What's New for 2010
The 2010 Lexus IS 350 receives new input sources for its audio system and an upgraded navigation system.
How do you take your Lexus? Would you like it Tall or Venti? Should it be Skinny or Dolce Latte? Lexus thinks having choice is good and therefore provides not one, but two distinct styles of entry-level luxury sedan. That Venti Dolce Latte would be the ES 350, a refined and comfortable luxury sedan. The 2010 Lexus IS 350, however, is the Tall Skinny Café au Lait -- a small luxury sedan with a powerful engine and just enough excitement to get the blood pumping.
Actually, the IS 350 sedan is one of several available flavors. There's also a less powerful sedan (the IS 250), a pair of convertibles (the IS C) and an ultra-high-performance version (the IS F). Of the two mainstream sedans, the 250 and 350, the 350 is our preferred choice, as its 3.5-liter V6 provides considerably more thrust and seems to more closely match the intended sporting mission of the IS.
For 2010, Lexus adds some welcome electronics features to the IS. The company's new Safety Connect telematics service adds peace of mind with its automatic collision reporting, stolen vehicle locator and emergency on-call service. The stereo has also been upgraded with two additional means of attaching your personal music device -- Bluetooth streaming and a USB audio port. For IS 350s equipped with the navigation system, real-time traffic, weather and other information is now included along with enhanced voice-recognition software.
These changes certainly add to the IS 350's appeal, but there are a few downsides to be aware of. The most notable is that the backseat is cramped and headroom is limited, making it a less-than-ideal vehicle for frequent transportation of more than two adults. The other issue is a lack of driver involvement -- the IS 350 simply doesn't move the excitement meter as much as one might hope based on the car's looks.
When it comes to entry-level luxury sport sedans, there are plenty to choose from. The Audi A4, Cadillac CTS and Mercedes C-Class provide more space and a bit more sporting flair. The BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37 are the best choices if you want the sort of performance and handling that the IS 350 only hints at. Yet there's no arguing with the Lexus reputation for reliability and peerless craftsmanship. If its diminutive size still fits your needs, the 2010 Lexus IS 350 may very well be your cup of coffee.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Lexus IS 350 is a compact luxury sedan available in a lone trim level. Standard equipment on the IS 350 includes 17-inch wheels, foglamps, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats, leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, the Safety Connect telematics system, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a 13-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer, auxiliary and USB audio jacks and satellite radio.
The Premium Plus package adds heated and ventilated front seats and wood trim. The Luxury package adds 18-inch wheels, adaptive HID headlamps, auto-dimming outside mirrors, automatic wipers, a power rear sunshade, driver and front-passenger memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and the Premium Plus package items.
Opting for the Sport package will get you 18-inch wheels, summer tires, a sport suspension and most of the equipment from the Luxury package. The optional navigation system also includes a rearview camera, voice commands, real-time traffic and other information and Lexus Enform enhanced telematics features. A 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system can be added to the navigation system.
Stand-alone options include headlamp washers, an automatic parking system and adaptive cruise control that includes the Lexus Pre-Collision System. A wealth of Lexus F-Sport performance accessories is also available.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive 2010 Lexus IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that cranks out 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The IS 350 accelerates from zero to 60 mph in a swift 5.2 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and Safety Connect. The latter is a traditional telematics service with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator and emergency assistance button. Optional is the Pre-Collision System that comes packaged with adaptive cruise control. It determines when an accident is unavoidable and pre-emptively stiffens the suspension, retracts the front seatbelts and initializes brake assist. In Edmunds brake testing, the 2010 Lexus IS 350 with the Sport package came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 114 feet.
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 managed four stars (out of a possible five) for both frontal crash protection and rear side-impact protection. Front passenger side-impact protection received a five-star rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 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, though the new iPod interface can be frustrating to use.
Most compact luxury 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 -- even with average-sized drivers up front. This is not a great candidate for family use.
The 2010 Lexus IS 350's creamy-smooth V6 whisks you toward the horizon at the slightest provocation of the throttle. It's just a shame that such a brilliant engine is paired to a 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 a compliant ride, however.