Slugging it out in a segment brimming over with quality competitors, the 2019 Lexus IS benefits from its tidy size, Lexus quality and available all-wheel drive. Decidedly well suited for city living, it is as capable on twisty country roads as it is in negotiating crowded parking garages. It’s comfy, beautifully furnished and offers lots of connectivity and safety technology.
If you are not put off by the front-end styling, the IS sedan can go toe to toe with the platoon of overachievers it faces, including the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A4. As with most in the segment, the IS is more of a personal sedan than a family one, but young families can be served quite well with it.
What’s New for 2019?
Revised ECU programming on rear-wheel drive IS 300s for improved throttle response, optimized transmission shifts and quicker turbocharger response. New options: Triple beam headlights and Lexus Enform Remote (smart watch and Amazon Alexa skill integration). See the 2019 Lexus IS models for sale near you
What We Like
- Quality and comfort
- Silky V6 engines
- Overall high level of standard equipment
What We Don’t
- Remote Touch navigation interface somewhat fussy to use
- 6-speed automatic transmission becoming dated
The IS 300 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, developing 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The sole transmission is an 8-speed automatic and the car is RWD only. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving.
The IS 300 AWD has a 6-speed automatic transmission connected to a standard AWD 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 RWD and an 8-speed automatic transmission or AWD with a 6-speed automatic transmission. This has a more powerful 3.5-liter V6: 311 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. With RWD, consumption estimates are 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined. With AWD, we’re looking at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Lexus IS comes in 300 RWD, 300 AWD and 350 models. All prices include the factory delivery charge.
Standard equipment in the rear-drive IS 300 ($39,435) includes 17-in wheels, LED headlights/running lights/fog lights/taillights, heated side mirrors, a powered sunroof, keyless entry/ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a manual tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, a self-dimming rearview mirror, 8-way power front seats (with power lumbar adjustment for the driver), premium vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, a 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 ($41,885) and the IS 350/350 AWD ($43,055/$45,220), except for the engines and a few other details like heated front seats in AWD 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, triple-beam headlights, parking sensors front and rear, leather upholstery, wood trim, Enform Remote and a heated steering wheel.
All IS trims 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, a 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 growl into the cabin.
The RWD version of the F Sport-equipped IS 350 comes with adaptive dampers. This variant can also come with a variable-ratio steering system, a 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 seat backs 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 AWD 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
2019 Audi A4 — Ultra-refined and offering plenty of cutting-edge tech.
2019 BMW 3 Series — The godfather of compact premium sedans. Superb to drive.
2019 Cadillac ATS — Well-rounded and world-class.
2019 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 RWD IS 300 seems 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. Find a Lexus IS for sale