Car Reviews

2017 Lexus IS review – First Drive

Isaac Bober’s first drive 2017 Lexus IS review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: The refreshed Lexus IS comes in for some key suspension tweaks, and much needed interior improvements.

2017 Lexus IS

Pricing from $59,340+ORC (200t)

Warranty four-years, 100,000km

Safety 5 star ANCAP

Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine; 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with electric motor; 3.5-litre V6 petrol

Power 180kW at 5800rpm; 164kW at 6000rpm; and 233kW at 6400rpm

Torque 350Nm at 1650-4400rpm; 221Nm at 4200-5400rpm; and 378Nm at 4800rpm

Transmission eight-speed automatic; CVT

Drive rear-wheel drive

Dimensions 4680mm (L); 1810mm (W); 1430mm (H)

Turning Circle 10.4m

Bootspace 450-480 litres

Fuel Tank 66L

Thirst 4.9-9.7L/100km (depending on variant)

Editor's Rating

What's the interior like and how practical is it?
What's the performance, ride and handling like?
What about the safety features?
Practical Motoring Says: The refreshed IS line offers a much improved cabin, although it’s still not perfect and the back seat remains cramped due to the coupe-like roofline. There’s an engine to suit everyone and while the eight-speed automatic is the pick, the CVT is actually pretty good. This is the sort of car you’d buy if you’re looking for something luxurious to get you from A to B.

MORE THAN ONE MILLION Lexus IS sedans have been sold since the model was launched in 2009, making it the first Lexus to break the magic million mark. In Australia, 40,000 have found homes – it’s the best-selling Lexus line in Australia at the moment. That said, SUVs now account for around 60% of the Lexus sales mix, so it probably won’t keep its mantle for long.

The current generation Lexus IS (the third so far) was launched here in 2013 but has come in for a mid-life tweak to keep it on the ball against a raft of recently launched new generation competitors from Europe, like the Audi A4.

The new Lexus models feature eight exterior styling changes and 15 within the cockpit as well as copping a much larger 10.3-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard (replacing the 7.0-inch unit). On the outside the front grille has been tweaked, there’s a new bumper and a new lighting system.

2017 Lexus IS review

The Lexus IS Line is available as the IS 200t with the recently launched two-litre turbo motor, IS 350 using a 3.5-litre V6 and as the 300h petrol-electric hybrid.

All three variants are available in Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury grades. Prices have jumped by less than $1000 across the board.

Pricing for the IS 200t starts at $59,340+ORC and moves to $67,480+ORC for the 200t F Sport and up to $78,040+ORC for the 200t Luxury. The entry-level 300h lists from $61,890+ORC, the 300h F Sport from $70,310+ORC, and the 300h Sports Luxury from $81,160+ORC. The IS 350 Luxury starts at $65,390+ORC, the 350 F Sport from $73,540+ORC, and the 350 Sports Luxury from $84,160+ORC.

What’s the interior like and how practical is it?

Lexus interiors have always been well screwed together with quality materials used. And that theme continues with the tweaks to this mid-life upgrade with Lexus claiming 15 changes to the inside of the IS.

The most noticeable difference, if you’re looking at a current IS, is the new 10.3-inch touchscreen that’s set deep inside the top of the dashboard. This unit replaces the 7.0-inch screen on the current car.

2017 Lexus IS review

Other changes include a new clock, yes, it’s nice to see an analogue clock used in a car in a way that doesn’t look kitsch. There are also tweaks to the climate and audio control panels, as well as the Lexus Remote Touch Switch that now gets a larger palm rest. There are also a range of new interior trim colours available.

All up, while the interior exudes quality it doesn’t feel particularly well designed or all that special. There’s just way too much going on with key controls spread out across different levels, meaning your eyes have to adjust very quickly as you scan up or down the dash.

But that’s not all that frustrates with the interior of the IS, the tweaked Lexus Remote Touch which allows you to scroll through the infotainment and communications system has all the precision of an Atari 2600 joystick, meaning you often over-shoot the item you were trying to get to, clicking on the wrong one, and then having to go back again. Worse still is the fact the system locks you out once you’re on the move, meaning even passengers are prevented from using the system.

The menu structure is also a little confusing although I only spent about 10 minutes fiddling with it at the local launch, so I won’t write it off completely just yet, but a lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity is a disappointment.

2017 Lexus IS review

What about the seats, well, I spent the bulk of my time with the IS line in the F-Sport and the driver’s seat was great with plenty of adjustment and just the right amount of support for both enthusiastic and long-distance driving. There’s good vision from the driver’s seat although the position of the A-pillars does cause a slight blind spot when pulling up to the front of the queue on a roundabout.

Over in the back seat things are, well, tight. The low, coupe-like roof line means that anyone of average height like me (I’m 5ft11in) will need to duck to avoid smacking their head on the top of the door opening.

With the driver’s seat set for me, I climbed into the back and found the footwell was cramped and, thanks to the huge transmission tunnel the middle seat was of no use at all, making this really just a four-seater. There’s a fold-down armrest between the two outboard seats and air vents but no charging outlets for electrical items. There are top tether mounts for all three seats in the back and ISOFIX mounts on the two outboard seats, but I wouldn’t want to have to get a child in and out of the back of the IS. More than that, if you’ve got a newborn and need to mount the capsule rear-facing then the front passenger would likely be pushed uncomfortably forward.

Depending on the model, the boot offers between 450-480 litres (the smaller capacity is for the 300h variant as the batteries take up a bit of extra space) and while the back seats can be folded down, Lexus hasn’t said how much extra storage space is liberated. The seats are 60:40 split and can be dropped down by reaching right into the boot and using latches on the seat backs. The boot itself goes in a long way but is shallow.

What’s the performance, ride and handling like?

There are three engines to choose from with the IS line, they are the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine on the IS 200t which makes 180kW at 5800rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1650-440rpm. It drinks a claimed 7.5L/100km. There’s a 3.5-litre V6 making 233kW at 6400rpm and 378Nm of torque at 4800rpm, this engine drinks 9.7L/100km. Then there’s the IS 300h which gets a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to an electric motor, producing a total output of 164kW and 221Nm of torque from 4200-5400rpm. Fuel consumption is a claimed 4.9L/100km.

2017 Lexus IS review

The IS 300h is the second-best selling IS and while my time in this variant was only short it proved to be a smooth operator with enough grunt to keep up easily with traffic and overtake when necessary. Only available with a ‘six-step’ CVT (designed to simulate a conventional automatic transmission) there was none of the usual stretchiness you get with other CVTs… in fact, I reckon you’d be hard pressed to pick that it wasn’t a conventional automatic. About the only tell-tale sign was a slight pause when you nailed the throttle and the engine picked up.

The IS 350 F Sport couldn’t have felt more different if it tried, displaying an urgency the 300h just can’t match. This variant gets an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters that allows you to rifle through gear changes in just 0.02 seconds. Part of the launch took in the sort of roads (on the way to the Yarra Valley) that motoring enthusiasts hang out to drive and the engine and transmission combination in the 350 F Sport felt fantastic.

But with the roads streaming with water and thick fog all around it was impossible to really stretch the IS 350 F Sport’s legs. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t able to give the thing a bit of nudge…

2017 Lexus IS review

Lexus said it’s made tweaks to the suspension for the IS 350 (and IS 200t) which includes swapping out the old dampers for new ‘performance’ units which work in with the adaptive variable suspension set-up on F Sport and F Sport Luxury variants. In plain speaking, it means the new IS line offers a primary and secondary ride that Audi would kill for and one that’s vaguely reminiscent of a Jaguar XE.

Body control is excellent as is the way the IS shrugs off imperfections in the road. Yes, the ride is firm but the suspension tune is such that it’s able to round off the edges on all but the hardest of hits.

The steering isn’t quite so good, though. Sure, there’s decent weight to the wheel but there isn’t much feel and there’s a little bit of fidget in the straight-ahead on patched surfaces. But we’ll have a more thorough assessment once we’ve had our hands on the thing for a week and put it across our own chassis-torturing roads.

What about the safety features?

The refreshed IS continues the model’s five-star ANCAP rating, set in 2013 (?? Out of 37) with all models now getting the Lexus Safety System + which includes Lexus Pre-Collision Safety System (PCS) including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Active Cruise Control (ACC) high-speed (above 40km/h), Lane Departure Warning+ (LDW+) and Automatic High Beam.

Other comprehensive safety features include 10 airbags and the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management package of stability and traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, Brake Assist and ABS.

All models have a reversing camera, Hill-start Assist Control and a Tyre-Pressure Monitoring System. Sport and Sports Luxury variants feature Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

The lane departure warning+ (the + sign indicates active steering assist) in the IS will detect if you’re wandering out of your lane and apply very gentle steering assist. I didn’t fiddle around with this mode too much to work out if you can adjust the amount of steering assist, but on the factory setting it felt a little too light and slow to kick in. The roads I tested it on were well marked. Compared to Audi’s system which will quite forceful guide you back into your lane and is able to steer itself through a considerable arc, the Lexus just felt a little too soft.

Why would you buy one?

Because you don’t want to be like everyone else and buy either a BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz. But then why wouldn’t you just go for a Jaguar XE? Simple, the Lexus IS range is for those who aren’t really into cars, but want something that looks premium and is nice to drive.

2017 Lexus IS review

2017 Lexus IS line – Key Changes

Lexus Safety System+

  • Lane Departure Warning+
  • Sway warning system
  • Automatic high beam

These features are in addition to the existing pre-collision safety system with autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and hill-start assist control. F Sport and Sports Luxury are also equipped with blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

Exterior

  • New-design front bumper, spindle grille, LED headlamps, daytime running lamps, rear combination lamps, trapezoidal tips on dual exhaust
  • New-design alloy wheels
  • Overall length 4680mm (+15mm)
  • Aluminium tape inside front and rear bumpers (static electricity discharge, airflow)
  • New colours: Deep Blue, Graphite Black (replaces Starlight Black)

Interior

  • 10.3-inch electro multi-vision screen
  • Improved Lexus Remote Touch controller with back and enter switch on extended palmrest
  • Improved parking-assist display and functions
  • Revised meters, clock, steering-wheel switches, shift-lever knob, centre-console cup holders, door handles, electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, knee pads
  • Revised panels – audio, heater control, ornamentation, door switch trim
  • New trim colours of Nuance Black, Noble Brown and Chateau
  • New ornamentations of Mercury Mist, Naguri-style aluminium and laser-cut wood

Technical

  • Revised upper suspension support characteristics
  • New aluminium front lower suspension arm and bushing
  • Drive-Start Control (now standard on IS 200t and IS 300h)

Luxury

  • Revised alloy wheel design
  • Revised rear bumper
  • 10 speakers for the Pioneer sound system

F Sport

  • Exclusive exterior: front grille and bumper side garnish, rear bumper lower, F Sport badges
  • 10 speakers for the Pioneer sound system
  • Naguri-style aluminium ornamentation
  • Customise mode on Drive Mode Select
  • Adaptive variable suspension with predictive anti-dive control

Sports Luxury

  • Unique 18-inch sports alloy wheels (IS 350)
  • Customise mode on Drive Mode Select
  • Adaptive variable suspension with predictive anti-dive control (IS 350 only)
  • Laser-cut wood ornamentation


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober