to go right now, but when pressed it isn’t as inspiring as it sounds. Sometimes the automatic transmission dims the fun, but basically it is the fact that this 3500 pound Lexus appears to be an effort to be a compromise. It is quick, no doubt, but the steering, suspension, and handling are all just a bit tender for the enthusiast and a bit harsh for the tenderfoot. A very tight turning circle makes it a joy to park even in compact spaces while the air conditioning and heating units worked rapidly and well. I liked the IS 350, I just didn’t love it.

Young working male’s view: Good stereo, but not great. Go with the optional 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system. There is a six-CD changer and satellite radio to go with Bluetooth and a USB audio port. A global position system works with real-time traffic and weather. The voice recognition is fairly good. The interfaces are okay, but they aren’t the best. I enjoyed this vehicle and liked urging it on when the road was to its liking. Since I haul a lot of junk in my daily job at it wouldn’t suit my needs. Besides, I like the better ride of the ES Lexus better, and for less money.

Young working woman’s view: There is a lot to like inside this sedan. Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, foglamps, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats, and leather surfaces. Two option packages can add luxury to the 350 or make it sportier. As a final blow to your credit limit, the Lexus can be equipped with everything from the Lexus Pre-Collision System to go fast pieces. You can drive the price of this little devil into the $40,000 range without any problem so be warned. I liked it as the IS 350 seemed to bridge the divide between the BMW crowd and the Acura owners. It has a touch more dignity, but can be a playful. Not a bad car for a young professional, but the less powerful IS 250 is more practical and looks the same. Nah, for four grand more you can harvest 100 more horsepower with the 350 IS. Can you say higher resale?

Family conference: What bothered us the most is why for a few thousand dollars less you wouldn’t buy the larger ES 350 with a similar engine and a lot more interior room? It doesn’t handle quite as well as the smaller IS, but it is so much more family friendly. We would recommend the IS 350 to those who like the sporty feel of this Lexus and enjoy the cache of knowing they own a quality product capable of some pleasurable private moments.