With its eye-catching styling, powerful engine set and relatively affordable pricing, the sporty Lexus IS 300 and IS 350 combine Lexus luxury, quality and high resale with an exceptionally smooth ride and nimble handling. A pleasant dealer experience and legendary customer-satisfaction scores are standard.
You'll Like The 2018 Lexus IS If...
The Lexus IS delivers the speed, handling, comfort and luxury expected of a premium European brand, but with the kind of reliability and resale history for which Lexus is famous. Expressive styling sets the IS apart from most in this class.
You May Not Like The 2018 Lexus IS If...
If you like your styling more subtle than stand-out, the 2018 Lexus IS may be a bit too over the top. Hardcore driving enthusiasts will lament the omission of a manual transmission and the fact that the Lexus brand is synonymous more with luxury than performance.
The 2018 Lexus IS 250 is renamed the IS 300, while V6 models gain an additional five horsepower. Adaptive front headlights are now available and new standard features include a rearview monitor, 10-year complimentary Enform Safety and Service Connect and, on the IS 350 F Sport, a limited-slip rear differential.
It comes as no surprise that the 2018 IS interior is impeccably assembled with high-quality materials everywhere. In keeping with the current Lexus styling theme, the center stack sits flush with the rest of the dash, improving accessibility and aesthetics. The infotainment screen makes full use of the real estate allotted on the dash -- it's no longer letter-boxed by plastic -- but the mouse-like controller is still frustrating to use at times. We like the F Sport gauges, inspired by the Lexus LF-A exotic car, with their digital instrument cluster and sliding bezel.
It's no secret that the design of the Lexus IS -- especially that big "spindle" grille -- ruffled some feathers when it came out. After a styling update last year, it looks like Lexus is happy leaving those feathers ruffled. Lexus revised the IS’ headlights, grille, front bumper and taillights, but nothing detracts from the eye-catching grille that looks like it's about to eat you alive. The bumper revisions give the F Sport a bit of a "chipmunk-cheek" look, though. Regardless, in profile and from most angles, the IS remains a uniquely styled car, and that's the point.
Unlike Lexus sedans of the past, the 2018 Lexus IS demonstrates a rather playful suspension, direct and precise steering and a satisfying engine note every time the throttle is pressed to the floor. Even better, our feelings about the IS remain the same regardless whether equipped with the 4-cylinder turbo or potent V6. Push the IS up an onramp faster than you normally would and you’ll discover a car that rejoices in the challenge, revealing itself a true sports sedan ready to play with the best BMW, Audi and Cadillac cars. Swap the onramp for a twisting mountain road, and you’ll find the IS in its element, with plenty of horsepower readily on tap as you accelerate out of the curve. For those who really enjoy pushing their limits, the F Sport models bring bigger wheels and more aggressive shock and spring rates, but also a bit firmer ride.
The base Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on a 2018 Lexus IS 300 starts just under $39,500 including the $995 destination charge. If you want all-wheel drive, the 2018 IS 300 AWD starts at about $41,600. A rear-drive IS 350 runs about $43,000, while the AWD version is closer to $45,000. F-sport versions add about $3,000 to any given model, give or take. It's all fairly priced, along the lines of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but you can get into an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Cadillac ATS for notably less, but those cars may have less equipment standard. Check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area paid for their 2018 Lexus IS. Finally, rest assured that the IS, like just about all Lexus vehicles, will maintain a relatively high resale value over time.
In addition to the standard Lexus Safety System+ on all 2018 Lexus IS models, you get a moonroof, HID headlights with LED running lights, LED fog lights and 17-inch wheels. Push-button start, a rearview camera, keyless entry and Bluetooth are also standard. Included is Lexus Personalized Settings to allow drivers to tailor electronic settings to their liking. Siri Eyes Free Mode accommodates better integration with the infotainment system and Apple's iPhones, but curiously, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available. There's an 8-speaker audio system with a 7-inch VGA (Video Graphics Array) screen on the dash, USB and auxiliary inputs and luxury comfort and convenience items.
Besides engine choice and all-wheel drive, options include an upgraded 10.3-inch screen for the Navigation Package, which adds upgraded Bluetooth, HD radio and the Lexus Enform suite. There's a Mark Levinson audio system available with 15 speakers and 835 watts. A luxury package adds a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, heated steering wheel, leather interior with contrasting stitching, and wood trim. The F Sport package gives the grille an even more aggressive look, firms up the suspension, increases braking power, and adds a lot of other sporty trim throughout, including the cool gauge package.
STANDARD LEXUS SAFETY SYSTEM+
Because Lexus puts such a high premium on the safety of its customers, the IS comes standard with a comprehensive safety suite often optional on its competition. The system includes pre-collision warning and braking, lane-departure warning and assist, adaptive cruise control and auto high beams.
2.0-LITER TURBOCHARGED ENGINE
Utilizing both direct and port fuel injection, the IS 300’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine pumps out a healthy 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Power is run through a precise and responsive 8-speed automatic delivering a 0-to-60-mph run in under seven seconds.
Under the Hood
Rear-wheel-drive (RWD) 2018 Lexus IS models can be equipped with either a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with its 241 horsepower, or a 3.5-liter V6 with 311 horsepower. Both are connected to a very good 8-speed automatic transmission that includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel. If you want all-wheel drive (AWD), you have the option of the same 3.5-liter V6 in either 260- or 311-horsepower versions. IS models with AWD get a 6-speed automatic transmission. While the V6 has more power, the smaller turbocharged 4-cylinder feels plenty quick from behind the wheel, and gets notably better fuel economy as well. That's important, as all IS models require premium-grade fuel.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (IS 300, RWD)
241 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,650-4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/32 mpg
3.5-liter V6 (IS 300 AWD)
260 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
236 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/26 mpg
3.5-liter V6 (IS 350 RWD, AWD)
311 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
277 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28 mpg (RWD), 19/26 mpg (AWD)
In the competitive compact-luxury-car market, any vehicle that doesn’t do better than “good enough” simply can’t compete. Thankfully, this isn’t an issue for the 2018 Lexus IS, a small sports sedan good enough to take on the likes of the Cadillac ATS, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. The IS is backed by Lexus’ indisputable reputation for quality, reliability and high resale, not to mention a long list of luxury and safety features buyers have come to expect. We won’t deny the IS’ gaping-grille design is more than polarizing, but that’s a personal opinion not shared by everyone. However, when it comes to performance, capability and sheer driving enjoyment, there is no arguing the 2018 Lexus IS has come into its own.