There are some cars I get to test drive that are beautiful. They sit in my driveway, ready for the first drive, and you can almost hear the purr of the engine as it sits, poised, ready to leap at the slightest touch of the gas pedal. That’s definitely how I felt when I looked at the Atomic Silver 2017 Lexus IS350 when Lexus dropped it off for my week’s driving experience.
Until I tried to get into the car, and then I realized that it was yet another vehicle designed for someone way shorter than me. I don’t feel like I’m exceptionally tall at 6-foot 3-inches, but there are definitely some cars where getting into the vehicle is an exercise in flexibility that I don’t always prove adept at now that I’m no longer in my 20s.
But let’s start with the exterior, because this truly is a gorgeous car:
There are lots of nuanced features on the exterior of the car that I really liked, particularly the various lighting elements. Look just below the front headlights, for example, and those “Nike swoosh” lines are actually illuminated, as is a similar slash of light on the side view mirrors. The net effect at night is definitely a predator rushing towards you which is quite cool.
Surprisingly, though, the headlights actually extend out beyond the aerodynamic line of the car. Look closely at the right headlight above and you’ll see what I mean. Interesting from a design perspective, but makes me a bit curious whether it’s more likely to be damaged and require an expensive replacement down the road (particularly here in Colorado where we have lots of rocks kicked up on the roads. We even have an expression about a cracked windshield being a “Colorado windshield” for just the same reason).
The back exterior of the car shows a similar overall attention to detail with design too:
Here you can really see what an attractive, sleek four-door sedan the is350 is, even as it secretly desires to be a performance sports car. In fact, the model configuration I drove is the F-Sport version, as badging on the rear of the vehicle attested. (Actually, the F-Sport package includes a different front grille design, wheel and tire upgrades, different instrument cluster, better seats, aluminum pedals and an adaptive variable suspension, among other things. Cost for the package: $2715)
Perhaps it’s my fantasy of being a racecar driver, but the aluminum pedals are darn cool:
However, the above photo also shows one of the annoyances of the IS350: the bulge on the right of the gas pedal that extends into the driver’s legroom area. I found that rather than have space for my legs as I drove, I was constantly aware of the bulge getting in the way. My guess is that there’s something transverse mounted in the drive train, but without a hoist I couldn’t get under the vehicle to find out.
Raise our sights a bit and you can see, the front driver’s section is very much inspired by a racecar cockpit:
The radial dial on the lower right lets you switch between regular, sports and sports plus shifting and the navigational system has an atypically wide screen that works even when you have two or even three columns of data shown. The overall compartment is still narrow and there’s no room to spread your legs much on a longer drive. Again, a car designed for a shorter, narrower person, perhaps?
One thing that was frustrating was the lack of storage space in the vehicle. The left arm rest lifts open but the revealed storage space is shallow and barely wide enough for a deck of cards and there’s nowhere for a pair of sunglasses, as you can see in this pic:
This might bother you, or you might be happy to figure out the storage question as you fly down quiet country lanes in full sport plus mode. And yes, the drive experience is really good, though in regular mode there was a slight hesitation from a stop as the car shifts into gear. Don’t like that? Stay in sport mode and you’re always ready to jump ahead, at the cost of a little bit of fuel efficiency.
One cool thing is that the dash gauges are a hybrid mix of display screen and physical elements. In the below, the silver ring around the tachometer is a physical object, but everything else is a digital display, including the “needle”:
The white ring? That changes to black if you’re in eco / normal mode and if you want to view notes and messages from the onboard computer, the entire gauge shifts to the right and the left engine heat display transforms. A really neat, very Transformers mechanism that you’ll likely be showing off to your friends if this is your vehicle.
Notice in the above gauge the fuel efficiency of the car too. I don’t have a particularly heavy foot, so 19.5 mpg seems like a pretty typical fuel efficiency for a combination of city and highway driving. The Monroney suggest an EPA rated 19/26, but as you can see, that might well be a bit higher than you’re going to see in your day-to-day driving.
Rear leg room? Maybe if you have a short driver:
And while we’re looking at the interior layout and design, you can sort of see in the above photo but much more clearly see that the placement of the door post between front and back is the problem with entering and exiting the Lexus if you’re not short and nimble:
It’s the only thing I didn’t like about this otherwise beautiful, fun car, actually, and I evolved a way of getting in where I basically ducked into the car, head first. After a few tries, it was a pretty easy maneuver, but it’s worth thinking about if you’re taller like I am: do you really want to figure out how to get into your car easily because of its design features and characteristics? Maybe. It’s definitely a car that says “I’m successful” if that’s something you seek in a vehicle, a status symbol that will definitely turn heads, but in a mature, sophisticated way, not the crass shouting of a muscle car.
Would I purchase a Lexus IS350? No, I wouldn’t. For my lifestyle, for the fact that my children have friends who also need rides, because of the cargo and carrying capacity I’ve become used to having with an SUV and, yes, because I don’t want to maneuver into my vehicle, this isn’t the car for me. But for you? Get a test drive, see what your experience is like before you conclude you’ll face the same obstacles I did.
AS DRIVEN: 2017 Lexus 9516A IS350 AWD SEDAN in Atomic Silver with 3.5 Liter V6 DOHC engine, 306hp, 277 lb-ft torque, 6-speed automatic transmission and full time all-wheel drive. Options: blind spot monitor, F-Sport package, Navigation System w/ Mark Levinson Audio, perforated leather heated steering wheel, illuminated door sills, all weather floor mats, cargo net, trunk mat. Base MSRP: $43,535. As Driven: $51,515.00.
Disclaimer: Lexus loaned me the IS350 for a week in return for this review.