The Lexus IS needs some updates, but it has some great qualities.
Nearly two decades ago, Lexus made the bold decision to rebadge the JDM Toyota Altezza and sell it as the Lexus IS to give it a compact rival for the BMW 3 Series. Fast forward to 2019 and the IS is now in its third generation, which was introduced for the 2014 model year. In its five years on the market, the third-generation IS saw a minor facelift in 2016 along with some new powertrain choices. But with the sedan slowly conceding sales to crossovers and SUVs, Lexus has put its attention elsewhere.
We recently tested a 2019 IS 350 F-Sport and although it has some strengths, there a few elements we would change. In order to help Lexus improve the IS for the next generation, we've listed three suggested improvements and three elements we think should remain the same. The IS's future (as well as the larger GS) has been called into question recently but we think the car could be majorly improved with a few minor changes.
Above all else, a Lexus should always be comfortable - it's in the carmaker's DNA. Even with sports cars like the RC-F and LC 500, the ride comfort is never allowed to be compromised in exchange for performance. The IS may be the smallest Lexus sedan but it still feels comfortable on the road, even in F-Sport guise. Lexus has among the most supportive seats in the industry and the red leather chairs in our F-Sport tester looked fabulous while including heating and ventilation.
Our tester was an IS 350 model, equipped with the top-level 3.5-liter V6 producing 311 horsepower sending power rearward through an eight-speed automatic. Compared to turbocharged contemporaries, the V6's grunt feels lackluster when you mash the pedal. We'd love to see Lexus drop in the twin-turbo V6 from the larger LS and perhaps bring back the high-powered F variant. Toyota has even been rumored to be working with Mazda on a new platform with an inline-six engine, which would be perfect for the fourth-generation IS.
The current Lexus design, especially the spindle grille, is the most controversial piece of the IS. But as many car designs begin to blend with each other, we commend Lexus for making the IS stand out. If the leaked images from Japan are accurate, the IS will keep its aggressive styling but go slighter softer with the lines to avoid controversy, which is a win in our minds.
Infotainment has been a major bugaboo for Lexus ever since the company transitioned from touchscreens to a mouse-style controller. Starting with the 2020 RX, Lexus will start bringing back the touchscreen along with the much-anticipated inclusion of Android Auto (along with Apple CarPlay). If the IS does live to see a fourth-generation, it should benefit from the same infotainment improvements as the new RX.
Lexus has allowed its interior technology to become stale but its interior design still looks great. The red seats, perforated stitched leather, and aluminum trims give a sporty yet elegant vibe. Lexus still uses great materials and very few surfaces in the IS feel cheap. We want Lexus to retain its high level of quality when designing the next IS interior.
While we love the design, the interior's layout needs a rethink. Not to be confused with design elements like the materials and switchgear, the IS simply needs more interior storage space. The center console lacks any place to rest a cell phone or any other items, while the rear seats don't fold flat. When Lexus designs a new interior, we'd like to see a storage area up front (preferably with a wireless charger) and flat-folding rear seats.