It was a helluva week for testing a luxury-sport sedan.
With Ma Nature doing her February thing, I spent more time considering the limits of traction than the performance limits of that week’s tester, the 2019 Lexus IS 350 F Sport.
But if I can’t attest to its performance at the limits, I can confirm the effectiveness of its Snow drive mode and available all-wheel-drive system.
Even its Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires come in for a little love. The all-season touring tires were far grippier in bad conditions than I had expected.
The package got us through the worst week of the winter. From compact snow and ice on paved surfaces to the challenge of our hilly and snow-packed dirt road, the Lexus proved reliably surefooted.
AWD a welcome option
True to sport-sedan form, the compact IS ($38,410) is built on a rear-drive platform; its AWD system is especially welcome when roads turn crusty.
Depending on conditions, the electronically controlled AWD system automatically adjusts front-to-rear torque distribution. On dry roads, it maintains a performance-friendly 30:70 front-to-rear torque split. When conditions warrant, up to 50 percent of torque can be routed to the front wheels.
Like most Lexus products, the IS is well equipped, beautifully designed and unfailingly comfortable. It feels rock-solid underway and its ride-and-handling package is well-balanced, with the edge going to the comfort side of the equation.
Enthusiasts will rightly contend that the IS falls a half-step behind BMW’s 3 Series cars in key performance metrics. But few real-world drivers will perceive the difference, much less care.
Two models, three powertrains
For 2019, Lexus leaves the fundamentals in place but adds a handful of new options. Most notable is a new three-beam LED headlight assembly, in which three low-beam LED lamps supplement a single, center-mounted high-beam bulb.
There’s also a new voice command system for devices — including watches — that run Amazon Alexa.
The IS family comprises two models, the IS 300 (formerly IS 250) and IS 350 ($45,125). Both are available in RWD and AWD configurations.
The rear-drive IS 300 is powered by a turbocharged, 241-horsepower four; AWD IS 300s get a 260-hp V-6.
A 311-hp V-6 powers the IS 350.
SUBHEAD: Great seats, excellent ergonomics
RWD models get an eight-speed automatic transmission with Lexus’s G-force Artificial Intelligence. By monitoring multiple performance parameters, it picks the gear and downshift pattern that best matches the driver’s driving style.
This year, Lexus reprograms the central control unit on RWD models to deliver speedier shifts and quicker throttle and turbocharger responses.
The six-speed automatic that’s standard on AWD models is unchanged.
The IS’s cozy cabin is comfortable and quiet. Supportive and well-bolstered seats, excellent ergonomics and abundant soft-touch surfaces place the IS squarely in the luxury camp. Panels are precisely aligned and materials quality is first-rate. Casual cabin storage opportunities are limited and the dimensions of the trunk and rear seating area are less generous than the competitions’.
The standard infotainment system features a 7.0-inch dash-top display, a 10-speaker audio system and a user-friendly rotary controller.
A reader defends Remote Touch
Up-level trims get a high-resolution 10.3-inch screen with integrated navigation and a 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are not available and Lexus’s Remote Touch infotainment interface continues to frustrate the uninitiated.
Lexus owner Lonnie Scott of Spangle wrote recently to defend Remote Touch and its mouse-like controller. With its location atop the dash, the display screen demands less driver eye-time than if it were mounted lower in the dash, he said.
“After a short time I became aware of the fact the Nav/info screen was placed up near the windshield and I could just quickly glance at the screen without moving my head down,” Scott wrote.
Mastery of the finicky controller, he said, simply requires practice.
We’ll take that into account the next time we encounter Remote Touch. Patience would doubtless be a more productive strategy than random cursing.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at email@example.com.
2019 Lexus IS 350 AWD
Vehicle base price: $38,410
Trim level base price: $44,095
As tested: $53,437 (includes destination and handling)
Options included F Sport package (includes cosmetic upgrades, heated and ventilated front seats, adaptive variable suspension); triple-beam headlights; navigation with 10.3-inch display and 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson surround sound audio system; intuitive parking assist; perforated leather heated steering wheel and more.
EPA rating: 21 combined/19 city/26 highway
Premium gas specified