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2017 Lexus IS Road Test and Review

Scott Oldham
by Scott Oldham
April 16, 2017
5 min. Reading Time
2018 Lexus IS Front Quarter Passenger ・  Photo by Lexus

2018 Lexus IS Front Quarter Passenger ・ Photo by Lexus

For almost 20 years, the Lexus IS has been the luxury brands smallest, sportiest and least expensive sedan. First introduced in 2000, it was the Japanese brand’s first sports sedan and it immediately found a following with younger enthusiasts attracted to its athletic rear-wheel drive chassis, its high-quality construction and the cache of its Lexus badge.

Now in its third-generation, the 2017 Lexus IS has matured over the years, but it remains popular thanks to a unique combination of style, luxury, performance and technology -- as well as its now fabled fun to drive personality. 

Built in Japan, the IS sedan is a consistent favorite in the extremely competitive small luxury sedan segment, where it successfully competes against the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS, Jaguar XE and the new Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Let's take a closer look at the 2017 Lexus IS.

Models and Pricing

Three trim-levels are available on the Lexus IS, the IS Turbo, IS 300 and the IS 350 and each gets its own distinct powertrain.

Although officially called the IS Turbo, the badge on its decklid says IS 200t. It’s powered by a 241-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with rear-wheel drive. The IS 300 is all-wheel drive. It’s powered by a 255-hp 3.5-liter V6. At the top of the food chain is the IS 350, which gets a 306-hp version of the V6. It’s available with rear- or all-wheel drive. Every model uses an 8-speed automatic transmission. No manual transmission is available, and there are no hybrid or diesel models.

Prices start at $38,820, including $995 for destination and handling, for the IS Turbo and top out at $44,530 for the top-of-the-line IS 350 with all-wheel drive, which adds $2,165 to the MSRP. The popular rear-wheel drive Turbo model comes very nicely equipped. Standard features include Bluetooth, a large 7-inch screen, navigation, a dual-zone automatic climate-control system, a moonroof and a 10-speaker audio system.

The IS also comes with complimentary first and second scheduled maintenance services at 6 months/5,000 miles and 12 months/10,000 miles. BMW, however, pays for servicing for the first 3 years/36,000 miles and Jaguar picks up the bill for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Our IS Turbo test vehicle was equipped with two option packages that added a larger 10.3-inch navigation screen, heated and cooled front seats and a backup camera, which drove its sticker price up to $42,690 including destination.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

What is F Sport?

Think of "F" as Lexus’ in house tuner or hot rod shop, like BMW’s M division, known for cars like the M3 and M5, or AMG at Mercedes-Benz. F is not as well-known as those German efforts, but the engineers that develop Lexus’ high-performance models have created some noteworthy machines including the RC F coupe and GS F sedan, which are available now, and the 553 hp LFA supercar which was produced from 2010-2012. There was also a V8-powered IS F model sold from 2008-2014.

Since 2007 those engineers have been applying some performance technology to Lexus’ other models, including its SUVs and hybrid models. Called F Sport, these option packages aren’t as extreme as a full blown F model, but increase the performance and sport image of the vehicle.

Drivers want the F Sport, which adds a sport-tuned suspension, aggressively bolster seats, F Sport badging, LFA-inspired gauges and a sinister grille mesh. It’s available on all three IS models for around $3,250.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

Curb Appeal

Remember when Lexuses were boring?

Yeah, well that’s ancient history. For the past decade, Lexus’ designers haven’t been afraid to take chances and they’ve earned a reputation for radical designs that push the envelope -- and people’s buttons. Recently they’ve turned it up with the polarizing designs of its NX and RX SUVs and the brand’s new beautiful LC coupe.

The exterior design of the 2017 IS is not one of their most radical, but one thing’s for sure, it isn’t boring. Not with that gaping Darth Vader grille, broad shoulders and flared fenders. Although its shape debuted back in 2013, it still looks fresh. Its rear view is my favorite. I’m a sucker for its pointed taillights that instill width and motion, its oversized dual exhaust pipes and that beautifully integrated rear spoiler.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

Interior Hits and Misses

Consistent updates have also kept the interior of the IS feeling fresh and modern. Open the door and you’re met with beautiful materials, dynamic design and high build quality. Everything feels expensive and the analog clock in the center of the dash is an appreciated touch of class. If you can, step up to the large 10.3-inch screen like the one in our test vehicle. You’ll appreciate its larger size over time, and it’ll keep the interior from feeling dated down the road.

Outward visibility is good, and the outside mirrors are nicely oversized. The heated and cooled front seats in our test vehicle were extremely comfortable. The driver’s seat is also height adjustable for shorter drivers. In combination with the tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel it’s easy to find the perfect driving position.

Misses include a foot-operated parking brake, which feels old fashioned, especially at this price point and Lexus’ computer mouse-like Remote Touch infotainment interface is still frustrating to use, although it’s better than it used to be. Unfortunately it’s part of the Navigation Package and comes with the desirable larger screen.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

Cupholders and Cargo

Storage inside the Lexus’ interior is sufficient and well thought out. The center console bin is large  and felt-lined, and the sizable door pockets have slots for water bottles.

The two front-seat cupholders, are not huge, but they’re well placed so tall drinks don’t interfere with any of the switchgear, and they accommodate cups with handles. The two rear-seat cupholders are part of a center pull-down armrest.

Trunk space isn’t exactly commodious. The 2017 Lexus IS offers just 10.8 cubic feet of trunk space, which is below average for its class. If more is needed, every IS comes standard with a 60/40 split fold down rear seats, which are easily folded flat for your larger items.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

Family Friendly

Younger families will appreciate the Lexus’s easy to reach LATCH connectors in the outboard rear seats, and three easily accessed upper tether anchors. And the IS earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and an overall rating of 5-stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The 2017 Lexus IS seats five comfortably. Although some of its competitors, like the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4, offer more rear seat legroom, the Lexus has plenty. Rear passengers can spread out and enjoy the rear air conditioning vents and adjustable headrests.

Unfortunately there’s no onboard WiFi, which is standard on the Audi.

Overall, fuel economy is below average for this class. The IS Turbo is the fuel sipper of the range, rated 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I averaged 26 mpg during a week of mixed driving. The V6-powered, all-wheel drive IS 300 is rated 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. The more powerful IS 350 is rated 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with rear-wheel drive and 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

How it Drives

Compliant, comfortable and quiet, the 2017 Lexus IS is a Lexus first and a sports sedan second. It feels sporty and satisfying around town in low-speed, low-demand maneuvers. With its 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires, its handling is more than enough for most buyers, and its turbocharged 2.0-liter packs enough punch if you’re generous with the throttle.

However, this is not a serious sports sedan. Drive the IS hard, and it just doesn’t respond with the driver involvement or the road holding some may expect. When speeds increase, its steering is slow and lacks the communicative feedback enthusiast driver’s desire. Its large four-wheel disc brakes also lack feel.

In Sport mode, the throttle response increases and the transmission provides more aggressive shifting and gear holding. It helps, but most of the other cars in this class are more engaging to drive and offer more grip. If you consider yourself a serious driver, shop the BMW 3 -eries, the Audi A4 and the Jaguar XE.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

Advanced Safety Systems

Every IS comes standard with valuable active safety systems including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keep assist. The standard Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection warns if vehicles and pedestrians are in your path. Should it determine an imminent frontal collision, it will automatically begin braking and can even bring the vehicle to a stop.

Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, which warns you if a vehicle approaches from either side when you’re backing out of a parking space, and Blind Spot Monitor are both optional.

With the Lexus Enform Remote mobile app, which is complimentary for the first year, you can use your phone to remotely start the engine, lock and unlock doors, check your fuel level, and find your vehicle in a parking lot. You can also receive instant alerts if a preset speed or mile limit is exceeded, a feature surely appreciated by parents of teenagers.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus

Final Thoughts

The 2017 Lexus IS performs well, is comfortable and fun to drive. It’s also beautifully appointed and Lexus’ reputation for reliability remains the envy of the industry. It may not perform as well as some of its European competition, but the IS makes up for that with a long list of standard safety technology and the highest of crash test ratings. It’s a unique combination of luxury, performance and style that has made the Lexus IS popular for the last two decades.

If you’re looking for a sporty small-luxury sedan, the Lexus IS is a desirable overall choice.

 Photo by Lexus

Photo by Lexus


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