The 2020 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition is a very nice car. Nice, but the redesign and tuning for 2021 will be welcome.
I have said, “nice car” about many cars. As a matter of fact, being a critic of new cars in the year 2020 is much like being an art critic in the Renaissance. From the factory, cars are just so good. Initial quality is like no other era of the automobile.
I drive the press cars like I own them. I go get groceries, take the occasional trip to the track. Go back and forth to California from Phoenix to see my three daughters. The IS 350 was an easy car to live with. It’s comfortable, can get out of its own way, feels stable and has enough technology to launch the space shuttle.
In the category, the IS 350 has very tight competition. There’s the BMW 3-Series, the Audi A4, the C-Class Mercedes, the Genesis G70 and the Alfa Giulia. The IS fits well in the category. I drive a C-Class as a daily, so I am rather familiar with the category. Taking the IS on my routine California weekend was very nice and very comparable to driving the Mercedes. I actually liked the seats and driving position better in the IS.
The car has good power, particularly on the interstate. It cruises very comfortably at high speed. The stability, due to the tuned suspension and quiet cabin sometimes makes you think you are driving below the posted limits, while not exactly doing so. The 311 hp 3.5 liter V6 linked to an 8-speed automatic was lively. However seemingly not very efficient. With my C-Class I can drive from Phoenix to Orange County, California on one tank at 25-26 MPG. Not possible with the IS. The sticker claims 28 MPG Highway – I was lucky to get 23 even in “Eco” mode.
The IS has intuitive controls, however, the toggle “mouse” moved a bit too quickly for different functions on the screen in the center of the dash. If you are susceptible to distracted driving, this could be a hinderance. Clearly this was inspired by BMW’s control, but while the functionally works ok, it wasn’t as user friendly. If you are planning a trip, it’s best to have your settings in place before pulling away.
The Lexus LFS-inspired digital gauges were easy to read at a glance and were quite attractive to the eye. The cockpit is roomy and comfortable, and the 10-way power seats could be set up for a perfect driving position.
The handling of the car was terrific, courtesy of the four wheel independent suspension. As I approached the mountain pass Riverside to the desert, I flipped the drive mode from “Economy” to “Sport” and manually used the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. As I buzzed through the mountains, the car was responsive and the wheel gave good feedback through the electro-mechanical steering. Rear wheel drive is mandated for this class, it felt sporty and was smooth through the corners and gave me plenty of confidence.
Once in California, trips to the store and other activities were pleasant. My kids liked the car. There was plenty of rear legroom – particularly for my oldest daughter at 5’8”. The vented seats made driving long distances very comfortable. There is decent trunk space for luggage and golf clubs.
Overall the Lexus IS 350 F Sport was a very nice car, but not one that I would be running to my local dealer to spend $50,000. I have already heard great things about the 2021 model and look forward to driving that one soon.