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  • 2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD Sedan

    Posted on February 4th, 2011 ninarussin

    Sport sedan with four-season capability

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Lexus IS 350

    The first Lexus IS was a response to tuner cars which popped up in the late 1990s. When the second generation debuted in 2005, Lexus diversified the line-up with two models and available all-wheel drive.

    Adding the IS F two years later widened the model’s appeal to three groups of buyers. The IS 250 targeted drivers looking for an affordable, youthful sport sedan while the 350 reached cross-shoppers of European sport sedans. The IS F went head-to-head with high-performance models such as the Audi A6.

    New all-wheel drive IS 350

    2011 Lexus IS 350

    This year Lexus adds an all-wheel drive version of the IS 350, previously available with rear-wheel drive only. The new IS gives drivers wanting more engine power the all-season capability of the IS 250 AWD. Since its introduction, the IS 250 AWD has accounted for about 30 percent of IS sales.

    This year’s IS models get a new grille and updated exterior trim, as well as standard high-intensity discharge headlamps with standard LED daytime running lamps. The design for the standard 17-inch wheels is also different.

    This week, I got behind the wheel of the new IS 350 all-wheel drive sedan, priced from $41,030, plus an $875 destination charge.

    Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, hence the 350 designation. The 306 horsepower engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 5.7 seconds: a hair slower than the rear-wheel drive model.

    The difference in acceleration is most likely due to 150 additional pounds which all-wheel drive adds to the sedan’s curb weight. The all-wheel drive sedan is also slightly more nose-heavy, with fuel economy about two miles-per-gallon poorer on average.

    The test car comes with two option packages. A luxury group adds heated and ventilated front seats, wood trim with aniline leather upholstery, rain sensing wipers, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and driver’s seat memory ($1320).

    The navigation system includes a rear back-up camera, Lexus Enform concierge service, voice command, and satellite weather and traffic updates ($2465). A cargo net and trunk mat add $64 and $73 respectively, bringing the price as tested to $45,827.

    Versatility with no compromise in performance

    The Lexus IS 350 functions well as an urban commuter car without compromising the fun of driving. While these might seem like easy squares to fill, they’re not.

    Commuters need good visibility around the car’s perimeter, safety, four-season performance and interior quiet. In other words, the car must make driving in traffic stress free. On the other hand, the sedan must have the power and handling to make a sport of two-lane winding roads.

    Comfortable seating for at least four passengers and a good-sized trunk are also requirements. Lexus manages to do all this in a manner which is uniquely its own. While the IS 350 may compete against  Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, its personality is pure Lexus.

    Exterior styling is crisp and elegant. Designers have moved away from the funky headlamps and taillamps of earlier IS generations, appealing to more mature and discerning buyers. The elegant interior seats up to five passengers.

    Although IS has the quiet interior Lexus in known for, one cannot miss a slight exhaust note upon hard acceleration. When the driver downshifts the six-speed gearbox using formula-style paddles on the steering wheel, the sedan produces a pleasant whine as it sails through the turns.

    Steering weight is not exceptionally heavy, but response is precise at all speeds. The electric power steering system is well tuned to the chassis, feeling more like a conventional hydraulic setup. Its advantage is a reduction in weight and easier packaging under the hood.

    The four-wheel independent suspension consists of double wishbones up front and a multi-link setup in back, with stabilizer bars on both axles. The ride is crisp without beating up the passengers.

    Visibility around the perimeter is good. I would recommend the rear-view camera for buyers who can afford it since it eliminates some blind spots in the rear corners and under the back glass. The camera also makes it easier to see oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking space.

    Direct injection gives the V-6 engine better throttle response, and reduces the amount of unburned fuel for better gas mileage and fewer toxic emissions. The engine reaches peak torque, 277 lbs.-ft., at about half pedal. Acceleration in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range is excellent.

    Ventilated front and rear disc brakes stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion.

    Test drive in Phoenix

    2011 Lexus IS 350

    My drive route covered about 150 miles, including highways around metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, suburban and city center surface streets, and a two-lane byway east of town. In other words, I tried to replicate the driving patterns of a business person commuting from the suburbs to city center, with the occasional weekend road trip.

    Around town, I let the automatic transmission shift automatically, occasionally using the cruise control to stretch gas mileage. On the two-lane road I shifted manually using the paddles on the steering wheel. I kept the revs between 2500 and 4000 rpm, to give the car a little more power.

    Shifting the IS manually gives it a completely different personality: powerful, yet stealth-like. All-wheel drive not only improves traction on wet surfaces, it also helps the car’s dry pavement performance, most noticeably in the curves.

    With the moonroof open, the warm Arizona sun flooded into the interior, making the weekday afternoon feel even more special. Being able to enjoy the national parks during the week when the traffic is light is one of the benefits of this job. Doing so in the Lexus IS was time well spent.

    Premium interior

    Lexus IS 350 Interior

    The IS interior has the premium amenities buyers of luxury cars expect: keyless access and start, an upscale 13-speaker audio system with MP3 interface and satellite radio, Bluetooth, redundant steering wheel controls, and automatic dual-zone climate controls.

    The optitron gauges are bright and easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. I had no trouble seeing the navigation screen in the center stack, even in bright sunlight.

    There are a couple of decent-sized cupholders in the center console, with 12 volt, auxiliary and USB ports inside the bin. The bottle holders in the doors seem rather useless: poorly located and too narrow for twenty-ounce bottles.

    A tall floor tunnel severely limits legroom in the second-row middle seating positions. Outboard seats have adequate leg and headroom for smaller adults.

    The rear seats fold flat to extend the sedan’s cargo floor for longer items such as golf bags or skis. Sedans are not the most practical choice for cyclists who may want to store their bikes inside the car. The Lexus RX 350 crossover or its GX or LX sport-utility vehicles would be better choices.

    Standard safety

    The IS 350 comes standard with front, side, side curtain and front seat knee airbags, bi-xenon headlamps, antilock brakes, safety connect with automatic collision notification, traction and stability control.

    The factory warranty includes complimentary maintenance for the first two scheduled visits, 24-hour roadside assistance and lodging for emergency breakdowns which take place more than 100 miles from the driver’s home.

    The 2011 IS 350 is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: A stylish sport sedan which is equally at home in urban traffic and on two-lane byways outside of town. All-wheel drive gives the IS 350 sedan four-season capability.

    Dislike: All-wheel drive adds weight to the chassis, decreasing fuel economy to 20 miles-per-gallon on average.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Lexus
    Model: IS 350 AWD sedan
    Year: 2011
    Base price: $41,030
    As tested: $45,827
    Horsepower: 306 Hp @ 6400 rpm
    Torque: 277 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: 5.7 seconds
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 18/25 mpg city/highway*
    Comments: *The IS requires premium 91 octane unleaded fuel.

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