Hot Wheels: Smooth and Sporty

The 2019 Lexus IS350 is a strong choice in a segment with no bad choices.

Comfort, superior ride quality and luxury aren’t often strong sports car characteristics. Feeling the road and shifting gears while making the best of a rugged minimalist interior provides a good chunk of the appeal. The 2019 Lexus IS350 rejects the norm.

Defined as a five-passenger small sedan, the IS350 matches a quiet, relaxing and comfortable sedan with an aggressive-looking sports car. It’s ready for some country road shenanigans or long, smooth freeway hauls.

The Lexus IS (Intelligent Sport) debuted in North American in 2000; the 350 variant arrived in 2008. Its third and current generation was unveiled in 2013, with a revamp in 2016. While 2020 models have just emerged, the still-available 2019 offering remains largely unchanged from recent years. Three-beam LED headlights are a new option as is voice command integration for Amazon Alexa devices.

With its 3.5-liter V6 engine with 311 horsepower, sporty driving is easily accomplished. But the smooth-driving, reduced stressed alternative is equally appealing. The IS350 is available with rear-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmission or all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic. Normal, ECO, Sport and Snow driving modes, 18-inch, five-spoke wheels and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters add to the fun.

Standard features also include LED headlights, a sunroof, heated side mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats, simulated leather upholstery (NuLuxe), 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

Bluetooth, Lexus Enform Remote vehicle controls, two USB ports, a 7-inch color display, and an eight-speaker sound system with an auxiliary audio input, satellite radio and HD radio flush out a healthy list.

For those with further sporty inclinations, the F Sport trim has its same-named package ($3,195). It includes more than a dozen items—a leather steering wheel to aluminum pedals—and offers more driving dynamics to improve handling and styling.

Standard driver-assistance technology features include a rearview camera, automatic high beams, lane departure warning and intervention, adaptive cruise control. There’s also a forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and automatic braking.

A healthy supply of further equipment embellishments works. The 15-Mark Levin – son audio system costs $1,600; the complex navigation system adds $2,845. With a few singular further additions added to the mix, the IS350 costs $52,163, a tally warranting a prolonged pause. 

Competitors include the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and newly touted and highly honored Genesis G70. The German carmakers’ offerings have loyal followings; the South Korean newcomer was named to many best-of-the-year lists.

The 2019 Lexus IS350 has a few minor shortcomings, including limited console space, small cupholders and mediocre gas mileage averages. But it’s still a strong choice in a segment with no bad choices.

—James Raia, a syndicated automotive columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes