The 2019 Lexus IS sport sedan woos drivers from the usual German hardware with its enviable reputation for durabilityΓÇöand with spirited performance.
Sold with either a turbo-4 or a V-6 engine, it returns for the model year with few changes.
The rear-wheel-drive IS 300 taps a 2.0-liter turbo-4 for 241 horsepower. It changes gears with an 8-speed automatic and comes with rear-wheel driveΓÇöthough there’s also an IS 300 with all-wheel drive that adopts a 3.5-liter V-6 with 260 hp and a 6-speed automatic.
At the top of the lineup, the IS 350 installs a 3.5-liter V-6 with 311 horsepower and pairs it with an excellent 8-speed automatic when it’s configured with rear-wheel drive, or a 6-speed automatic when it’s fitted with all-wheel drive. In all editions, the 2019 Lexus IS offers spirited handling on a balanced chassis and grippy tires.
Fuel economy in the rear-wheel-drive IS 300 is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined, on premium fuel. The all-wheel-drive IS 300 drops by 4 mpg.
The rear-wheel drive IS 350 is pegged at 19/28/22 mpg; the all-wheel-drive version is scored at 19/26/21 mpg, also on premium fuel.
The NHTSA awards the IS five stars overall, with four stars for front impact protection. The IIHS has called it a Top Safety Pick. Standard active safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control,. Options include blind-spot monitors.
At about $39,000, the base IS 300 offers standard equipment LED headlights, synthetic leather upholstery, a moonroof, 7.0-inch infotainment display, and 17-inch wheels.
A Premium package adds heated and cooled front seats and blind-spot monitors. Other packages add a 10.3-inch display and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, as well as leather seats.
The F Sport package gains sport seats, adaptive dampers, and restyled front and rear bumpers.
The IS body shows great attention to detail in profile, with a lot of well-placed sharp lines. The wheels press outward from the creased fenders, and give the IS a stance that suggests strong performance. The LED headlights flaunt high technology with grace, framed by a Lexus spindle grille.
The IS cabin wears rich materials and fine details, from its analog gauges to its analog clock. The optional wood and aluminum trim, not to mention the Mark Levinson sound system, can make the small space feel very special. The cockpit snugs in around the driver with its wide center console, high beltline, and tiered dashboard. That puts controls within easy reach.
The front seats are firm and power-adjustable. The optional F Sport seats have thick bolsters. The back seat is very small, and adult passengers will be comfortable only on shorter trips. Trunk space measures 13.8 cubic feet, big enough for a couple of weekend roll-aboard bags.
The IS 300’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 doles out power to the rear wheels of this compact Lexus, and gives it an engaging driving feelΓÇöbetter, we think, than the AWD car with the lower-output V-6.
We’d recommend the IS 350 and its V-6. It’s a gem, with 311 horsepower and a responsive 8-speed automatic when outfitted with rear-wheel drive. The V-6 is responsive and linear, and the 8-speed automatic feels perfectly programmed to the engine.
With any powertrain, the IS has sharp handling and a firm ride that’s composed in most situations, even though it rides on a relatively short wheelbase.
Four drive modes let drivers tune the IS to a few different performance levels. Eco mode slows throttle response to save fuel. Comfort shifts the transmission early for smoother driving, while Sport speeds it up for enthusiastic driving. The IS F Sport has Sport+, which makes the gas and steering and transmission even more responsive.
The compact Lexus IS sport sedan skips over the people-carrying chores of the bigger ES and LS sedans. It goes for grin-inducing drivesΓÇöand for most, the IS 350 will deliver those grins best.