Full 2009 Lexus IS 350 Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Lexus IS 350 receives a handful of minor tweaks, including subtle interior and exterior styling changes, a more advanced stability control system, slightly revised suspension tuning and a two-tone interior option.
When it comes to resources, we suspect a lot of other luxury automakers are envious of Lexus. While most brands have just one entry-level sedan to their name, Lexus has two, the ES 350 and the IS series. This double-barreled approach allows Lexus to have the right car for everyone. The ES is the comfortable luxury cruiser while the IS 250 and IS 350 are meant to be sharply honed sport sedans. The 2009 Lexus IS 350's strikingly taut styling, sporty interior and powerful 306-horsepower V6 complement its rear-wheel-drive layout. In other words, the 2009 Lexus IS 350 has what sport-sedan shoppers are looking for.
At least, that's how it appears on paper. However, driving the IS 350 may be something of a letdown from the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast's perspective. The 3.5-liter V6 is unquestionably a highlight, providing smooth yet thrilling acceleration at the drop of your right foot. Unfortunately, the only available transmission is an automatic, and it's a slow-shifting one at that. Moreover, while the IS 350's steering is accurate, it's notably uncommunicative. Handling limits are quite high, but the brake pedal doesn't inspire confidence with its long travel and soft feel. On the whole, it seems that Lexus was aiming for a slightly less sporty demographic with this car, namely buyers who want the aesthetics and track numbers of a sport sedan along with the compliant ride and coddling interior of a luxury sedan.
If that sounds appealing to you, then the IS 350 hits the bull's-eye. The quality of the interior materials is excellent, noise levels are Lexus-low and the IS 350's aggressively styled exterior belies its supple suspension tuning. As a sharp-looking compact luxury sedan with a world-class motor and a sporty flavor, the IS 350 is an unqualified success. Just know that you may be disappointed if you expect this Lexus to give a BMW 3 Series sedan or an Infiniti G35 a run for its money when the going gets twisty.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Lexus IS 350 compact luxury sport sedan is available in a single trim level. 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 18-inch alloy wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, a memory function for the driver and passenger seats, adaptive bi-xenon 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, adaptive cruise control, park assist and a sport-tuned suspension. A sport suspension package dubbed the X Package features a firmer suspension calibration, 18-inch wheels, sport-biased tires and aluminum pedals.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive 2009 Lexus IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that cranks out 306 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The IS 350 accelerates with the tenacity of a dedicated sports car, as the 0-60 sprint requires just 5.6 seconds. Although the transmission offers quick manual-style gearchanges, it doesn't match revs on downshifts like some rival automatics do.
EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are all standard on the 2009 Lexus IS 350. Optional is a pre-collision system (PCS) that comes packaged with adaptive cruise control. The PCS uses a 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 initializes brake assist so increased braking can be applied the instant the brake pedal is pressed.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the IS 350 earned a perfect "Good" rating for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests. In government crash testing, the IS 350 earned four stars (out of a possible five) for both frontal crash protection and rear-passenger side-impact protection. Its front-passenger side-impact protection received a five-star rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Lexus IS 350 boasts a finely wrought interior, with top-notch materials and an attractively sporty design. Fit and finish is generally excellent. Lexus also offers one of the best electronics interfaces in the business, with easy-to-use controls all around. The optional navigation system and accompanying touchscreen are particularly user-friendly.
Most compact sport sedans aren't generous with rear-seat legroom, and this is particularly true of the IS 350. Adults or even large children may not be happy in the rear seat on long road trips -- especially with a taller driver up front. Don't let the IS 350's four doors fool you; in terms of interior space, it's more akin to a luxury coupe.
The 2009 Lexus IS 350's creamy-smooth V6 hurtles you toward the horizon at the slightest provocation. It's just a shame that such a brilliant engine is stuck with the IS 350's slow-witted automatic transmission and relatively uncommunicative steering. The car's handling capabilities are formidable, but the IS 350 is not nearly as engaging to drive as segment benchmarks like the BMW 335i and the Infiniti G35. The Lexus does offer an impressively compliant ride, however. Should the standard chassis setup seem too soft, you can opt for the X Package, which includes a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch summer tires.