It's a well known fact that Lexus has established itself as the leading Japanese luxury brand in the market, largely due to its extremely successful IS series of vehicles. Yet for some reason, the IS doesn't garner as much attention as it's German competitors, the 3-series and CL-class. It most definitely should, but because of the Lexus' conservative image (past and present), the IS isn't exactly known for being a sporty sedan even though it's very capable of it.
Step inside a new IS350 or IS Convertible with the optional F-Sport accessories, take it for a drive and, like me, you'll be pleasantly surprised by its demeanor. The 3.5-liter V-6 churns out a healthy 306 hp and 277 ft-lbs of torque, good enough for a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds. The well-rounded V-6 is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission (the only option), which may seem like a letdown to some people. But it becomes an afterthought once you start driving the car, thanks to the F-Sport accessories that considerably liven up the IS.
Despite the modest horsepower gains from the F-Sport intake and high-flowing exhaust system, the real-world gains are that of looks and sound. Two beautifully welded and polished mufflers peek out from the rear bumper just enough to let others know there's something different about this IS, and the sound they produce is equally impressive-so much so that I couldn't imagine owning this car without the upgraded exhaust.
The other most notable upgrade is the brakes. Powerful six-piston calipers up front and four-piston rears finished in an unmistakable blue, with 14-inch two-piece front and 13-inch rear rotors look like they should be on a race car, not a Lexus cruising down city streets. However, the brake system is a welcome upgrade because it provides plenty of brake torque with minimal pedal effort and transforms the IS into a confidence-inspiring driving machine.
Add the F-Sport lowering springs, sway bars and 19-inch F-Sport wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sport tires into the mix and you have an IS ready to tackle the rigors of any winding road. And that's exactly where I spent a solid eight hours driving the Lexus IS C F-Sport.
Heading down the famous Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles highlighted all the performance aspects that are found in both the IS350 and IS Convertible. From being able to effortlessly pass RVs in short stretches of straight roads to keeping up with a Ferrari F355 in the twisties, the IS C seemed more like a sports coupe than a convertible.
When an unexpected rock slide threw grapefruit-sized boulders onto the road, the massive brakes proved their worth and more as the IS C was able to come to a quick and safe stop to avoid completely obliterating the front end.
Inside the car, my passenger and I were treated with all the amenities that one would expect from a Lexus. Leather seats that offer both heating and cooling, an exceptionally well thought out navigation system and a 300-watt, 14-speaker, 7.1 surround sound stereo system made the open-roof drive along PCH a memorable one.
When the time comes to step out of that tuned Civic or EVO and up into something more luxurious-eventually, that time will come-the Lexus IS lineup won't disappoint. Like me, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Specs & Details
'10 Lexus IS350 & IS convertible
Engine 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder, V-6 DOHC engine
Horsepower 306 hp at 6400 rpm
Torque 277 ft-lbs of torque at 4800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Price (MSRP) IS350 $37,295; IS350 Convertible $44,390