I recently spent a week with the all-new Lexus IS350. Those of you who follow the car industry know this vehicle well: it's Lexus's entry-level sport sedan, featuring a 306-horsepower V6, loads of modern technology, excellent handling, and a large front grille that sometimes eats puppies.
Ha ha! I'm just kidding, of course. The IS350 grille tends to leave puppies alone, because they're too cute to be eaten. Instead, it focuses on rodents, insects, and the occasional youth soccer team. But I'm not here to talk about the grille. I'm here to review the car. This will surprise most of you, since Jalopnik usually employs actual, legitimate writers to do this sort of thing, and they have a fine-tuned rating system that assesses each car with actual, legitimate numbers.
But it was me driving this car, not them, and I have my own rating process, which I will now use to sum up my feelings on the car: it's pretty good. And now I will explain myself until I reach a high enough word count that I can take a nap.
Personally, I found the exterior styling to be pretty good. But friends and acquaintances who saw the car had a wide variety of other opinions, ranging from "The new IS is gorgeous!" to "Lexus let YOU drive this car?"
Yes, it's true: most people found the IS350 to be handsome, bold, aggressive, and various other automotive journalist buzzwords, all of which mean "way better than the old model, which of course is now hopelessly outdated, and we hope you didn't actually spend money on it." This is kind of interesting, largely because I seem to remember everyone fawning all over the last IS back when it came out in 2006. But this is the auto industry, and you have to stay new and fresh if you want to be popular, unless of course you're Mitsubishi, in which case even that will have no effect.
Of course, it's impossible to discuss the IS350's exterior styling without talking about the grille. So here we go: it's pretty good.
The IS's interior inspired a lot of interesting comments from those who I allowed to step inside. For example: some people marveled at the large number of jagged edges and right angles on the dashboard. I personally liked this feature, because I felt it made the whole thing look like it had been formed through years of intense erosion, sort of like the Grand Canyon, or Alan Greenspan.
Possibly more interesting is the car's center stack. Gone is the wide array of huge buttons labeled in a font so large it could be read by a record 63 percent of all Lexus customers. Instead, they've switched to a center-mounted infotainment system, smaller buttons, and capacitive touch climate controls, all of which work together to help Lexus lower its average buyer age by deliberately confusing the elderly.
No! I'm just kidding! In reality, I'm going to use a highly technical automotive term to sum up the interior, so try to follow along: it's pretty good. The seats are supportive, the thick steering wheel is a nice treat, I like the gauges, and everything is easy to read. I even enjoy how intuitive the infotainment system is, though Lexus still insists on forcing people to control it using a circular knob rather than their own human hands.
There's also another interior benefit even most IS drivers probably don't even know about: you can easily twist the cap off the automatic transmission lever. While it's a tough choice, I suppose I would consider this the most pretty good part about the entire cabin.
But you didn't come here to read some Internet loser's thoughts on the styling and interior. You came here to read some Internet loser's thoughts on the driving experience. So here they are.
First off, it's important to note that I had the all-wheel drive version, rather than the standard rear-drive IS350. Sometimes this makes a car less enjoyable, but in the Lexus's case it was actually a huge benefit, since it didn't get stuck in any of the peat bogs I drove through.
On the road, it didn't really matter if the car was all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, since it was mostly just a lot of fun. Handling is excellent, and steering feel is surprisingly sharp – to the point where it's hard to believe that this thing and my dad's 2005 RX330 are made by the same company. Seriously: step out of this and into that, and it's like you've gone from a Formula 1 race car to swimming pool floatation device.
The IS350 also has a ton of power for nearly every situation. In fact, the latest IS350 feels much faster than the old one, even though they share the same engine. Although there are probably many excellent technical reasons for this, they're likely buried somewhere in the press kit. I try to avoid reading those, largely because they include paragraphs like:
"The all-new, fully re-imagined Lexus IS350 features an emotional soul that invigorates the mind. At peace with the earth, the IS350 uses a fluid design that combines beauty and passion for a truly inspired style that puts drivers in control of their destiny. Is anyone reading this? We have no idea what we're talking about. But we do know that the Lexus IS350 is a tremendous combination of free-flowing form and spectacular wonderfulness."
But anyway, none of this really matters. That's because what you're really wondering is: Is this better than the BMW?
The BMW I am referring to here is, of course, the 3 Series, which remains the gold standard in high-performance sport sedans for people who live in condos. And the answer is: it depends what's important you. You see, the 335i still drives better at the limit, it's built better, and it's a little faster. But the Lexus isn't exactly awful at any of these things. The IS350 is also cheaper, it's got more stuff, and it will last for several years beyond the warranty period, as opposed to BMW's current average, which is hovering around 11 hours.
Would I Buy This Car?
Yes! Although I personally would skip the bland, regular, champagne-colored IS350 that I drove and head right to the F-Sport version, which has cool wheels and a gauge cluster that slides around like a figure skater. That one is the pretty goodest.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.