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Lexus IS350: old school is cool

By Botchi Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer December 29,2019

 

The third generation Lexus IS350 has been with us since 2013, having served a full six years, essentially a full lifetime in the market. Year 2016 saw a revision of the model, featuring new headlights and tail lights, a new hood to go with the revised front fascia and inside, some improvements to liven up the interior, chief of which is a larger 10.3 inch LCD display for the multi-media system. In a sea of more modern and more high-tech sedans, the Lexus is old, but has aged well, thanks to stylishly futuristic lines that the years have taken kindly to: it still feels like a modern, contemporary Lexus model, infused with Japanese high-tech design cues. The non F-Sport model lacks some of the nice toys, like the LFA-inspired wheels and the digital instrument cluster, but nonetheless, delivers impressively on winding roads and on the highway, with the same sonorous V6 wail at full throttle. The 3.5 liter 4-cam 24-valve V6 codenamed 2GR-FSE, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission delivers 308hp and 375 newton-Meters of torque driving the rear wheels. Other markets have an AWD, but the RWD IS350 is all the IS you and I will ever want in the Philippines.

At its launch in Clark International Speedway a few years back, the IS350 proved to be highly enjoyable on track, and today, proves highly tractable, responsive and organic on winding roads. The double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension is firm, and at times can feel a bit crashy and underdamped on roads filled with high frequency undulations. But at higher speeds, everything gels better, as well as during dynamic / sporty driving on your favorite mountain pass. Steering feel and feedback is also good, and Lexus engineers made huge efforts to align the steering wheel and column as close to perfectly aligned and level to your shoulders, giving you more leverage, less effort and a more relaxed feel when driving. There’s oodles of grip available even with the somewhat modest 225/45R17 Yokohama tires and 17X7.5 wheels. But on the track, step on the throttle recklessly, and the rears will step out. On the limits of adhesion, on Clark Speedway’s fast sweepers, the rears will lighten up, but you can trust the rear end to stay in check, following the equally grippy front axle to follow the ideal racing line. TRD / F-Sport sells bigger 19X8.5 and 19X9 front and rear wheels shod with 245/35R19 and 265/30R19 tires respectively should you want to fill out the wheel arches completely yet remain factory correct in spec, and deploying the largest possible contact patch on the road to lay down all the power, more of the time.

Brakes are 4-piston front calipers and two-piston rear calipers so there’s more than ample stopping power that delivers fade-free, if a bit over-assisted performance. Good engine, good suspension, good brakes well developed together truly delivers a great driver-focused car.

Inside, seating position is excellent, but it is JDM sized (read: smallish, or have I just gotten bigger?). It lacks the airy room of more modern rivals from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, particularly at the back seats, but the old-school RWD layout coupled with the unique styling and sport-tuned suspension makes for a more focused and highly enjoyable driving experience. Besides, for the amount of money you pay for locally, the Lexus delivers a beautiful naturally aspirated six-cylinder wail, whereas the European rivals make do with turbocharged four-cylinder power-plants. You see a lot of older car guys who used to drive small pocket rockets graduate to driving an IS350 because it still feels and delivers a very JDM driving experience, but enhanced with the latest in luxury and refinement, to deliver an old school driving experience that isn’t necessarily stressful and tiring, and comfortable enough to use everyday.

You also get 390 liters of cargo space, so you can stuff in a golf bag in the trunk easily, a must for any self-respecting Japanese sedan. The Lexus has a 5.2 meter turning radius so it’s handy on tight parking spaces, and the 0.28 drag co-efficient also makes it quiet on highway speeds, making it an excellent long-distance tourer. It’s also equipped with traction / stability control, ABS-EBD brakes and of course multiple airbags to keep you safe in the event of an accident.

That big V6 though does come with a hefty price: namely the fuel consumption. I got no better than 4.6-4.8 kilometers per liter in the city, and on the highway, the best I got was a modest 8.8km/liter. Perhaps a tune-up is in order? But floor it, hear that sonorous wail and it’s all about the smiles per gallon indeed.

The IS350 is from a distant past in motoring that continues to soldier on into the future. If you want an honest-to-goodness RWD sports sedan with a big, characterful and naturally aspirated V6 power-plant, the IS350 truly is a bargain.

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