What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Lexus IS 350 sees no changes.
The Lexus IS lineup is like salsa; you've got your mild, hot and extra-hot flavors. Taking the ever-popular middle spot is our favorite, the 2012 Lexus IS 350. Its smooth 306-horsepower V6 should have enough of a kick to satisfy the palate of most folks looking for a sprightly sport sedan. But as with salsa toppings, the less potent IS 250 will seem rather bland in comparison, while the ultra-performance IS F may be too much for general consumption.
Regardless of the flavor, all IS sedans provide sporty styling and a plush cabin with top-grade materials and excellent build quality. A little more sporty spice can be added via the F Sport package (which sharpens the handling and styling), while those who live in harsher climates may want to opt for all-wheel drive. But the IS 350 recipe does have a few shortcomings, and the most glaring of these is the lack of legroom in back, which renders the rear seat best only for short trips when adults are involved. And despite its performance credentials, the IS 350's uncommunicative steering and slow-witted automatic transmission might leave a disagreeable taste in the mouths of more serious driving enthusiasts.
All told, the 2012 Lexus IS 350 finds itself in an awkward place, as it's neither sporty enough nor practical enough to be fully competitive in the entry-level sport sedan segment. The Audi A4, Cadillac CTS and Mercedes C-Class are just as sporty to drive, yet are more spacious. The BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G Sedan simply provide a more rewarding driving experience. But if the IS 350's styling and refinement suit your taste and the few drawbacks are not issues, then you'll likely find enough spice here to keep things interesting.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Lexus IS 350 is a compact luxury sedan that is offered in rear-wheel-drive (RWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD) 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 alloy wheels, foglamps, xenon headlamps, 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/audio connectivity and a 13-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an 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). Front and rear parking sensors are optional.
The F Sport package (available only on RWD models) 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 2012 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 available all-wheel drive. With either, the sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic with shift paddles on the steering wheel.
According to Lexus, the rear-wheel-drive IS 350 accelerates from zero to 60 mph in an estimated 5.6 seconds, with the AWD model just a few tenths of a second behind. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for the RWD model. The AWD is rated at 18/26/21/mpg.
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.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Lexus IS 350 with the F Sport package came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 114 feet. 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 2012 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 other 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 most endearing qualities of the IS 350 is its smooth and responsive V6 engine. It provides plenty of thrust for most drivers, although its smooth-shifting automatic transmission is slow to react to your commands.
As a sport sedan, the 2012 Lexus IS 350 is notable for its high cornering limits, which are 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 combines spirited engine performance with a tranquil, comfortable ride that suits the tastes of many.