The 2018 Lexus IS has a lot going for it. This premium compact sedan starts out with attributes we can all appreciate every day of the week, such as comfortable, quiet cabins and confidence-inspiring driving manners. These features also come in a body that can be just the right size. Big enough for people and things, yet compact enough to make life simple in places like parking garages and tight city streets.
Another area where the IS has appeal is the dealership experience. Lexus is a frequent winner of satisfaction surveys like J.D. Power. And Lexus build quality is always dependably high.
The styling may or may not work for you, and this class isn’t short of star performers. But deciding which model to buy is a nice problem to have.
What’s New for 2018?
The car formerly known as the IS 200t with the 4-cylinder engine has been renamed the IS 300. The previous IS 300 with a V6 gets a little boost in output from 255 to 260 horsepower and is linked to an all-wheel drive system. The IS 350 also receives a bump in power from 306 to 311 hp. In all cases, torque stays the same and fuel consumption is, if anything, slightly better than before.
Lexus Enform Safety Connect is now free for the first 10 years, as is the Lexus Enform Service Connect plan.
There’s also been some restructuring of the options. A rearview camera is now standard throughout the range, adaptive headlights join the options list, and the F Sport versions offer some new extras. See the 2018 Lexus IS models for sale near you
What We Like
Quality; comfort; silky V6 engines; overall level of standard equipment
What We Don’t
Remote Touch navigation interface somewhat fiddly to use; 6-speed automatic transmission becoming dated
The IS 300 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that develops 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The sole transmission is an 8-speed automatic and the car is rear-wheel-drive only. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 22 miles per gallon city, 32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined.
The IS 300 AWD has a 6-speed automatic transmission connected to a standard all-wheel drive system. Propulsion is supplied by a 3.5-liter V6 making 260 hp and 236 lb-ft. EPA figures are 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
The IS 350 comes with either rear-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission or all-wheel drive with a 6-speed automatic transmission. This has a more powerful 3.5-liter V6: 311 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. With rear-wheel drive, consumption estimates are 20mpg city/28 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined; with all-wheel drive, we’re looking at 19mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Lexus IS comes in 300 RWD (rear-wheel drive), 300 AWD (all-wheel drive) and 350 models.
Standard equipment in the rear-drive IS 300 ($39,205) includes 17-inch wheels, LED headlights/running lights/fog lights/taillights, heated side mirrors, powered sunroof, keyless entry/ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, rearview camera, manual tilt-telescopic steering wheel, self-dimming rearview mirror, 8-way power front seats (with power lumbar adjustment for the driver), premium vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, 7-in display, voice command capability, Siri Eyes Free and a 10-speaker/293-watt audio system with CD player, HD/satellite radio and two USB ports.
Features are pretty much the same for the IS 300 AWD ($41,655) and the IS 350 ($42,825), except for the engines and a few other details like heated front seats in all-wheel-drive versions, and the IS 350 gets 18-in wheels.
A Premium package brings heated/ventilated front seats. A Navigation package is eligible for the excellent 835-watt/15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
The Comfort package consists of blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, self-dimming side mirrors and a power-adjustable steering wheel.
Other options include adaptive headlights, parking sensors front and rear, leather upholstery, wood trim and a heated steering wheel.
All three IS cars are eligible for the F Sport package. This includes an all-mesh grille, 18-in wheels with wider tires at the rear (18×8 up front; 18×8.5 out back) and a choice of summer (high-performance) or all-season tires, plus high-friction brake pads and a sportier suspension. It also entails a different front bumper design that removes the fog lights.
Interior F Sport features include front sport seats with extra lateral support and heated/ventilated functions, aluminum pedals, black headliner, perforated leather trim and a dedicated instrument cluster. There’s even an engine sound amplifier (unavailable in the 4-cylinder IS 300 RWD) that brings a sportier V6 snort into the cabin.
The rear-drive version of the F Sport-equipped IS 350 comes with adaptive dampers. This variant can also come with a variable-ratio steering system, limited-slip rear differential and powered adjustment for the steering wheel.
Trunk capacity is 10.8 cu ft., approximately enough for five pieces of aircraft carry-on luggage. For extra space, the rear seatbacks can also split 60/40 and fold down (but not totally flat).
Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, traction/stability control and 10 airbags. Lexus Enform Safety Connect brings automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location and an emergency assistance call button.
The standard Lexus Safety System Plus includes adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision mitigation system that tightens the front seat belts and boosts braking power if necessary, lane-departure warning system and intelligent high beams.
Among the options are front and rear parking sensors and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
In government crash tests, the Lexus IS 350 scored five out of five stars overall; four for front impact protection, five for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the IS the top rating of "Good" in its main categories and made it a Top Safety Pick Plus.
Behind the Wheel
Top-notch materials and superb attention to detail distinguish the interior. Every area where arms and elbows come into contact with the cabin is padded, and even the dashboard uses soft-touch materials. Comfort is a major plus point, both up front and in the back, where space is more than sufficient for a couple of adults.
The Remote Touch interface that comes with the navigation system isn’t up to the same standard as the rest of the car’s ergonomics. It’s hard to control the cursor, especially when driving. At least the voice command function works well.
The turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine in the IS 300 is smooth enough to sit behind a Lexus grille, yet also brings a fair amount of punch. A dated transmission, heavy all-wheel drive system and only 260 hp don’t help the IS 300 AWD’s case. The IS 350 has more vigor and, in rear-drive form, the better transmission.
Ride quality earns the IS another gold star. It’s refined and relaxed, yet also precise. The suspension of the F Sport package is naturally firmer, although the adaptive dampers in the rear-drive IS 350 F Sport model mean the best of both worlds.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Audi A4 — Ultra-refined and offering plenty of cutting-edge tech.
2018 BMW 3 Series — The godfather of compact premium sedans. Superb to drive. A new generation is due soon.
2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class — Incredibly impressive, like an S-Class but scaled down.
2018 Cadillac ATS — Well-rounded and world-class.
2018 Jaguar XE — Slinky suspension, sleek looks and great equipment choices.
Used Audi A6 — So good in so many respects, it’s almost unfair to the rest of the car world.
The rear-drive IS 300 seems perfectly reasonable enough for most people’s requirements. Add the Comfort package (for the blind-spot monitoring system in particular) and, if possible, the Mark Levinson audio setup, which is superb.