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2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Test Drive Review

“One of the most significant moments in German automotive history was the unveiling of a Japanese sedan.” You can end that sentence with either a period or a question mark, because while it’s a statement, it’s also something that might make you scratch your head. It’s true, though.

For years, the big three German automakers had huge regions of the small luxury sport sedan market to themselves. Audi manufactured the 4000 and A4. Mercedes-Benz produced the 190 and C-Class. BMW had its 3 Series (and so did a lot of consumers).

That all changed in January of 1999. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Lexus debuted the IS. The Germans knew they were no longer alone. Drivers knew there was a handsome, straight-six-powered alternative to the established set of sporty four-doors once they started seeing the 2001 Lexus IS 300 on the road.

A wagon-like body style (aka SportCross) and various mechanical and cosmetic changes followed. In 2005, Lexus rolled out the second-generation IS, which featured the choice of two V-6s and available all-wheel drive. A facelift and optional F Sport package came several years later.

The third-generation IS hit showrooms in 2013 with bold styling and updated technology. The 2017 IS lineup includes the entry-level 200t, the mid-range 300 AWD, and the flagship 350 (available with rear- or all-wheel drive). Each model can be dressed up with the F Sport package that adds a sport-tuned suspension as well as exterior and interior upgrades.

Several weeks ago, Lexus dropped off a 2017 IS 350 F Sport for us to drive and evaluate for a week. It may not have had four rings, a three-pointed star, or an in-line six up front, but it still gave us plenty of reasons to like it.

2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Exterior

There’s no mistaking the IS for any other small sedan out there. Its signature Lexus grille is a dramatically rendered hourglass shape filled with a hypnotizing array of zigs and zags. It immediately draws your eyes to the front of the IS and its slash-like LED daytime running lights and LED headlights. The IS’s curvaceous hips lead to a rear end decorated with an F Sport valance and brightened by LED taillights and twin metallic exhaust surrounds.

As its name implies, our test vehicle was outfitted with the F Sport package. That added a special front bumper and version of the spindle grille, and 18-inch split-spoke wheels wrapped in summer tires which concealed an Adaptive Variable Suspension with active damping control.

2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Interior

The F Sport influence continued to the IS 350’s cockpit. Do the gauges look familiar? They should. Their design was inspired by the instrumentation in the Lexus LFA supercar. The sporty aluminum pedals were ready for right-foot action. Our favorite F Sport interior feature was the bolstered, heated, and cooled front sport seats. They fit this particular driver perfectly. In fact, the whole cabin did. Everything, such as the leather-trimmed shift knob and HVAC and audio controls, felt as if it was the perfect distance away. There was plenty of headroom, but the cockpit fit snugly around yours truly. Second-row legroom was surprisingly ample. The IS 350 was more than just a sport sedan in name alone. It felt like one.

Our IS review vehicle was also equipped with the optional navigation/Mark Levinson audio system package. That included a 10.25-inch display, a Remote Touch Interface controller, voice command functionality, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and an impressive stereo setup. The 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson 5.1-channel surround sound audio system was remarkably clear–no matter how high we had it cranked up.

2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Performance

In this day and age, when so many engines are turbocharged, the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 in the IS 350 is a throwback machine. No turbines, no supercharger, no intercooler, no turbo lag. The IS 350 is all motor. We loved its purity. Forced induction could’ve added power, but we certainly weren’t disappointed by the big V-6’s 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It gave us plenty of shove when we needed it. The eight-speed automatic handled that healthy output quickly and smoothly. According to the EPA, that combination of hardware is capable of getting the IS 350 down 19 city, 28 highway, and 22 combined miles per gallon of gas.**

A dial near the shifter allowed us to change the IS 350’s drive mode from Eco to Normal to Sport S to Sport S+. The latter two settings made the gearbox swap cogs more quickly and the throttle mapping more aggressive for spirited driving. Sport S+ went even further by tightening the suspension to reduce body lean. We enjoyed using that most focused mode to cut and thrust our way down the roads and highways of Austin, Texas as the V6 filled our ears with raspy vocal aggression. No matter which way we had the IS 350 set up, its ride quality had a sporty feel to it that never came across as overly stiff or harsh.

2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Safety

Our media loaner came standard with 10 airbags (front, front knee, front side, rear side, and side curtains for both rows) and the Lexus Safety System+. That last feature consisted of a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control that maintained our desired speed and following distance, automatic high beams that switched off when necessary to avoid blinding on-coming drivers, and Lane Departure Alert. Lexus was kind enough to add the available Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert to our IS 350 tester.

2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Overall

Prices for the 2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport start at $44,525.* Our rear-wheel-drive review vehicle had a sticker price of $49,530. Whether you want your 2017 IS 350 basic or loaded, the staff at an AutoNation Lexus dealership will be happy to make your purchase of the Japanese sedan a memorable and pleasant moment in your personal automotive history.

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on 2017 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

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