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Lexus in Texas: IS350 set for SA

2013-03-25 12:00

LEXUS IS GOES F-SPORT: The outrageous spindle grille of the current Lexus range looks really good on the IS350 F-Sport with its identifying vents, big wheels and upswept rear curve. Expect it in SA mid-2013.


AUSTIN, Texas – Lexus wanted the subtleties of Fiorano, the Laguna Seca “corkscrew”, the double dog-leg at Spa and bits of the Nurburgring to launch its latest IS250 and IS350.

The focus wasn’t on outright performance but rather to show off the new cars’ dynamic handling and, as shuttling a number of still-under-development almost-prototypes through Italy, Germany and Belgium wasn’t possible, Lexus chose to long-haul the world's motoring media to Texas.

Image gallery

That’s because the above-mentioned “technical” bits all come together in one place there and that’s on the special tarmac of the Driveway Motoring Academy and Retreat buried in a forest close to the Colorado, the river that winds through the sprawling city of Austin, state capital of Texas.


The Driveway claims not to be a racetrack (though it hosts kart and cycling events) but rather a school of driving for the US Department of Defence, young drivers, racing hopefuls who want to polish their technique - and vehicle prototype testing.

For comparison purposes – and perhaps just for fun – Lexus took along a Mercedes C350 a BMW 335i and some versions of the previous IS range.

Fun is a big little word in the lexicon of the latest IS. Indeed, we were told at the media presentation before heading out by bus to the Driveway that fun was the main design target and that the concept was polished on racetracks and through more than 1.5-million kilometres on tar, snow and ice “to satisfy what the driver wants”.

Paul Williamsen from the Lexus marketing team explained: “The IS has been a global product since 2005 (the first was the then-badged is200 built from 2000-05) but has now changed character to focus on emotion, styling, packaging and safety.


“It is now our sportiest model – if you discount the two-seater LFA supercar (of which only 500 were built) – in the Lexus range yet satisfies more needs than that car. Its designers were given broad latitude but settled on a product that includes a bold character line that sweeps up at the rear.”

It’s a totally defining curve (see image gallery)  that instantly identifies the new IS shell and finishes its upsweep at its junction with the startlingly original design of the LED tail-light clusters.

There are other almost invisible design touches that also define the cars: one is the rethinking of the wheel-arch flanges (the bent bits that lead from the bodywork towards the tyres) which now intrude by only 11 instead of 20mm so the rubber can be pushed further outwards.

Another is the use of polished brass and laser brazing instead of the traditional plastic or rubber to seal the body joints between roof and side panels. Others also not immediately seen include fins by the external mirrors to cut slipstream noise and “under-car aero detailing” to smooth airflow, reduce lift and help keep things quiet.


Williamsen also pointed out that the new IS is 10mm wider and 85mm longer, including a wheelbase stretched by 70mm, than its predecessor which has allowed 40mm more rear legroom (the previous car WAS a bit tight!). Front and rear shoulder space has grown too (by 38mm), headroom by 25mm, and the boot can now take 480 litres of luggage – though its “roof” is too low to allow vertical storage of larger suitcases.

The whole IS shell is now assembled using new techniques: body stiffness, Williamsen explained, has been greatly improved by adding adhesives to the normal spot-welding of panels and triangular steel braces have been added to each side of the body between wings and rocker covers; more bracing exists at strategic parts of the underbody and where the sub-frames join the body.

The steel used for the A pillars and roof is so high-tensile that it has to be super-hot to allow stamping; the normal status, of course, is cold.

The focus of any car’s handling is its suspension and that of the Lexus IS, Williamsen says, is very special and uses the industry’s most advanced electric steering-assistance: power is fed directly to the steering-rack instead of the steering-column and “gives very precise feedback”.

The rear springs and shock-absorbers are separate units and, depending on choice or model, wheels sizes range through 16, 17 and 18”.


Only one engine will be available on units sold in South Africa: the carried-over bigger 3.5-litre, 228kW/375Nm V6 with a compression ratio of 11.8:1 and the red line set at 6600rpm (the alternative for other markets is a 2.5-litre V6). It's the same engine as in the IS F.

Acceleration to 100km/h is given as 5.6sec and fuel consumption 10.6 litres/100km in general use.

Drive is through an eight-speed auto direct-shift gearbox (yes, paddles on the steering column) that (in SPORT mode) responds to cornering (G) forces and will downshift itself to maintain engine revs through curves to improve exit speed. In manual mode, the transmission will not only hold selected gears, but also offers complete lock-up for quick-response shifting from second through to eighth  gear.

There are three modes in the standard IS (Normal, Sport, Eco) but four in the also SA-bound F-Sport version which gets Sport+. The package includes variable steering ratios, upgraded brakes, a sports grille and vents (see image gallery), LF rims, model-specific paint colours and upgrades to instruments (which include LFA data displays), pedals and seats – the last available in grey, red or black.

An 800W Mark Levinson audio system tailored for the Lexus IS is another option: it brings 15 speakers and 10 channels; aircon is dual-controlled, the temperature by finger-operated sliders rather than push-buttons or rotary knobs; the steering-wheel is multi-thickness according to where it gets most use; an 18cm touchscreen handles satnav, audio and other functions and can be split according to need; lane-departure warning; radar following cruise control that also monitors collision probability and pre-arms airbags, brakes and seat belts.

Novel are twin-chamber front air bags designed to expand with a recess to accommodate a passenger’s nose and spectacles – breaking either can be super-painful.

The F-Sport adds suspension improvements that include 20-step shock-absorbers.


South Africa will specifically get one engine and gearbox, the car in three specification levels: E, EX (including Levinson audio) and F-Sport which will add the cooler body styling, variable ratio steering and adaptive suspension. Prices, of course, not until they get here which, I understand, will be around the middle of 2013. However, a Lexus spokesperson pointed out that they "will be very aggressive, as usual with the launch of a new model in South Africa".

Also available in other markets are all-wheel drive and a hybrid-powered version.

All of which brings us back to the Driveway... the Merc and the BMW. Which would I choose? Well, I confess the Lexus IS has always been one of my favourite cars – fast, agile and (though it is growing) comparatively petite with excellent road manners and top-notch furnishings.

The Mercedes was faster down the (almost) straight section of the track and felt planted on the road; the BMW was more hard-core all the way around the track – ultimately the choice is yours but I’d prefer the modest exclusivity of the Lexus.

Lexus IS350 specifications
Read more on:    usa  |  texas  |  south africa  |  lexus  |  model

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