2009 Lexus IS 350
The 2009 Lexis IS 350 finds itself in an awkward position. Stuck between the entry-level (but adequately powerful) IS 250
and the uncompromisingly hardcore IS F
, the IS 350 must be suffering from a case of identity crisis. No longer is it the go to car for thrill seeking IS loyalists, nor does it offer the IS 250’s optional all-wheel drive system. And while a headline power output of 306 horsepower notches well between the 204 hp of the IS 250 and 416 hp of the IS F, the IS 250 offers a manual transmission while the IS F utilizes an excellent eight-speed automatic – both of which pip the IS 350’s overbearing six-speed auto. Still, the IS 350 offers a lot – sophisticated style, a comfortable interior and plenty of standard features. If you’re not a true driving enthusiast but enjoy the availability of ample passing power when you put your right foot down, the IS 350 provides a splendid way to tackle the daily commute.
What's to Like
Balancing lateral support and La-Z-Boy comfort into sports seats is a slippery slope, but Lexus has mastered it. The engine isn’t a top-end screamer, but rather provides plenty of ample, linear power. Exterior and interior stylings are both unique and charming, without going too far.
What's Not to Like
Bouncy sports suspension compromises ride quality to the point where you question whether it’s really worth the extra grip. You’ll have to dig around a bit before you’re able to fully wrap your head around the climate controls, as temperature functions are operated by console-mounted buttons, but vent and fan controls are hidden within the navigation screen. You have to completely stop the car to fully deactivate the traction control.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Pasted firmly to the IS 350’s superb sports seats, the direct, weighty steering and balanced chassis give you the confidence to push hard through a corner, making you seriously question whether you're truly behind the wheel of a vehicle carrying something as mundane as a Lexus badge on the deck lid. There’s little delay to any steering inputs and once turned in, the sports suspension helps to settle the car's weight on all four corners quickly. It’s a shame then, that when you go to put the power down in the proper gear, the engine quickly ratchets down a few cogs and sends you blasting off course. Even with the transmission in manual mode, you’re not immune to its desire to select lower gears for you. Leaning on the IS, you can tell it has an excellent, pliable chassis, and while the engine isn’t as rev-happy as Nissan’s outgoing 3.5-liter, it has a robust midrange. If only the transmission would let you enjoy it instead of constantly flinging the tach towards the redline, you might be able to better exploit its solid underpinnings.
Engine and Drivetrain
The IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter four-cam V-6 engine, good for 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. The only available transmission is a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, which drives the rear wheels. No limited-slip differential is available, though Lexus has attempted to emulate one through clever use of the VDIM system. Nothing beats the real thing, though.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
Keyless start/stop is standard, which at first seems a bit on the silly side but trust us, you’ll love the convenience. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, so taller drivers need not fear an uncomfortable experience behind the wheel. Aside from the stiff sports suspension, the ‘X’ Package includes 18-inch alloy wheels, alloy sport pedals, ‘Lexus’ emblazoned illuminated scuff plates and a front lip spoiler for $1,491.
Key Technology Evaluation
Get in the car with your favorite 80s metal album, crank up the sound and…wow. The stock sound system boasts excellent quality and volume, and there’s a 14-speaker Mark Levinson system for those who are left wanting for more. The navigation system is both easy to read and use (you’d be surprised how often that’s not the case) and nav package also includes a rear camera and Bluetooth.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
While it’s not as frugal as the IS 250, the IS 350 returns a respectable 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway. Lexus parent company Toyota knows a thing or two about reducing emissions, and has managed to pull off a ULEV emissions rating for the 3.5-liter V-6.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
You’d expect the interior of a Lexus to be the headline act, and the IS doesn’t disappoint. While it has a somewhat blank dash, the clear, clean electroluminescent gauges with blue information screens look like something straight out of Star Trek, and the ultra-soft leather on the doors and power seats feels like a bargain in this price range.
The pointy front-end of the IS takes on a slightly more bubble-shaped form from the side, but overall it’s an attractive package. Beginning at the front fender, the car’s high waistline continues past the C-pillars and through to the rear deck lid, while 18-inch sport alloys give it a more sinister look over the standard items.
Market Segment and Pricing
With a base MSRP of $36,605, the IS 350 comes in at $4,280 over an automatic IS 250. While that’s some price premium, it’s still a jaw-dropping, reality-shattering $20,005 less than the IS-F. This puts the IS 350 in the ring with similarly equipped cars such as the Cadillac CTS 3.6 ($36,265), Audi A4 2.0T Quattro ($33,050), Mercedes-Benz C300 Luxury ($34,650), Infiniti G37 ($33,250) and BMW 328i ($33,600).
What We Think
Being the middle child, the IS 350 might be a left a bit confused, but that doesn’t mean it’s a car without a purpose. If you’re content with a properly quick sports sedan that’s best driven at half-pace – where the antsy transmission will keep itself in check – the IS 350 won’t disappoint. However, if you’re the type of driver who really likes to take a car by the scruff, you’d be better off doing the cog swapping yourself in a manual IS 250, or, if you’ve got the scratch, liquefying the rear tires of an IS F.