Full 2008 Lexus IS 350 Review
What's New for 2008
For the 2008 Lexus IS 350, a handful of minor changes take place, including a new "Liquid Graphite" finish for the wheels, recalibrated steering for better feel, a new coin holder and revised front seatbacks that provide more rear legroom.
Earlier this decade, Lexus decided to try its hand in the ultra-competitive compact sport sedan segment by introducing the rear-wheel-drive IS. But as most folks know, squaring off against the perennial champ, the BMW 3 Series, is like stepping onto a tennis court and seeing Roger Federer waiting for you on the other side.
The IS 300 was a solid performer with sharp reflexes, but it wasn't really a threat to the benchmark Bimmer. Its lackluster cabin was more glorified Toyota than true Lexus, and its shortage of legroom in back didn't help matters either.
A couple of years ago, Lexus improved its ranking by replacing the IS 300 with the IS 350. More luxurious and more sporting than their predecessor, the 350 and its less powerful 250 twin are pretty much identical except for their V6 engines. As one might surmise, the IS 350 has a larger, more powerful engine. Either way, the cabin in the IS is a model of refinement and classy design, while most cutting-edge luxury features are either standard or optional.
For the 2008 Lexus IS 350, a handful of changes take place, such as a new "Liquid Graphite" finish for the wheels, recalibrated steering for better feel and revised front seatbacks to allow more rear legroom. Still, don't expect the IS to challenge a Maybach any time soon.
Being a member of Lexus' dedicated sport sedan line, the IS 350 packs a sophisticated suspension, powerful brakes and a ripping, 306-hp V6 under its neatly tailored sheet metal. From a performance standpoint, the IS 350 simply rocks -- it sprints to 60 in 5.6 seconds, sticks in the corners like a cat to a screen door and stops in short order.
In addition to facing the BMW 335i, the 2008 Lexus IS 350 slugs it out with other top entry-level luxury sport sedans like the Audi A4, Cadillac CTS and Infiniti G35. It's pretty much a toss-up except for the Bimmer, which noses ahead of the pack in acceleration and the more esoteric areas of chassis response and driving enjoyment. In reality, it's hard to go wrong with any of these great machines. With its athletic moves, generous features list and impressive overall quality and reliability record, the IS 350 is one of our top choices, and sport sedan shoppers should definitely give it strong consideration.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Lexus IS 350 is a compact luxury sport sedan. Available in a single trim level, its standard features include 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, leather seating, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control and a premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack.
Optional features (mostly offered through packages) include heated and ventilated front seats, memory function for the driver and passenger seat, adaptive bi-xenon HID headlights, a power rear sunshade, 18-inch wheels and rain-sensing wipers. Also available are a navigation system, a Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, active cruise control, parking assist and a sport-tuned suspension.
Powertrains and Performance
A 3.5-liter V6 that makes an impressive 306 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque drives the rear wheels. The sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The IS 350 accelerates with the verve of a sports car, as zero to 60 mph takes just 5.6 seconds. Although the transmission offers quick manual-style gearchanges, it doesn't match revs on downshifts like some of its rivals' automatics do.
Revised fuel economy for 2008 is 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, which is on par with the rest of this class.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control and a full complement of airbags (including front-seat side and full side curtain) are all standard. Optional is a pre-collision system (PCS). PCS comes packaged with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which uses the radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car. If the computer determines that a collision is unavoidable, it pre-emptively stiffens the suspension, retracts the front seatbelts and pre-initializes brake assist so full braking is applied the instant the brake pedal is depressed.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the IS earned the best-possible rating of "Good" for its performance in both frontal offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2008 Lexus IS 350 boasts impressive interior materials, an attractive cabin design and plenty of luxury amenities. Everything from the wood-tone and metallic accents to the supple leather upholstery exudes high quality. Lexus also offers one of the best electronics interfaces in the luxury game, with easy-to-use controls. The optional navigation system and accompanying touchscreen are particularly friendly.
Most small luxury sport sedans' rear seating isn't exactly palatial, but this is particularly true with the IS 350. Even with this year's marginal improvement in legroom (that comes via scooped-out front seatbacks), adults or even large children may not be happy in the rear seat on long road trips -- especially with a taller driver up front. Headroom is also in short supply in both the front and rear. If you're at all above average in size, the IS may prove to be no more spacious than a luxury coupe.
With more than 300 hp, a finely tuned chassis and spectacular brakes, the IS 350 is an undeniable performance car. There's no discernible exhaust note, so don't expect aural delight, but the IS 350 effortlessly leaps to speed. The chassis is buttoned down, grip is impressive and although there isn't a manual transmission, at least the automatic's paddles add some involvement to the driving experience. Though steering feel is somewhat lacking, the action is laser-beam precise, making it easy to choose and hold a line through the curves. Should the standard chassis setup still not be enough, die-hard enthusiasts may opt for the optional X Package that includes a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch summer tires.