Most entry-level luxury sedans are a compromise between luxury comforts and performance attributes. The horsepower might be there, but the handling might be on the softer side to accommodate as many different tastes as possible. Lexus, however, provides a clever alternative to this compromise -- the company offers two entry-level sedan models, with the IS line specialized for performance.
2008 Lexus IS 350 4dr Sedan
The Lexus IS 350 (and its lesser-powered sibling, the IS 250) considerably improves on the first-generation IS sport sedan in terms of style and performance. With its potent V6 engine, sharp reflexes, aggressive exterior styling and the latest techno-gadgets, this sedan has no major weaknesses. It's one of our top choices for a luxury sport sedan, though test drives of the most popular vehicles in this segment are wise, as each model provides varying degrees of driver interaction. You'll want to find the one that suits you best.
Current Lexus IS 350
The rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 350 is available in one body style, a four-door sedan, and with only one engine, a robust 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It pushes the car from zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, which, by the way, is firmly in sports car territory. The IS 350 comes standard with a six-speed automatic transmission. There is no manual option.
Picking out an IS 350 is pretty simple; there's only one trim level. It's very well equipped and includes 17-inch wheels, leather seats, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, a moonroof and an impressive audio system with a six-CD changer. There's an auxiliary jack for MP3 players, and a Mark Levinson 14-speaker 300-watt 7.1 surround-sound audio system is available individually or as part of an option package that also includes a voice-activated navigation system.
Two other option packages worth considering are the Luxury package, which adds heated seats and HID headlights, and the Sport package, which comes with 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and sporty interior details, such as aluminum pedals.
Even without options, the Lexus IS 350 comes with a well-crafted interior. It is attractive and features high-quality materials. The front and rear seats are built more for comfort than support, which sheds some light on the difference between the IS 350 and its more performance-centric German counterparts. Like most small luxury sedans, rear seating isn't very spacious, and the Lexus has less rear legroom than many of its competitors.
In reviews and road tests, our editors found the Lexus IS 350 to be a dynamic sport sedan. As impressive as its quickness is the engine's broad and eager power spread. Handling is sharp, but it's still a Lexus, so the drive is perhaps not quite as thrilling as one might get from a BMW or Infiniti. A precise but numb steering rack and a muted exhaust note further this impression. Still, this attribute could be good news for buyers looking for a sport-oriented luxury sedan that's perfectly suitable for daily commutes.
Past Lexus IS 350 models
The Lexus IS 350, which debuted for the 2006 model year, is still in its first generation. Previously, Lexus offered the IS 300. Available as a four-door sedan or wagon, the IS 300 was known for its outstanding driving dynamics but rather drab cabin. It also wasn't as luxurious, roomy or powerful as the current IS 350, but as an affordable used luxury sport sedan, it's worth a look. It was sold from 2001-'05.