The president of Lexus in an interview made it clear his strategy is to improve the driving dynamics on sedans to a level that crossovers cannot match, using the lower centre of gravity to their advantage. He also wants to make traditional cars more appealing to a broader and less-stodgy consumer base. Assuming the plan works, Toyota’s premium brand won’t need to eliminate sedans altogether.
That’s a good thing as Lexus luxury sedans are meant to be practical, but then some are just meant to be fun. One I’ve enjoyed recently was the IS 200t, now sold as the IS 300 RWD starting at $40,850. Although it’s powered by a 2.0 litre, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the engine provides 241 horsepower and an impressive 250 lb-ft of torque. It’s no slouch and linked to an 8-speed automatic, a very good performer around town or the open highway.
The Lexus IS sedan comes in three models. The two upper-line levels are V6-powered: the IS 300 with 260 horsepower, and the IS 350 and its 311 horses. My preference is the four-cylinder IS 300 with F-Sport package as it has the best combination of performance, balance, weight and handling. The IS 300 is rear-wheel-drive only, while the V6 models come exclusively with all-wheel drive. Power to all tires is a popular choice in Canada, but the 300 RWD 4 cylinder weighs some 70 kilograms less than the other two. Less weight means a more nimble handling car and more fun.
Yes, fun. Lexus has traditionally been more about coddled luxury than driver engagement, but the IS 300 goes in a different direction. It feels quick, once you’ve set the drive mode dial to Sport, since the transmission shifts a bit sluggishly in the other choices of Normal or Eco. The steering is quick and precise, with a very tight turning circle and a well-planted, settled smoothness around sharp curves. The ride is firm, not uncomfortably stiff.
A single major option is available, the F Sport Series 1 package, which adds $4,650 to the base price. Not a performance package, it’s mostly trim, adding staggered 18-inch wheels, three-spoke steering wheel, heated and ventilated sport seats, auto-dimming mirrors, sunroof, and active sound control, which broadcasts an engine-growl sound into the cabin when activated.
Billed as a five-seater, the IS 300 is really aimed at four, since the driveline tunnel is so high that the middle seat is barely usable. The cabin is tight overall, and headroom may be an issue for taller occupants. Yet inside, the experience is pleasant on the eyes. Real wood is nicely integrated with polished aluminum trim. The seats hold you in firmly with good support.
There are a few changes to the centre stack and console, the infotainment tablet-style screen sits high, but with a hood over top for easy viewing on sunny days. It’s operated by a dial-and-button controller on the console. A backup camera is now standard.
The IS 300’s starting price runs in the same territory with competitors such as BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class, Cadillac’s ATS, Audi A4, and Infiniti Q50. Taken on its own merits, the 300 RWD is a fun little sports sedan. It should be as popular as the previous IS 200t which seemed to be everywhere on Edmonton streets.