Lexus lives up to its parent company Toyota’s present penchant for fun-to-drive cars through the all-new IS

PRESUMABLY, the first Lexus IS didn’t land on Gran Turismo because it was quiet and luxurious—it got there because little boys of all ages thought that car to be cool. And, apparently, this cool factor is what the all-new IS brings with it.

Now just how does this third-gen model set about doing this cool thing?

By being sporty and dynamic and fun to drive—a definite nod to Lexus’s parent company Toyota’s present leanings toward things fun, thanks to big boss Akio Toyoda, who puts motor racing and fun-driving high on the list of corporate priorities. Oh, and this cool/fun thing comes on top of the IS retaining its Lexus-signature posh. As the new IS’s tag proclaims; “This IS it.”

Aptly, Lexus Manila deemed it best to preview the car at the Clark International Speedway in Pampanga (the new IS makes its official debut today at Lexus Manila showroom) where it can strut its athleticism—the fun stuff, to belabor the point. To amplify the message as best as possible, Lexus Manila also brought to the racetrack its LFA supercar and offered it up for “taxi rides” where event guests were taken on high-speed runs by rally driver Yoshihiro Kataoka (Ironically, cooked brakes, which sent the car off the track, put a stop to the proceedings). So in terms of driving dynamics, performance potential and exclusivity, the link between the new IS and the LFA was established visually, aurally and kinetically.

What IS new
The latest IS rendition arrives in the Philippines in two guises—the standard IS 350 (priced at P2.548 million) and the IS 350 F Sport (P3.058 million). Both cars wear stylishly swoopy sheetmetal that has numerous details best described as “whimsical,” chief among which are the oddly shaped headlamps and LED swoosh jewelry, sharply cut tail lamps, and a bolder, more angular rendition of Lexus’s familial spindle grille. The new IS also sits on a wheelbase stretched by nearly three inches, and though only marginally wider than the previous version, appears more muscular because of bulging wheel arches. The F Sport variant has a slightly more aggressive front fascia and loses the fog lamps of the standard IS—which is peculiar because the supposed air intakes that take the fog lamps’ place do not have holes in them. Further distinguishing the F Sport are larger LFA-inspired 18-inch alloys, as opposed to the standard variant’s 17-inch wheels.

A 3.5-liter V6 engine fed by direct and port fuel injection resides under the hood of both variants. It sends 306 horsepower at 6,400rpm and 375 Newton-meter of torque at 4,800rpm to an eight-speed automatic transmission that has paddle shifters and Lexus’s G-force Artificial Intelligence system, which selects the optimum gear and downshift pattern according to G force. The cars have multiple driving modes, with the IS 350 offering Eco, Normal and Sport settings while the F Sport adds a Sport S+ choice, which allows the top variant to exploit its adaptive variable suspension.

Also exclusive to the F Sport are more, well, sporty stuff like a trick “generator” that makes the exhaust note sound racier and TFT instrumentation with a moving center ring that was filched off the LFA.

IS for the track
As an IS, the latest car is still propelled by its rear wheels, making it ideal as a track toy that—in the hands of a competent driver—can be drifted around corners providing its traction aids are switched off. For the event participants, also demonstrated were the cars’ various drive-mode settings, of which the difference in attitudes between these were found to be quite discernible.

Flick the dial to Sport or Sport S+ and the IS is roused from its luxury car slumber and switches into a genuine sport sedan, with the car—especially the F Sport—turning taut and athletic around sweeping bends and tight corners, and quick to respond to throttle mashing upon exiting those corners. Its steering tightens up and gets weighty, too, allowing for a bit more “feel” than usual (it’s electrically assisted though, so it isn’t as communicative).

To truly underscore the latest IS’s track credibility, and most likely as a way to highlight just how much improvement a new generation of vehicle brings with it, Lexus Manila lined up a previous-model, base-variant Mercedes-Benz C-Class and a BMW 3 Series on which participants were made to do the same driving exercises. Lexus’s old IS 300 was also included in the comparo. All those cars, expectedly, were trounced by the new IS 350 pair.

No doubt, this car is Gran Turismo material once again.


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