Used 2015 Lexus IS 350 Review

The 2015 Lexus IS 350 is less convincing as a performance car than its European rivals, but its slick blend of style, comfort and power make it an appealing compact luxury sedan.




what's new

For 2015, the Lexus IS 350 is essentially unchanged from last year's redesign.

vehicle overview

When we tell you that the 2015 Lexus IS 350 can't quite keep up with the competition on a winding road, we trust you'll take it with a grain of salt. What we're talking about, after all, is a mode of driving in which very few luxury sedan owners fully engage. Most shoppers in this segment want style, sophistication, premium features and perhaps a general sense of sportiness, whereas tire-squealing, at-the-limit handling ranks somewhere close to dead last. The 2015 IS 350 hits all of these important notes, delivering a smooth and suave luxury experience without renouncing its nimble feel.

Naturally, driving enthusiasts will always have a soft spot for well-mannered sedans that turn into pure-bred performance machines when you give them the spurs. So they may lament that the IS 350 isn't quite that kind of car, although its strong, ultra-refined V6 engine is an undeniable pleasure to operate. But this Lexus remains agile and composed outside of that rare max-attack scenario, with surprisingly precise steering to boot, and its comfort levels and build quality are beyond reproach. It's no wonder that the IS 350 earned an Edmunds "A" rating, as we had a hard time finding any significant weaknesses on its résumé.

Indeed, one of the lesser IS 250's few drawbacks -- a stiff ride in F Sport trim -- is rectified in the IS 350 F Sport by the provision of exclusive adaptive dampers, which give this firmly sprung variant the compliance it needs. The IS 250's other main issue, of course, involves its lackluster 204-hp V6 engine and aging six-speed automatic transmission, but the IS 350 steps up with its stout 306-hp V6 and excellent eight-speed automatic (thought the six-speed carries over for all-wheel-drive duty). If you're looking for something genuinely wrong with the 2015 IS 350, we'd point you to the navigation system's mouselike Remote Touch controller, which requires too much driver attention for adjustments at speed. But if you can live with that, there's not much else about this car that's likely to rub you the wrong way.

The biggest concern for Lexus is the presence of alluring alternatives. The stalwart 2015 BMW 3 Series is a perennial favorite, with multiple accomplished powertrains to choose from, though its numb steering is eclipsed by the Lexus (strange but true). The 2015 Audi A4 feels friskier from the driver seat despite its weaker four-cylinder engine, and its interior fit and finish gives the IS all it can handle. There's also the all-new 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class to consider. You'll want to try all of them, and perhaps others as well, before making a decision. But the 2015 IS 350 is an exceptionally well-rounded offering that could hit the sweet spot for many buyers.




trim levels & features

The 2015 Lexus IS 350 is a compact luxury sedan available in one well-equipped trim level. The IS 250 sedan, which shares the IS 350's architecture, is reviewed separately.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, LED running lights/foglights/taillights, heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, eight-way power front seats with driver power lumbar (and seat heaters in the all-wheel-drive IS 350), leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, an 8-inch color display with a console-mounted control dial, voice command functionality and an eight-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a CD player, HD radio, iTunes tagging, satellite radio and dual iPod/USB inputs.

The IS 350 also comes with Siri Eyes Free mode (compatible with select iPhones), which basically turns the car into a rolling iPhone, allowing you to access iTunes, hear and compose text messages and emails, arrange your calendar and more, all facilitated by Apple's chatty digital assistant using the audio system's speakers and Bluetooth microphone.

Many desirable IS 350 options are grouped into packages. The Premium package includes LED headlights and heated and ventilated front seats. The Navigation package replaces the standard infotainment control dial with Lexus' Remote Touch mouse-type controller and adds a navigation system, a rearview camera (with new dynamic grid lines for 2015), enhanced Bluetooth (with automatic phonebook download capability) and the smartphone-based Enform App Suite (integrating Bing, Yelp, Pandora and other handy Internet services). A 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system can be added to navigation-equipped IS 350s.

The Luxury package includes the Premium package and the rearview camera, and it adds auto-dimming exterior mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery with contrast stitching, wood trim, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel (with heating on all-wheel-drive models), driver memory functions, a rearview camera (with new dynamic grid lines for 2015), a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and a power rear sunshade.

Finally, the F Sport package features a full-mesh treatment for the grille, a revised front bumper (which loses the foglights), staggered-width 18-inch wheels (with either summer or all-season tires), a sport-tuned suspension with adaptive dampers, upgraded brake pads, an intake sound generator that amplifies engine noise during acceleration, stainless steel door-sill inserts, heated and ventilated front sport seats with enhanced bolstering, aluminum pedals, a black headliner, perforated leather trim, a heated steering wheel (all-wheel-drive only) and a special sport-oriented TFT gauge cluster. Available exclusively on the rear-wheel-drive IS 350 F Sport is a variable-ratio steering system that includes the power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.

Stand-alone options include a few of the above items as well as same-width 18-inch wheels (with either summer or all-season tires), adaptive cruise control (bundled with a collision preparation system), a lane-departure warning system with automatic headlights and front and rear parking sensors.



performance & mpg

Offered with either rear- or all-wheel drive, the 2015 Lexus IS 350 is motivated by a 3.5-liter V6 generating 306 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard for rear-wheel-drive models, and a six-speed automatic is used for all-wheel-drive cars. Steering-wheel paddle shifters are standard either way.

In Edmunds.com acceleration testing, a rear-wheel-drive IS 350 ran from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. That's technically a bit below average for compact luxury sedans with upgraded engines, but few will walk away from the IS 350 thinking it needs more muscle.

The EPA estimates that the rear-wheel-drive IS 350 will deliver 22 mpg combined (19 city/28 highway). That trails the BMW 335i, for example, by a significant margin. On Edmunds' diverse 120-mile evaluation loop, however, we recorded an impressive 26 mpg, well above the EPA combined estimate. The all-wheel-drive IS 350 is rated at 21 mpg combined (19/26).

safety

The 2015 Lexus IS 350's standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags and rear-seat side airbags. In Edmunds testing, an IS 350 required 123 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is an average distance for this class of car with all-season tires.

Lexus Enform Safety Connect is also standard and incorporates automatic collision notification, a stolen-vehicle locator, an emergency assist button and roadside assistance. Optional safety upgrades include a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a lane-departure warning system with automatic headlights. The optional adaptive cruise control brings a collision preparation system that uses radar to monitor traffic conditions ahead; if a collision is deemed imminent, it automatically tightens the front seatbelts and increases initial braking power, though automatic panic braking is not included.

In government crash testing, the 2015 Lexus IS 250 received a top five-star rating overall, with four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for side-impact protection. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the IS 250 its highest rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset and side-impact tests.

driving

The 2015 Lexus IS 350's 3.5-liter V6 is a satisfying engine, especially with the F Sport's intake sound generator at full song. There's plenty of power on tap at all speeds. We strongly recommend the slick eight-speed automatic transmission, which is only offered with rear-wheel drive. The all-wheel-drive IS 350's six-speed automatic is an older unit that gets the job done but isn't as refined.

The IS 350's precise, well-tuned steering is an unexpected pleasure that enhances driver confidence in all situations. Its upscale ride quality, however, is perhaps its best attribute, approaching the suppleness and refinement of the larger Lexus GS sedan. That largely holds true for the F Sport, too, on account of its standard adaptive dampers that take the edge off the sport-tuned suspension. As noted, the IS 350 doesn't reveal itself to be a sports car in disguise when you really push it, but should you wish to blow off some steam on a back road, it's certainly a willing partner.

interior

The 2015 IS 350's interior is one of the best in this class, boasting top-notch materials and unusual attention to detail. The dashboard, armrests, steering wheel and even the sides of the center console (where knees tend to rub) are swathed in dense, high-quality padding. The front seats are brilliantly comfortable and supportive under most circumstances, giving ground only during hard cornering -- yes, even the F Sport seats with their enhanced bolsters). In back, the formerly cramped IS is now one of the more accommodating compact luxury sedans, swallowing two adults with relative ease thanks to nicely shaped outboard seats and increased legroom.

The IS 350's dashboard design is attractive and contemporary, and the rakish angle of the center stack enhances the interior's feeling of spaciousness. The optional F Sport digital instrument panel features a cool (if not particularly useful) motorized circular gauge that slides side to side, as well as an LFA-inspired configurable TFT display. The high-quality buttons and knobs are easy to use, as is the nifty touch-panel fingertip slider for temperature control. The only real foible here is the mouselike Remote Touch interface that comes with the navigation system -- cursor control is wobbly, particularly when you're on the move, and it doesn't help that there's no hard "back" button and the icons are all the same color. Fortunately, the IS 350 has effective voice controls for many infotainment functions.

Trunk capacity in the IS 350 is an above-average 13.8 cubic feet, and the rear seatbacks fold down to open up additional space.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.