It was a last-minute assignment: go to the NHRA’s second race in Phoenix in late February. Lexus came up with the 2020 IS350 F Sport (RWD) for the long, nearly seven-hour trip. It turned out to be a fabulous choice, and this vehicle, with less than 700 miles on the odometer when picked up, was a grand conveyance for a long trip of this nature.
Because the Lexus had so few miles on it, we were careful to use the normal or ECO driving mode over the road, helping it attain a bit more maturity and gain a bit more economy as I-10 droned along. After arriving in the Phoenix area, we used Sport and Sport+ for driving pleasure on the country roads near Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
The Lexus IS model is the smallest rear-wheel-drive sedan Lexus offers; it is available with all-wheel-drive, but that option was not on this IS350 F Sport. The IS is a stylish sedan, with its arching front end boasting the black egg-crate F Sport grille, articulated seams and lighting. Its side is calming and the back end’s protruding lights and delicately upswept tail show the sporting attributes through double pipes neatly hidden in the rear fascia.
The 2020 Lexus IS350 F Sport (RWD) is among the more expensive variations available on the IS platform, mostly due to its superior running gear. Lexus plops a 3.5-liter V-6 engine into the front bay and endows it with 311 horsepower at 6,600 rpm, together with 280 lb-ft of torque at 4,800; redline is at 6,600 rpm. An eight-speed automatic transmission is applied with paddle shifts or the capability to manually shift through floor-mounted selection; gearing is excellent for both sporting and economical driving.
Double wishbones and multi-link suspensions fore and aft keep the IS350 F Sport firmly planted and there are ventilated disc brakes all around to securely halt this 3594-pound sedan. Electric power steering is exceptionally precise and affords a 34.20-foot turning circle. Lexus fits variegated Bridgestone Turanza 18-inch tires, with 225/40R front and 255/35R rear rubber mounted on twinned five-spoke dark gray alloy wheels. The tires can be a bit noisy, noticeable in this well-insulated cabin.
The sport seats afford comfort for the long haul and are fully adjustable, heated and ventilated. The grippy leather steering wheel is heated and offers controls for audio, phone and muting to the left, along with trip info, lane departure and cruise following distance on the right. The central console is tilted upward to aid visibility for the driver and is all quite intuitive for anyone who’s ever driven a Lexus. The separate stalk for cruise operation is standard Toyota issue; it works extremely well and it’s nice to have operation through a single source (as opposed to cruise on the steering wheel).
A central covered storage has a 12-volt, 2-USB and a single auxiliary plug, while all infotainment is accessed through a movable pad, rather than the flat surface in other Lexus vehicles recently driven here. The navigation system on this particular car needs an update as it did not recognize a new road in the Phoenix area that the phone knew; I’m sure it’s been updated by now.
In addition to the SiriusXM access that’s free for three months, the Lexus multimedia system in this IS350 operates through an optional 10.3-in. color display. There a 10-speaker premium sound system, all the better to access Apple CarPlay out in the middle of nowhere. Lexus’ Enform remote system (1-year trial) offers Smart Watch and Alexa skill integration. Lexus fits dual-zone automatic climate control and a good-sized one-touch tilt/slide sunroof.
This particular Lexus IS350 F Sport has a base price of $43,205 including destination. There are five options that increase the entry fee to $50,940. These include the F Sport black line special edition with F-Sport front bumper and grille, along with the split 5-spoke alloys with their unique black vapor chrome finish and black side mirrors. The interior has LFA-inspired instrumentation, black NuLuxe seats with gray accents and indigo stitching, F Sport bolstered heated and ventilated front seats, a perforated leather-trimmed shift knob and indigo blue heated, wood-trimmed steering wheel with F Sport logo, black headliner, aluminum pedals, F Sport suspension tuning, adaptive variable suspension and limited slip rear differential. That was a single option for $3,735!
In addition, Lexus charges $1,160 for triple beam headlamps, $1,745 for the navigation package of nav system with 10.3-inch color multimedia display and Lexus Enform destination assist, $500 for intuitive parking assist and $595 for the gorgeous ultrasonic blue mica paint.
High points of this Lexus include its use an articulated multimedia interface rather than a touchy flat surface, its superbly tuned sport suspension and all the driver assistance tech. Lexus didn’t charge extra for the blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, stating it’s a $600 freebie which also includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, high-speed dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and intelligent high beam LED headlights. All lights on the 2020 Lexus IS350 are LED.
I also like the inclusion of a first aid kit in the 10.8-cubic-foot trunk that has access to the rear seats through a 60/40 fold capability; there is a small spare tire beneath the floor, along with tie-down hooks that enable cargo stability. Rear passengers have air flow and a fold-down armrest for drinks. Rear seating is adequate for three, although two might be more comfortable.
Some reviewers find the infotainment controls complicated but I did not. Many thought the mileage from Lexus’ 17.4-gallon tank, rated at 20/28/23 insufficient for this vehicle. As the car driven here had less than 1,600 miles when we returned it – using only premium unleaded for each refill – the trip mileage attained moved from a low of 22mpg to a high of 24 and that can only get better with time. Is the trunk small? Maybe to some but this reviewer found it very useful and cleanly appointed, with few crevices that would stop the accumulation of cargo.
Once we used the Sport driving mode in our travels, the gauge cluster changed to a more imposing white with red accents to accompany the more aggressive nature of steering and acceleration. That mode just felt more natural for the vehicle.
Now in its 14th sales year, Lexus’ IS models continue to populate the market and continue to sell in good numbers. Over more than 1,000 miles in a single week, we found this particular, brand new Lexus a joy to drive and to maneuver through its infotainment capabilities. A well-rounded car, and one premium visibility, the IS350 F Sport is a capable runner in every situation.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit