DRIVEN: Lexus IS 350 F Sport

Nelspruit – In an attempt to make the local Lexus IS line-up more competitive in 2017, the brand’s smallest sedan has been given a few cosmetic upgrades, both inside and out. Together with this, the IS 350 F Sport also gains some transmission and engine mapping revisions, as well as an improved chassis.

Cosmetic upgrades

Visual changes are immediately obvious are the front, lending the luxury sedan more of an aggressive look thanks to larger air intakes an a more prominent grille. Other styling revisions include redesigned exhaust tailpipes, new LED head- and taillamps and a resculptured bonnet.

Interior revisions

The facelifted F Sport model now features a 10,3-inch infotainment screen with an updated control system that includes an enter button for easier use. New cup-holders and a revised instrument panel have also been added.

Upgrades you can’t see

The IS 350 F Sport still employs the brand’s naturally aspirated 3,5-litre V6 engine, which delivers 233 kW and 378 N.m to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, although it has benefitted from slight mapping changes.

The front double wishbone suspension, meanwhile, gains a new forged aluminium lower arm assembly, which Lexus says results in a 49% increase in rigidity. Support bushes, coil spring rate and shock absorbers have also been revised to create more of a comfortable ride.

Other minor improvements include a more responsive electric power-steering system, a “sport +” driving mode and further fine-tuning of the adaptive variable suspension.

What do these changes feel like?

At its inception, the IS 350 F Sport was already a fairly engaging drive. It boasted an enjoyable V6 powerplant and capable suspension setup, helping to set it apart from its German rivals.

Despite the latest changes, one has to pay very close attention in order to notice any differences. Thankfully, the engaging aspect remains, particularly with the V6 fitted. The engine still offers a responsive yet comfortable delivery of power, which, when combined with the well-sprung suspension, makes for a dynamic driving experience that is rather easy to manage.

Of course, the element of thrill is missing. To some, this may be considered a positive, but those who long for a performance car that feels lively and “on the edge” should look elsewhere. Consider the BMW 340i or the soon-to-arrive Mercedes-AMG C43 as alternatives.

Given the fact that the roads we encountered on the local launch were laden with potholes seemingly the size of meteor craters, the revisions made to the suspension were indeed welcome. In fact, there were some moments when I mentally and physically braced myself for impact with a rogue pothole only to feel a very slight bump through the dampers.

Slaloming between the potholes was also not much of a challenge thanks to the direct and responsive steering system.

Summary

At first glance, there isn’t much change to be noticed in the facelifted IS 350 F Sport. It still features that engaging yet easy-to-drive character, but when you dig deep enough, you’ll start to notice where the minor updates make a difference.

The suspension and steering is somewhat more communicative and provides the driver with a little more confidence and comfort on winding roads. While it may lack in the excitement department, it still offers a refreshingly pure, engaging driving experience.

Buying this over one of the German alternatives would be a difficult decision to make, as the Lexus is not nearly as powerful and in certain aspects is even somewhat bland by comparison. But if thrills are not what you’re after, the IS sedan offers a pleasingly lengthy standard specification list and is undoubtedly more exclusive on South African roads.

Fast facts

Model: IS 350 F Sport
Price: R728 800
Engine: 3,5-litre, V6, naturally-aspirated
Power: 233 kW @ 6 400 r/min
Torque: 378 N.m @ 4 800 r/min
0-100 km/h: 5,9 seconds
Top Speed: 225 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 9,7 L/100 km
CO2: 225 g/km
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: 4 years/100 000 km service plan