Full 2011 Lexus IS 350 Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Lexus IS 350 gains updated styling and optional all-wheel drive. A new F Sport package also debuts. Two optional features, adaptive front xenon headlights and adaptive cruise control (with the pre-collision system) have been discontinued.
It seems that there's a Lexus IS model to fit a variety of tastes. The 2011 Lexus IS 350 would be the hot salsa version, slotting in between mild and extra-spicy versions. With 306 horsepower on tap from its smooth 3.5-liter V6, the IS 350 delivers enough power to satisfy most of those looking for a sport sedan. By comparison, the less powerful IS 250 is bland and the ultra-performance IS F is too harsh for general consumption. Within the IS line, the 350 is certainly our favorite.
Drivers of every persuasion should appreciate the IS sedan's stylish exterior and the luxurious cabin with its top-notch materials and solid build quality. This year's F Sport package option livens up the IS 350's handling and also further enhances the minor face-lift that the IS receives for 2011. This is also the first year that you can get all-wheel drive with the IS 350, which will no doubt be attractive to drivers who live in harsher climes.
However, the Lexus IS 350 does have some shortcomings. Among these, the limited rear seat space is probably the most significant, as the lack of legroom makes the rear quarters acceptable only for kids. The performance-minded buyer will also find the IS 350 to be a bit of a disappointment considering the car's uncommunicative steering and slow-witted automatic transmission.
This leaves the 2011 Lexus IS 350 as a somewhat compromised choice, since it's neither sporty enough nor practical enough to compete head-to-head with some other models within its market segment of entry-level sport sedans. The 2011 Audi A4, 2011 Cadillac CTS and 2011 Mercedes C-Class are just as sporty to drive, but are more spacious. The 2011 BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37, meanwhile, are wholly more fun to drive than the IS. But if you're smitten with the styling of the IS 350 and value the refined impression that every Lexus makes, the IS 350 is a respectable choice with just enough spice to keep things interesting.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Lexus IS 350 is a compact luxury sedan that is offered in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive trim levels. The other IS models, including convertibles and the high-performance IS F, are reviewed separately.
Standard equipment on the IS 350 includes 17-inch wheels, foglamps, xenon headlamps (with washers), LED running lights, heated mirrors, a sunroof, keyless ignition/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, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and iPod/USB interface. Upgrading to the IS 350 AWD will also get you heated front seats.
The optional Navigation System package adds a hard-drive-based navigation system, Bluetooth phonebook downloading, 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.
The Premium Plus package adds heated and ventilated front seats and wood trim. The Luxury package adds 18-inch wheels (RWD only), 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 (RWD only).
The new F Sport package (available on RWD models only) adds dark-finish 18-inch F Sport wheels, grille inserts, front and rear spoilers, a sport-tuned suspension and heated F Sport seats with microfiber inserts and leather bolsters. Additional F Sport options include 18-inch wheels for AWD models, 19-inch wheels for RWD models, a performance air intake, a performance exhaust system, upgraded brakes, sport suspension components, a quick-shift kit and a carbon-fiber engine cover and shift knob.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Lexus IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 306 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can choose between rear-wheel drive and newly available all-wheel drive. With either, the sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic with shift paddles on the steering wheel.
The rear-wheel-drive IS 350 is expected to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds, Lexus claims, while the AWD model should only be a few tenths of a second behind. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for the RWD model. The AWD is rated at 18/25/20/mpg.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, brake assist, 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.
In Edmunds brake testing, the 2011 Lexus IS 350 with the Sport package came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 114 feet.
In government crash testing, the IS 350 managed four stars (out of a possible five) in frontal impacts for the driver and front passenger as well as side impacts for rear passengers. Driver side-impact protection garnered five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the IS 350 a perfect "Good" rating for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Lexus IS 350's sporty interior is as good as you'll find in this segment. Supple leathers and wood or metallic accents are top-notch, while soft-touch plastic materials cover most every other surface. All of these elements are well assembled. Controls throughout the cabin are intuitive and easy to use, as is the optional touchscreen navigation system. The iPod interface, on the other hand, can be a bit frustrating.
The IS 350 is short on rear legroom and the rear seat feels cramped in general compared to compact luxury sedans. Even with an average-size driver up front, those relegated to the rear will likely find these quarters as unaccommodating as a coupe's. The trunk can hold a maximum of 13 cubic feet of luggage, which is about average for cars in this class.
One of the noteworthy features found on the IS 350 is its smooth and responsive V6 engine. It provides plenty of thrust for most drivers, but its smooth-shifting automatic transmission is slow to react to your commands.
As a sport sedan, the 2011 Lexus IS 350 is notable for its high cornering limits -- even higher if you opt for the F Sport performance enhancements. Other aspects of the IS's driving dynamics will likely leave enthusiasts a bit disappointed, however. The uncommunicative steering does little to give the driver a feel for the road, while the noticeable body roll dilutes the overall sense of performance. Otherwise, the IS 350 presents a comfortable ride and tranquil setting to insulate you from the outside world.