Review: 2015 Lexus IS 350 F SPORT AWD
Can a vehicle that looks like it’s going 100 mph when it’s standing still be the perfect fit for families? We drove the 2015 Lexus IS350 F SPORT AWD to find out if their sedan was up for the challenge of family life.
The Lexus IS350 features a 3.5-liter V-6 which produces a healthy 306 horsepower and a 277 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an 8-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission which is more than happy to run up through its gears for you or you can do it yourself with wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
All IS models feature Drive Mode Select allowing the driver to tailor the comfort and performance of their ride by selecting from ECO, Normal, and Sport modes. F SPORT adds a SPORT S and SPORT S+ modes which work with the Adaptive Variable Suspension to really tune up the sportiness.
Lexus stretched the wheelbase of the 2015 IS and widened its stance just about an half of an inch in order to give the car a more muscular look. It worked. Our tester looked muscular but not beefy. And fast, really fast- even while sitting in a parking space.
The front of the F SPORT features what Lexus refers to as their spindle grille which is a dark gray insert that has an almost organic shape to it. The front end with the grill somehow manages to communicate aggressive power and sophisticated luxury at the same time.
The IS is truly a head turner. Many of the cars we drive elicit second looks, and really long first looks. The IS may be the first tester we’ve had where we caught people not just looking at the car, but looking to see who got out of it. We hope they weren’t too disappointed.
The interior leaves no question that you were in a luxury sport vehicle. Supple leather seating seems to have a placement perfect for any position with 12-way power adjustable seating for the driver and front passenger. Rear seat passengers have adequate legroom for a sports vehicle. The front seats surround with bolsters firm enough to hold you in place while testing the Sport S+ and AWD fun while providing enough soft comfort for a 6 hour road trip to feel like no big deal.
Premium materials surround occupants with fit and finish befitting the brand. An odd bump out on the driver’s side if the transmission tunnel, once noticed should have been a nuisance; however, our shorter driver didn’t notice it, and our taller driver found it a perfect mid-calf leg rest in cruise mode.
A luxury car should be loaded with features and amenities and require little input from the occupants to take advantage of them. A sports car should always have power at the ready and keep you ever aware if its performance capabilities. We did curves. We did straights. We roadtripped. We sat in traffic. Comfort was never a question and we never wanted for power.
Lexus went to their established models to refine the IS. Electronic power steering was derived from the GS, perfectly balanced communicating road conditions and driver input. The driver-centric interior inspired by the LFA supercar gave the IS350 F SPORT a cockpit feel that took full advantage of the car’s performance capabilities.
Performance levels were easily tailored via the Drive Select Modes. Most of our driving was done in ECO and Normal modes–there was negligible difference in the way the modes felt. SPORT S and SPORT S+ were a different story. As soon as we chose one of these modes the suspension flattened and the IS literally hunkered down. Acceleration was noticeably quicker as the transmission got in on the act and wrung every bit of torque out of each gear.
The 8-speed transmission boasts an Advanced G-Force Artificial Intelligence system that intuitively selects gears for an optimal driving experience. The transmission was noticeably good under most circumstances. Driving downhill with cruise control set presented the only downside we found to driving the IS. As the car attempted to slow itself the transmission seemed to be guessing which gear to move to. It guessed wrong. A lot. Cruise control downhills were jerky and bothersome.
Apart from the niggling issues with the cruise/transmission miscommunications, the IS350 F SPORT was a beautiful experience–sporty and luxurious in an eye-catching package.
Like all Toyota and Lexus models we’ve driven in the past few years, the switches and knobs were all intuitive to use. Whether it was setting cruise control or finding out our mpg’s, it was quick and easy.
Our only major quip was with saving favorites to the satellite radio menu. Despite two of us reading the book and a week’s work of fiddling, we never truly figured it out, instead relying on a handful of stations that were within one or two up or down bumps of the switch from each other. If we would have owned the car, we would have been headed back to the dealership for an instructional course.
As difficult as that was to figure out, however, we had the opposite experience with the navigation, maintenance, and other app screens within the Lexus Enform App Suite. Lexus does app technology in ways other auto manufacturers should take note of.
Traffic tracking and weather service came in handy during our road trip and (thank goodness) can be changed and operated by the passenger while the car is in motion. The information was fast, accurate, and easy to zoom in and out at a faster speed than most other vehicle systems we’ve used.
The 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System handled everything from rap to classical music with ease and no fuzziness. The surround sound truly surrounded the entire cabin.
Our favorite part of the technology screens was the movable speedometer. When switching between modes and settings, the speedometer moves with the push of a button to reveal an information screen with more detailed information than the classic display otherwise gives. Besides looking cool, the movement is extremely functional, especially during night driving when minimal dashboard light is optimal for concentration on the road.
To keep everyone comfortable while driving, the high efficiency dual zone climate control system uses touch sensitive electrostatic temperature switches which are not overly sensitive to the touch and go a long way to making a clean looking center stack even sleeker. We also noticed that the zoning on the heat/air conditioning was truly zoned with very little overlay from driver to passenger.
Important Numbers for Families:
- 5 – Lexus says 5 people fit in the back of this sporty sedan and we agree. While five larger adults may be a squeeze in the back, three teens had no problem fitting in the back of our tester.
- 5.7 – If you feel the need, the need for speed, you’ll be happy with the IS 350 F SPORT AWD’s 0-60 mph speed of 5.7 seconds.
- 13.8 – The IS 350 F SPORT AWD has 13.8 cu ft of trunk space, more than the 2015 Honda Civic, slightly less than the Accord, and a foot more than the BMW 6 Series.
- 15 – The F SPORT we drove was equipped with the Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound system which feautures 15-speakers and an advanced discrete amplifier design with 835-watts continuous power at less than 0.1% THD, along with 7.1-channel speaker architecture with Clari-Fi technology.
- 28 – The sedan has a 28 mpg highway rating though we got slightly more (32 mpg) on extended stretches of highway with cruise control on. In the city, we averaged 22 mpg in stop and go traffic and while running errands.
Family 5 Test:
- Car Seats – Two booster seats and car seats fit comfortably in the IS350 F SPORT. With two other children in the back using booster seats, there is plenty of room for an additional passenger in the middle.
- Coffee Cups – Though not the most forgiving for large drinks, we found the deep cup holders to be the perfect size for any coffee cup, soda bottle, or water bottle. The cups don’t tilt enough to spill even when you’re trying out the dynamics of the vehicle’s SPORT mode.
- Luggage – There’s plenty of space in the trunk for a full sized suitcase and a standard sized carry on plus additional bags. We had no trouble packing the car for a long weekend getaway for four people and still having room for all our souvenirs.
- Golf Clubs – Two pairs of clubs fit in the back with no problem. If need be, there’s plenty of room to put them on the second row seat or flooring too- even with the driver and passenger seats pushed all the way back.
- Groceries – The trunk space swallowed up our typical grocery run with no problems. There was even enough room for a giant pack of toilet paper and paper towels without having to use the second row of seats as back-up storage.
The Bottom Line:
The IS350 F SPORT strikes the perfect balance between sport and luxury alongside fun and family practicality. It is a roomy 4-door sedan with a driver-centered, supercar inspired cockpit. It is both a sexy sports car and a sensible daily driver that actually has a decent size trunk. We often return testers and attach to them a satisfactory grade. We sent the IS350 back with a hardy exceeds expectations.