With its totally redesigned third-generation IS sedan, Lexus has thrown down the gauntlet: build the most fun-to-drive sport sedan in the world. Question is, does the newest gladiator in the auto arena pull off a victory? Absolutely, unquestionably, assuredly, undoubtedly… but don’t just take our word for it.
A sporty car demands sporty looks and the all-new IS 350’s tightly proportioned design fulfils this brief to a tee. At 4665mm overall, the new IS is 80mm longer and 10mm wider than its predecessor. The front overhang has increased by just 10mm, and significantly, the wheelbase has been extended by 70mm to 2800mm.
The front of the new IS represents a further evolution of the spindle grille from the GS and LS models. The design has been made more three-dimensional, and its shape accentuated by a chrome plated frame and the muscular projection of horizontal bars (E and EX models) which follow the curvature of the vehicle front.
Beneath a new, Lexus-first, pop-up bonnet design which allows for the lowest possible vehicle front profile while optimising pedestrian impact protection, the grille is flanked by headlamp clusters clearly positioned on a higher plane than the grille itself. Another Lexus first, the headlamp is underscored by Lexus trademark L-shaped LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) located independently below the cluster, giving the new IS a unique, highly distinctive visual signature.
The deep front bumper design anchors muscular front wings and flared wheel arches. Integral foglamps are housed within secondary, highly sculpted side air intakes which control the flow of air out through the wheel arches to enhance aerodynamic performance.
In profile, the strong horizontal beltline creates the impression of larger rear tyres and a lowered center of gravity. The mass of the cabin itself appears to be concentrated rearwards, visually applying weight to the rear tyres to enhance the perception of traction – thereby subliminally reinforcing the IS 350’s rear-wheel drive status.
Incorporating an aero-stabilising fin (also known as Sakana fins) designed to smooth airflow and promote enhanced handling stability, the rear lamp clusters feature the trademark L-shape motif which instantly identifies the IS as the latest vehicle to join the Lexus model range.
The clean, elegant, coupe-like lines of the new IS are further enhanced by three additional Lexus firsts; a unique rear wheel arch design treatment which gives the tyre greater prominence by allowing it to be placed further outboard and closer to the wheel arch; a laser-brazed roof structure which joins the roof and flanks without the need for an unsightly roof drip moulding; ditto the antenna which is incorporated into the rear screen.
The new IS is equipped with a choice of two aluminium wheel designs, one 17” and one 18” exclusive to the F SPORT variant.
The F SPORT package benefits from exclusive, more sporting and aggressive exterior and interior design features as well as dynamic enhancements.
Instantly recognised by an exclusive grille and front bumper design, the “waistline” of the grille is higher than on standard models, increasing the area of the lower grille to make it capable of drawing in a larger volume of cooling air appropriate to a sporting performance.
The grille itself has a unique, L-shaped mesh or honeycomb finish and the lower section is trimmed with a more prominent chrome-plated frame than that of the standard IS.
The bottom corners of the front bumper feature F SPORT-exclusive aerodynamic detailing to provide both downforce and enhanced brake cooling. Unique 18” wheels feature a Y-spoke design and a dark premium metallic coated finish which indentifies them with the LFA bloodline.
The clean, horizontal theme of the new IS interior design is bisected by the strong upward sweep of the center console, creating a snug, driver-focused, ergonomical interior environment.
The newly designed, quilted driver’s seat offers greater comfort and better lateral support. The seat hip point has been lowered by 9mm and rearward seat adjustment has been increased by 19mm. The new, LFA-inspired, 3-spoke, 370mm diameter steering wheel features a new paddle shift switch shape for easier, more accurate operation, and improved ergonomics to the wheel-mounted switchgear.
With 50mm of its 70mm longer wheelbase dedicated to increased rear seat space and 20mm dedicated to increased luggage capacity, the new, 10mm wider IS offers rear seat occupants significantly increased levels of comfort. The combination of extended wheelbase and a thinner front seat design generates an 85mm increase in knee room for the new, 60:40 split/folding seats.
Human-oriented interior design is one of the fundamental tenets of the Lexus L-finesse design philosophy, and the new IS dashboard is divided into two distinct zones, a display zone and an operation zone, offering drivers more comfortable, ergonomically optimised interaction with the vehicle’s HMI systems.
An upper display zone locates the 7” multi-display screen at an ideal distance for at-a-glance viewing, while a lower operational zone allows access to system controls such as the second generation of Lexus’ award winning Remote Touch Interface (RTI).
The new IS follows the GS and LS in adopting a Drive Mode Select system, with meter (instrument) illumination and multi-information display design changing from blue to red in sports driving modes.
The center console incorporates another Lexus first, electrostatic switches to control the air conditioning temperature with the touch of a finger. The IS 350 with the standard package is equipped with a new Lexus Display Audio (LDA) system whilst EX and F SPORT grade models are equipped with Remote Touch-controlled Electro Multi Vision Navigation or EMVN multimedia systems (obviously incorporating standard SatNav), and the new steering wheel is the first on a Lexus to coordinate multimedia system control with both instrument nacelle and center console displays.
The major differentiator on the F SPORT model is the instrument cluster which incorporates an innovative driver’s meter with moving center ring from the LFA (can also be customised for personalised display information).
A Lexus first, an exclusive, highly supportive sports seat design uses an “integrated foaming” construction method, allowing injection moulding of large concave surfaces while ensuring that there are no gaps between the seat upholstery and the foam padding to combine excellent comfort with outstanding lateral holding performance.
Bespoke interior trim detailing includes an F SPORT steering wheel and shift knob finished in perforated leather, metal film 3D-effect ornamentation, black seat stitching, and aluminium pedals and scuff plates.
Carried over from its predecessor, the new IS 350’s advanced, 3456cc V6 petrol engine features D-4S direct and port injection, and Dual VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing-intelligent) to both intake and exhaust camshafts, significantly enhancing engine performance and reducing fuel consumption.
The unit develops 228kW at 6400rpm and 375Nm of torque at 4800rpm, accelerating the IS 350 from 0-100 km/h in 5.9 seconds and on to a maximum speed of 225km/h. Fuel consumption is pegged at 9.7 L/100km in the combined cycle.
8-Speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) Automatic Transmission
All new SA-spec IS models are now equipped with the 8-speed, Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic transmission from the acclaimed Lexus IS F.
In Sport mode, via new paddle shifters with improved ergonomics, this is the first Lexus model to adopt G-AI control; a system that automatically selects the optimum gear and downshift pattern in response to G force input (courtesy of yaw sensors), also maintaining the selected gear through a corner. The transmission also offers complete lock-up for quick-response shifting from 2nd through to 8th gear.
ACTIVE AND PASSIVE SAFETY
Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM)
The new IS model range features Lexus’ unique, state-of-the-art Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system to enhance performance, traction control and vehicle stability.
With comprehensive status data provided by sensors throughout the vehicle, VDIM integrates the IS’s Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Traction Control (TRC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) active safety systems with the Electronic Power Steering (EPS) or, in the case of the F SPORT, Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS).
By the application of integrated control of all the elements related to vehicle movement, including motor torque, brakes and steering, VDIM not only optimises the activation of braking, stability and traction control systems, but is also able to further improve the overall kinetic performance of the vehicle.
Moreover, whereas conventional active safety systems are only activated immediately after a limit of the vehicle’s dynamic envelope has been reached, VDIM activates control before that limit is realised. As a result, the limits of the vehicle’s dynamic threshold have been expanded, while offering smoother vehicle behaviour at this threshold through less obtrusive intervention and, hence, a more pleasurable drive.
When braking in a corner, for example, a loss of rear tyre grip may result in oversteer. Through the EBD function, the use of linear brake actuators makes it possible to begin control before the vehicle’s limit has been reached. The VDIM system apportions the appropriate braking force to each wheel, ensuring continued vehicle stability by pre-emptively restraining the spinning tendency, while contributing to superior braking performance.
Under even stronger braking in a corner, front wheel lock-up and loss of grip may result in understeer. By once again independently controlling the braking force to all four wheels via the EBD system, VDIM helps to prevent front wheel lock-up and regain vehicle balance, offering seamless control until the conventional ABS and VSC functions take over.
Moreover, via the EPS or VGRS actuator, VDIM will augment VSC operation by providing steering assistance to reduce torque steer under braking on surfaces of varying grip, as well as introducing steering torque assistance in both understeer and oversteer conditions, helping the driver to optimise the front wheel steering angle and maintain vehicle stability with minimum input.
Satisfying current pedestrian impact legislation would have required the raising of the new IS hood by some 40mm over the height of the current model. However, a newly developed Pop-Up Hood (PUH) design allows for the lowest possible vehicle front profile while optimising pedestrian impact protection.
A Lexus-first, the system uses a sensor in the front bumper to detect that a person has collided with the front of the vehicle. Actuators then immediately pop up the hood some 70mm, maximising the space between the hood and engine, and allowing the hood to deform in order to absorb the collision impact of the person’s head.
The high-precision sensors and control system ensure that the PUH will not deploy in the event of a collision with a bollard, lamp post or other obstacle.
The Lexus IS benefits from 10 SRS airbags; two-stage Supplementary Restraint System (SRS) front airbags, both driver and front passenger SRS knee airbags, front and rear SRS side airbags, as well as full length SRS side curtain airbags.
The advanced, Supplementary Restraint System controls variable-force SRS front airbags for both driver and front passenger. Sensors determine the severity on an impact and, hence, the force with which the SRS airbags are deployed.
PRICING AND SPECIFICATION
Hamman remarked that, “while it may seem vulgar to talk price when referring to such a sophisticated car, one cannot overlook the fact that the new Lexus IS now offers more car for your money than any of its rivals.”
The entry point to the new range is the IS 350 priced at R449 900. This model is generously specified, and includes the following main specifications:
The feature model of the new IS range is the EX, priced at R499 900. This model adds the following to the E model:
F SPORT is the premier model which is priced at R553 900. This version adds further sport cues to the interior and exterior design as well as extra technology including:
As with the rest of the Lexus range, all models in the IS range are covered by a four-year/100 000 km warranty. On the maintenance front, the E Model comes standard with the Lexus “Distance” plan, the EX model gets “Distance Plan Plus” and the F-Sport gets “Distance Plan Complete”.