When we drove the redesigned Lexus IS 250 last year, we were impressed with the new look, but were left wanting a bit more power under the hood. The IS 350 F Sport, with more power, may be our answer. We drove the sedan, which carries hints of Lexus' future, as well as the convertible, which seems stuck in the past.
Appearance: It's a tale of two generations. The sedan's makeover is dominated by the distinctive hourglass-shaped grille, which gives the car a menacing look. The new sheet metal includes sculpted character lines that sweep up from the bottom of the car and blend into the rear body panels. These lines define the sweep of the body. Lyra is troubled by the taillights; she imagines the designer falling asleep with pencil in hand and his lines trailing off the drawing board. The F Sport package adds 18-inch five-spoke graphite alloy wheels and dual chrome exhaust. It's a sharp-looking sedan. The same can't be said for the convertible, which carries on the previous generation's no-drama design. The rear can look somewhat out of proportion because it has to accommodate the hardtop roof. Otherwise, the convertible has an attractive, coupelike profile when the top is raised. (Lyra thinks the trunk lid, which spans the width of the convertible, is extremely heavy. And there's no power lift gate.)
Performance: The sedan's power plant is a strong and competent 3.5-liter V-6, which puts out 306 horsepower — hardly muscle-car numbers but enough to make for spirited performance that even produces a subtle engine growl. This engine likes to be pushed and really comes to life at higher RPMs. Our RWD tester came with a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The steering is sport-tuned with the variable gear ratio steering that adapts to driving conditions. The F Sport package adds an adaptive variable suspension. Plus, the estimated fuel mileage of 19/28 is not bad for a sporty sedan. The convertible is powered by the same engine, but doesn't drive like it. One reason: It has the previous generation's 6-speed automatic, which lacks the sophistication of the sedan's newer transmission. Plus, there's the added weight of the convertible top.
Interior: The sedan's redesign also includes the quiet cabin's contemporary look, which has brushed-satin trim with scale designs and quality soft-touch surfaces. The sedan has Lexus' mouselike controller for the infotainment screen, which can grow on you. Still, it takes your eyes off the road. The convertible doesn't have the mouse and goes with the older and clunkier touchscreen interface. Peter likes the sedan's futuristic instrument-panel display, which is filtered down from Lexus' LFA supercar. The gauges expand, retract and slide sideways. Cool. The convertible has more traditional instrumentation. The F Sport package adds well-bolstered but comfortable sport seats, and the sedan's longer wheel base makes for a roomier cabin, even for rear-seat passengers. The sedan does have some frustrating details: Cup holders sit too far back on the center console, especially for short drivers like Lyra who have to pull the seat forward. We also find the touch controls for the climate annoying. We prefer dials or buttons. In the convertible, there is only one cup holder unless you slide the center armrest back to reveal a second. Again, not practical. But the sedan's voice commands are very good with conversational commands. Example: Say, "It's too hot in here," and the car will lower the temperature by 4 degrees. In contrast to the sedan, we felt the convertible's cabin wasn't as sophisticated in design or materials.
The bottom line: The IS 350 F Sport sedan offers Lexus luxury in a fun-to-drive package. The convertible offers, well, a convertible. We'll wait for the update.