The IS has been competing in the compact luxury sedan segment since 1999. It's currently in its third generation that debuted for 2014 but received a significant makeover for 2021. The IS comes as either a rear or all-wheel drive model in three variations known as the IS 300, IS 350, or IS 500. IS 300 models have two engine options; rear drive models get a turbocharged 2 Liter 4 cylinder that makes 241 horsepower mated to an 8-speed automatic. All Wheel Drive models get a 3.5L V6 that gets 260 horsepower and a 6-speed automatic. The IS 350 comes standard with a 3.5L V6 that makes 311 horsepower. The IS 500 comes with a naturally aspirated 5.0L V8 that delivers 472 horsepower, 395 lb.-ft. of torque and goes 0-60 in 4.4 seconds.
For 2024, the IS line broadens its available options with the addition of the IS 300 F SPORT and F SPORT Design grades. IS 350 will offer an available F SPORT Blackout Package. And, back by popular demand, the Special Appearance Package will return on the IS 500 F SPORT Performance Premium grade in head-turning Blue Vector. Lexus Safety System +2.5 comes standard with features such as forward collision warning, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and more.
This Lexus starts at $41,235 for an IS 300 RWD and can climb as high as $64,520 for the IS 500 F Sport Performance Premium model. The IS sits in a highly competitive class of vehicles that include the Acura Integra, Audi A3, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CT4, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes Benz C-Class, and Volvo S60. After spending a week in the IS 500 F Sport, here's what stands out...
V8 Power (+)
Lexus has given the enthusiasts a vehicle to get very excited about and I had the chance to take the new IS 500 around the track at Road America and on the highways of Chicagoland. The IS 500 dials up the performance factor with a naturally aspirated 5.0 LV8 that cranks out 472 horsepower and 395 lb.-ft. of torque hiding under the unique raised hood of a compact luxury sedan. To no surprise, this compact luxury sedan is fast and gets up there instantly.
The quad exhaust system's nice growl is appropriate, but not obnoxious. The quad set-up is also unique with tips off-set on an angle on either side of the rear bumper. In a world where we're seeing new silent electric vehicles, this one is pure fun. The car handled like a dream around the track with crisp steering and a balanced ride. On the highway it was equally engaging and planted to the pavement. Merging on/off was a breeze and it packed plenty of punch when passing at all speeds.
The IS 500 uses the same 8-speed automatic transmission with lockup torque converter found in the RC F. It also features drive mode select with Sport S and Sport S+ which further enhance the performance. The focus of this model is on performance, and it has exclusive 19" lighter weight split spoke Enkei alloy wheels wrapped in 265/35/R19 Bridgestone Potenza tires. Production is limited, but this is a great addition to the IS lineup that will be appreciated by anyone clamoring for a V8 and gutsy exhaust.
My extended time spent in the IS 500 F Sport proved it was also livable as a daily driver despite the power it packs. Acceleration was quick going from 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. The V8 pairs with an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission that channels power to the rear wheels of this performance sedan. It seamlessly shifted through the 8-speed automatic but also includes a manual mode via the gear shifter or steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. The manual mode allows the driver to push the RPMs higher to the redline and really get the car cruising.
The suspension is well-tuned to absorb road imperfections and provide a comfortable ride. Steering is well-weighted, responsive, and it's more than capable for zipping around tight corners without gliding off track. Lexus found a sweet spot with the IS that blends a sporty feeling drive with sophisticated comfort. The car exudes confidence in its ability to maneuver with a well-balanced mix of power, steering, and brakes.
Exterior Style (+)
All trims of the IS have an athletic, but sophisticated look to them which starts up front. The IS is wider with muscular fenders that extend to accommodate larger wheels and tires. The signature Lexus spindle grille features the Lexus badge at the center. F Sport models get a sportier design with an all-black grille. The headlights are sleek and accentuate the character lines from the grille, up the hood, and around the fenders. They feature a sharp L-shape LED lighting signature that pairs with available triple-beam LED headlights.
The side profile is sleek with a design that emphasizes the front hood. And in the IS 500, that hood is raised to accommodate the bigger engine. A low character line stems from the front wheel and kicks up to the rear to further emphasize the muscular fenders. Around back there is an inverted L-shaped blade-style lightbar that spans across the decklid. It ties the overall design together like a nice bow that has a very distinct illuminating light signature at night. The lower portion of the rear fascia is dressed in black giving it an aggressive look with room to accommodate the quad-exhaust on the IS 500. Lexus nailed the proportions with tight overhangs, appropriate roof height and a width that make this car very photogenic.
F Sport (+)
For 2024, the IS F SPORT lineup was restructured to now being offered on IS 300 models. The F Sport brand dates to 2007 when Lexus first launched performance parts for the IS at SEMA. It has since signified sporty, performance-oriented versions of Lexus vehicles. All F Sport models feature a host of visual and performance cues that immediately set it apart, including a unique front bumper with functional aerodynamic enhancements, rear bumper, grille surround, rear lip spoiler, rocker molding and more. Furthermore, F Sport models have unique F Sport 19-inch wheels as well as badges that adorn the sides of the vehicles.
All IS 500 models will come standard with black outside mirrors with dark chrome trim. A Special Appearance Package will return for buyers who want to take their IS 500 F Sport Performance Premium to the next level. This package comes standard with Blue Vector exterior paint with accompanying 19-inch Matte Black BBS forged alloy wheels. On the inside, subtle blue stitching is found throughout the cabin, including the carpet floor mats and key gloves. A Smart Access Key Card rounds out this package. The 2024 IS F Sport Performance Premium Special Appearance package will be limited to 150 units in North America.
Available on F Sport models is a Dynamic Handling Package that includes an adaptive variable suspension, lighter 19" forged-alloy BBS wheels in matte black, a torsen limited slip differential, and a unique carbon-fiber rear spoiler. Inside accents include stainless-steel scuff plates on the door sills, a leather wrapped shifter, pedals, and unique F Sport seats available in Circuit Red. The entire package creates an exciting IS that both looks and drives the part.
Front Seats (+)
Hopping inside, the front passengers will be swallowed by comfortable and sporty seats. Standard on all models is NuLuxe-trimmed seating with 10-way power-adjustable driver seats and 8-way power adjustable passenger seats. Standard color options include Black, Glazed Caramel and Rioja Red. There's decent head and leg room to accommodate both the driver and front passenger. Visibility is good up front but rearward visibility is somewhat hampered by the c-pillars. Available heated and ventilated front seats work well, and controls are well-placed.
F Sport models feature door trim with a graphic pattern of embossed intersecting lines. Decorative ornamentation is finished in Black Metallic paint, Black Geometric Film, or the exclusive Satin interior trim on IS 500 F SPORT Performance models.
Rear Seats (-)
If you've forgotten that the IS is a compact sedan, the rear seats will remind you. Head and legroom are tight, especially with three passengers. This was one of the first vehicles my three kids complained about space when seated 3 across, and I've had seemingly smaller vehicles in the past such as the Hyundai Elantra. Nonetheless, this is a compact sedan so expectations for a lot of rear passenger room were low to begin with and is pretty standard in the segment. The back of the rear seat folds down for access to the trunk which provides 10.8 cu. ft. of cargo space. I'd personally sacrifice the space for the overall aesthetics and size of the car.
Interior layout (+)
The IS is filled with Lexus quality materials that are premium and luxurious. The set-up is modern and functional with well-padded materials and everything within reach. Small details such as the traditional analog clock serve as a nice statement piece. The center console features a traditional gear shifter and available steering wheel mounted paddle shifters allow for manual gear selection. Adjacent to the gear selector are drive mode controls that can be adjusted via the dial or buttons. And below the shifter is the Lexus touchpad that operates the multimedia touchscreen much like a laptop mousepad.
The digital cluster in the IS 350 F Sport has nearly the same gauges found in the Lexus LFA supercar. The cluster features a singular digital circular display that moves with a sliding bezel as you scroll through various information options. The screen is simple, clear, and easy to read.
One of the updates last year was the technology which brought the IS much more current with a touchscreen multimedia display that's six inches closer to the driver. The standard screen is 8-inches, but also available is a 10.3-inch screen on vehicles equipped with navigation or the Mark Levinson Premium Audio package. The system integrates with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa via a cord connection and during my time with it I had no connection issues. It can be controlled via steering wheel controls, touchscreen, a center console touchpad, and voice controls. Below the touchscreen are standard buttons to operate the climate system as well as dials for both volume and tuning. The system was user-friendly and easy to operate.
An available panoramic view monitor system fills the multimedia screen with multiple high-resolution views of the car's surroundings. Outside cameras are mounted to the front, sides, and rear of the vehicle to provide a full bird's-eye view around the car. Moving and see-through view options create images of the vehicle's surroundings as an on-screen guide for parking and tight maneuvers. Missing from the IS option list are features such as wireless mobile device charging and a head-up display which are common in competitors and more mainstream vehicles.
Fuel Economy (-)
When the IS arrived with a full 17.4-gallon tank it offered around 350 miles of range. Fuel economy is estimated at 17/25/20 MPG city/highway/combined. After a week of suburban driving, I averaged 18 MPG. The IS 500 is the least efficient IS as the IS 300 gets slightly better fuel economy. Overall fuel economy is lower than average for the class and it does recommend premium fuel.
Standard on all models is Lexus Safety System + 2.5 which includes the following driver assist features:
* Pre-collision system with pedestrian/bicyclist detection
* All-Speed dynamic radar cruise control
* Lane tracing assist
* Lane departure alert with steering assist
* Intelligent high beams
* Road sign assist
* Blind spot monitor w/rear cross traffic alert
Additional Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 features include Intelligent High Beams, which is designed to detect preceding or oncoming vehicles and automatically switch between high beam and low beam headlights. Road Sign Assist (RSA) is designed to acquire certain road sign information using a camera and navigation maps when data is available and displays them on the multi-information display.
Final Statement (+)
The IS has evolved since its inception while staying true to its core. This compact luxury sedan has attitude with aggressive looks that have already... and will continue to age well. Lexus has refined the powertrains to make it sportier and the addition of the V8 powered IS 500 is proof. It packs a punch on the track and on the streets while handling like a sophisticated race car. It's a comfortable car to drive with an interior that caters to the driver built from quality materials. There are a lot of great cars in this segment, but V8s are getting harder and harder to find.... Snatch one of these up while you can.
First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle: 2023 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance Premium
Exterior Color: Grecian Water
Interior Color: Black/White
Notable Options: 19" Matte Black BBS Forged Wheels ($2,450), Rear Bumper Applique ($90.00), Dash Camera ($375)
Price as tested: $65,960 (with destination charge)