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Lexus piles on power with IS 350

2011-11-22 04:51

Lexus has at last cracked the family sedan performance barrier with the introduction this week in South Africa of a bigger engine for its IS range – and the change is not only significant but startling.

First, way back in 1999, was the IS 200 (the IS standing for Intelligent Sport), a straight-six under its compact neatness; but it easily became one of my favourite cars not so much for its outright performance as for its incredible driveability, its smoothness, its high-speed stability, its way-upmarket luxury. (Thanks to Stuart, hellospaceman and clarke.may for pointing out my misremembrance of the car as a four-cylinder ... it was only a four in Japan. Truly, all readers' input to wheels24 to fix such errors is much appreciated! And it's much more pleasant when egos aren't boosted by rudeness! Also to aadil.esack for the reminder that the first-generation IS came out as a 300 1JZ - and aadil, the IS-F is mentioned below as a SUPER high-performance car.)

Much as I enjoy driving super-powerful cars, the first IS just did it for me; a Japanese equivalent for anything from Germany - a straight competitor for Mercedes' C-Class and BMW's compact 3 Series performance machines.

GETTING FASTER, QUICKER

The IS 250 sedan made it here in 2006 and I still vividly remember its launch in the Knysna area (not far from where I'm writing this in the Oubaai resort overlooking the small, but stunning, resort village of Herold's Bay just outside George in the Western Cape. What was already a brilliant car became (again, for me) an amazing compact, high-performance machine with a V6 2.5-litre engine capable of 153kW at 6400rpm and 252Nm at 4800 with a top speed of 225km/h.

The car dispatched the 0-100km/h launch in 8.1sec (8.4 for the a/t) and was rated at 9.1 litres/100km.

Since then there's always been a complaint that the IS, despite its superior performance, needed more muscle. Not a growling exhaust or tyre-shredding acceleration (that just isn't the Lexus style) type of muscle but simply more power and torque on tap; better bragging rights. Lexus listened and now I have a new favourite car - the IS 350 sedan in two specification levels, EX at R499 700 and SE at R548 600.

PRICES VARY - BUT CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE? Model badges don't exist on the tail of the new Lexus IS 350 but the car does come in a choice of EX or SE specification - and those who really want to know will be able to tell by the difference in wheel-rim style and size of the two versions.

The extra litre of breathing space has taken power to 233kW (also at 6400rpm) and torque to 378Nm at the same 4800rpm as the 2.5, with 90% of that on call from 2000rpm. The parked-to-100km/h launch now takes 5.6sec (there's only an auto, six-speed with paddle shifts on the steering wheel) which is 0.2sec faster than BMW’s 335i a/t and 0.4sec quicker than Mercedes’ C350. Shifts can also be controlled by the floor-mounted gearshifter.

Top speed has risen slightly to 230km/h.

The engine is an all-aluminium, quad-valve, quad-cam unit with variable valve timing and, Lexus says, has been tailored to suit the IS chassis: it has more power than the RX 350 4x4 SUV (204kW at 6200 and 346 at 4700rpm) in which it also appears.

The IS 350 runs on essentially the same architecture as the IS 250 but, Lexus says, adds more comfort and refinement as well as the more powerful engine. It continues the Lexus tradition of rear-wheel drive.

The essential differences between the EX and SE are the 17” rims on the former and 18” on the latter; the SE gains a sliding roof and heatable ventilated front seats. Each has power front seats; those in the SE include a three-position memory.

THREE CABIN COLOURS

Though the IS 350 is more expensive than its competitors, it comes standard with high-intensity discharge headlights and daytime running lights, satnav with voice control, a reversing camera and parking radar. It also has rain-sensing wipers, anti-dazzle mirrors and power adjustment for the steering wheel.

There’s a choice of three cabin colours and the new cars take the Lexus range to 13 models and 21 derivatives while thriving on technological input gained from the brand’s super high-performance cars, the IS-F and the awesome LFA.

NOBODY'S KICKING SAND ANY MORE: Smoked glass over the high-intensity discharge headlights help to create the new Lexus IS 350's imposing image while posing on the promenade at Herold's Bay.

Lexus points out that the main rivals IS rivals, Audi’s A4 3.2 quattro, BMW’s 335i and Mercedes’ C350, are less costly on paper but would require an extra R72 410, R64 200 and R63 000 respectively to match specs with the IS 350 EX. The automaker calls it the “optional is standard approach”.

The simultaneous introduction of the IS 250 E to replace the IS 250 S is intended to stretch the price bracket of the IS range downwards, with some specification items – among them satnav – removed but the car still has full leather upholstery, power front seats, smart-key vehicle entry with a start/stop button on the fascia, a top-end sound system, auto aircon and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

For outright performance, of course, the automaker has since 2007 had the IS-F, a competitor for BMW’s M3, what it calls a “halo effect” sports sedan but it carries a quarter-million rand price premium over the most expensive of the new IS units.

Lexus SA set a demanding route for the IS 350 launch this week in the Western Cape: out from George over the Outeniqua Pass (if you’re heading that way, watch out for roadworks being undertaken to stabilise a section of mountainside above the road – scary stuff!), a break for lunch in Oudtshoorn and back along the even tougher Robinson Pass down to the coast at Mossel Bay.

The power from the new V6 is instant, delivered seamlessly through the auto six-speed box without drama or a suburb-awakening exhaust note (sure, that might not appeal to some performance-car freaks!).

HIDDEN TALENT: Pity that the machinery that puts out the new Lexus' urge of 233kW and 378Nm has to be hidden - even if the cover is an unusually attractive one.

Stability and grip through the mostly daunting curves of the two passes was phenomenal – barely a chirp from the tyres. The cars have has a large on-road footprint for their overall dimensions, with a wheelbase of 2730mm, front track of 1535mm and rear track of 1525mm.

The rear suspension uses a lightweight multi-link system with substantial front and rear cross-members – aluminium at the front. Large, liquid-filled bushings at the rear mount of the lower arms, Lexus says, reduce noise, vibration and harshness and ball joint-mounted stabiliser bars front and rear minimise body roll.

High-pressure, gas-filled monotube shock-absorbers maintained a near-flat ride through the curves of the sweeping mountain passes and the car comes with electronic traction and stability control with ventilated anti-lock discs all round. It’s a superb driving experience.

In the confines of an underground garage, the IS 350’s reversing camera show a full-colour image on the 16cm fascia screen with lines indicating curve direction; parking sensors front and rear will let you know if you’re stuffing it up.

Controls on the steering wheel cover adjustment of the 13-speaker audio system, Bluetooth phone connection and the multi-function display.

Eight air bags are standard and all Lexus IS models are covered by a four-year or 100 000km warranty and a selection of service plans.

FULL LEXUS IS PRICE LIST
IS 250E - R368 900
IS 250 EX - R446 200
IS 350 EX - R499 700
IS 350 SE - R548 600
IS 250 Convertible - R578 500
IS-F - R808 800

Go to the Lexus home page to find out more.

Comments
  • jdabuys - 2011-11-22 08:17

    Everybody hails the 335i as the best engine, but hell this seems like real power!! I have driven a 335i more than ones an yes it's that good, but would love to experience this, just goes to show what these guys can do!

      Pieter - 2011-11-22 10:34

      I agree, and to add to that, the Lexus is normally aspirated vs BMW turbo setup. Hence the Lexus will be more reliable and have better second hand value.

      Pieter - 2011-11-22 10:34

      I agree, and to add to that, the Lexus is normally aspirated vs BMW turbo setup. Hence the Lexus will be more reliable and have better second hand value.

      Pieter - 2011-11-22 10:34

      I agree, and to add to that, the Lexus is normally aspirated vs BMW turbo setup. Hence the Lexus will be more reliable and have better second hand value.

      Aphiwe - 2011-11-22 11:20

      That 335i engine was "International engine of the year" in 2007 & 2008. Yes in the coast the Lexus will hold its own but up in JHB it has no chance.

      Aphiwe - 2011-11-22 11:20

      That 335i engine was "International engine of the year" in 2007 & 2008. Yes in the coast the Lexus will hold its own but up in JHB it has no chance.

      Aphiwe - 2011-11-22 11:20

      That 335i engine was "International engine of the year" in 2007 & 2008. Yes in the coast the Lexus will hold its own but up in JHB it has no chance.

  • clarke.may - 2011-11-22 10:44

    @Les - just a correction. The original iS200 was in fact a straight-six not a four-cylinder

  • hellospaceman - 2011-11-22 10:53

    Les, the original IS200 had a two-litre inline six (1G-FE), not a four (the 3S-GE motor, which wasn't used outside Japan).

  • Craig - 2011-11-22 12:19

    been waiting for this for ages,but it seems like the lexus has been getting on a bit,it`s just to late .500 k is a highly competitive price range.

  • David - 2011-11-22 14:06

    HAHAHAHA - The Lexus 0-100 km/h time of 5.6s IS VERY OPTIMISTIC to say the least. Let's compare: Lexus IS 350 has a normally aspirated 3.5L V6 Engine with 233KW and 378NM. The Kerb weight is 1645kg as per the website and the transmission is a 6spd Sequential Auto. Rear Wheel Drive The M/Benz C350 (0-100 time of 6.0s) also has a normally aspirated 3.5L V6 Engine with 225KW and 370NM. The Kerb weight is 1610kg as per the website and the transmission is a 7spd G Tronic Auto. Rear Wheel Drive The BMW 335i (0-100 time of 5.8s) has a Turbo-charged 3.0L In-line 6 cyl Engine with 225KW and 400NM. The Kerb weight is 1625kg as per the website and the transmission is a 6spd Auto. Rear Wheel Drive Please tell me how it is possible for Lexus to post that time if Merc and BMW has a lower kerb weight and the BMW has more torque and and is Turbo-charged. I say it's time for a drag race between the 3 cars....

      naolifant - 2011-11-23 08:54

      bring it on. Just visit the Edmund.com and see the drag race. To maintain fairness, it should be conducted in the coast and on the reef.

      naolifant - 2011-11-23 08:54

      bring it on. Just visit the Edmund.com and see the drag race. To maintain fairness, it should be conducted in the coast and on the reef.

      naolifant - 2011-11-23 08:54

      bring it on. Just visit the Edmund.com and see the drag race. To maintain fairness, it should be conducted in the coast and on the reef.

      Shamier - 2011-11-23 09:41

      Don't forget that gearing plays a part. As much as I like ze Germans...the Lexus will have that typically japanese engineered in reliability.

      Shamier - 2011-11-23 09:41

      Don't forget that gearing plays a part. As much as I like ze Germans...the Lexus will have that typically japanese engineered in reliability.

      Shamier - 2011-11-23 09:41

      Don't forget that gearing plays a part. As much as I like ze Germans...the Lexus will have that typically japanese engineered in reliability.

  • aadil.esack - 2011-11-22 14:26

    the first generation IS also came out in the 1JZ 3 litre, called the IS300. Also, did you completely forget about the IS-F as you make it sound like this is the first small "performance" Lexus

  • proafrikaans - 2011-11-22 15:00

    As Robert de Niro's character famously said in the movie "Analyze this!": "It's still a Toyota." A half-a-million rand Toyota, I'll admit, but still a Toyota. Which means it will never, ever have the brand appeal of its German competitors.

      jaunnas - 2011-11-23 07:42

      Its only in South Africa where this seams to be an issue. In the rest of the world it is a whole different ball game. Lexus rules

      jaunnas - 2011-11-23 07:42

      Its only in South Africa where this seams to be an issue. In the rest of the world it is a whole different ball game. Lexus rules

      jaunnas - 2011-11-23 07:42

      Its only in South Africa where this seams to be an issue. In the rest of the world it is a whole different ball game. Lexus rules

      Chrono - 2011-11-24 11:43

      My ou jys regtig agter die tyd. Duitse dominansie is 10 jaar gelede al iets van die verlede.

      Thabiso - 2011-11-28 09:59

      @jaunnas - thats because in South Africa we marry the brands. The rest of the world knows all too well not to get too attached just in case something better comes along.

      Lennert - 2011-11-30 09:26

      And Audi is just a VW. Lexus Rule!

  • Stuart - 2011-11-22 16:40

    The IS200 had a 6-cylinder (straight six) two-litre motor. The 4-cylinder was only available in Japan and was a high performance motor. The instrument binnacle represented an analogue sports watch and the styling was quite unique. Later on, a 3 litre straight six (IS300) came out which replaced the IS200. This 1st generation was unique. The IS250 & IS350 represent the second generation but maybe not as unique as the 1st generation and therefor appealing toa greater audience. Fantastic value and great cars. I am very tempted to trade my IS250SE a/t in on a new IS350SE. Compared to the 335i, the Lexus will outlast it but the 335i is a great performer - car is smaller than the IS which is limiting and the optional extras at R64k is irritating.

  • lumifi - 2011-11-22 22:28

    Simply wonderful! More car than a boring Audi A4 or Mercedes c!!

  • naolifant - 2011-11-23 08:57

    Game over

  • mkgatlane - 2011-11-24 17:18

    the motor is super!!! but for the body so boring...Lexus need to wake up

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