What's New for 2006
For 2006, Lexus debuts the all-new IS 350. Replacing the previous IS 300, the IS 350 brings forth new powertrains, more features and a higher-quality cabin.
Since 2001, the Lexus IS 300 has taken on the 3 Series with marginal success. Although it never really lit up the sales charts, the rear-wheel-drive IS 300 has earned a small but loyal -- and young -- following. When it came time to create the second generation of the IS, Lexus had to design a sedan with expanded performance and higher interior quality to combat the ever dominant competition. A tall order, but we think Lexus may have pulled it off. The new IS 350 sedan is larger, more luxurious and much more powerful than the previous generation Lexus car.
Since Lexus already had an excellent rear-drive platform in the recently redesigned GS, it became the starting point for the new IS 350. By carving out 4.7 inches of the GS's wheelbase and lopping off 4.4 inches of front and rear overhang, Lexus had the basic structure of the new IS. The GS's double-wishbone front and independent multilink rear suspension moves intact to the IS 350 and is retuned for the new application. The IS 300's straight six has been replaced by an all-aluminum 60-degree, DOHC, 24-valve V6. The 3.5-liter engine features VVT-i variable valve timing and offers 306 horsepower. Also coming from the GS is the suite of electronic technologies -- traction control, stability control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and BrakeAssist -- that Lexus groups together as the "Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management" (VDIM for acronym lovers). VDIM is standard on the IS 350.
The VDIM system makes the Lexus IS 350 a truly fearless and capable high-speed conveyance, but the inability to disable it is troublesome; the system is intrusive enough to dull the pleasure of the car's outstanding engine, great chassis and spectacular brakes. If you prefer your sport sedans serene over spirited and unperturbed over unabashed, then the 2006 Lexus IS 350 could be your ideal car. But if visceral performance is more your thing, check out the 3 Series and G35 before putting your money on the table.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Lexus IS 350 sedan comes in just one trim level. The standard features list includes keyless entry and ignition, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power doors and windows, cruise control, leather seating, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a moonroof and a 13-speaker premium audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. Options include a 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, 18-inch wheels, 10-way power seats, a navigation system, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (which allows drivers to set a preferred interval between the IS and traffic ahead), rear park assist, rain-sensing wipers, corner-adaptive headlamps, Bluetooth connectivity and bi-HID headlights.
Powertrains and Performance
The Lexus IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6. It's rated at an impressive 306 hp at 6,400 rpm and a chunky 277 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. The engine drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission that the driver can control with a steering wheel-mounted paddle shifter.
Safety equipment includes front and rear side curtain airbags and front seat-mounted side airbags. Also standard is the suite of electronic technologies -- traction control, stability control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, BrakeAssist and conventional antilock brakes -- that Lexus groups together as the "Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management" (VDIM). Optional is a Pre-Collision System (PCS) -- packaged with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control -- that uses a millimeter-wave radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car. If the computer determines that a collision is unavoidable it preemptively stiffens the suspension, retracts the front seatbelts and pre-initializes BrakeAssist so increased braking is applied the instant the brake pedal is depressed. In crash tests, the IS earned a "Good" rating (the best possible) for its performance in IIHS frontal offset and side-impact testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
The new Lexus IS 350 boasts impressive interior materials, an attractive cabin design and plenty of luxury amenities. Everything from the soft-touch dash and door panels to the supple leather seats exudes high quality. Rear seating isn't as palatial; the wheelbase is 1.2 inches shorter than the new 3 Series and offers minimal rear legroom. If you regularly carry adults -- or even large children -- in the rear seat, they won't be happy back there.
With more than 300 hp, a great chassis and spectacular brakes, the 2006 Lexus IS 350 is an undeniable performance car. There's no discernable exhaust note, but it builds speed easily, the chassis is tenacious, and if there isn't going to be a manual transmission around, at least the paddles add some involvement to the driving experience. Still, there's so much technology aboard the Lexus car, the driver is too insulated from the experience. The biggest downer is the inability to disarm the VDIM system, which mutes the sedan's performance long before the limits of its chassis and tires are reached.