OUT OF OFFICE
by Channette Raath
The New Lexus IS350 - Luxurious Fun
Fun – that’s what the chief engineer from Lexus wanted the new range of sports sedans to portray. With so many excellent options to choose from, would one of the world’s top luxury automobile manufacturers be able to transcend its image by breaking the shackles and letting its ‘fun flag’ fly?
I visited the sugar-cane roads of the serenely beautiful KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to test whether the new IS350 presents a new challenge or whether it’s just another comfortable cruiser destined for the reserved parking bay at your local dentist. It’s 7am on a gloomy, overcast morning and a bunch of weary journalists exit the Fairmont Hotel situated on the stunning Zimbali Estate. From within the bunched-up group, I spot the new IS350, and my first thought is, not bad! On approaching it, the most recognisable feature must be the new ‘spindle’ grill, which has been designed to give the new IS350 an aggressive yet modern look, and, in my opinion, it works really well.
Even better than the standard ‘spindle’ grill is the ‘honeycomb’ design of the IS350 F-Sport’s grill, which looks as intimidating as the chrome teeth of a rap artist from the Bronx. The air-intakes and L-shaped daytime running lights (DRL) on the F-Sport also add a menacing look to the front of the IS350, but, unfortunately, the good looks found in the front aren’t replicated in the rear, which looks like the back of a Toyota Corolla.
The formalities done and dusted, I get into my first vehicle for the day, the IS350 F-Sport! At first, it seems a bit abstract, with the rounded 3-D passenger-side dashboard, mixed with the flat and straight-lined design of the centre console, but the longer I sit in the cockpit, the more I feel a sense of synergy between the different aspects of the interior. The materials used are of the highest quality, as has become the standard on all Lexus automobiles, and are evident as I get behind the beautifully designed steering wheel. The PlayStation-like dials up front reaffirm the intentions of the design team, and the speedo/rev counter’s ability to shift around inside the upfront display is, for want of a better word, awesome! As I hit the accelerator, the rev counter turns red, and the harder I push and the further the revs go up, the brighter it becomes!
The group moves out of Zimbali Estate at an easy pace, and makes for the scenic byways of Richmond and surrounds. After 15 minutes of lazy driving, I cannot contain myself any longer, and I switch to Sport+ mode to see whether the most important aspect of a fun car – the actual drive – lives up to the chief engineer’s vision. The rev counter lights up to its brightest red hue, and the 3.5-litre V6 finally wakes up to greet me. It produces a respectable 228kW of power and 375Nm of torque, giving the driver a 0-100km/h time of 5.9 seconds. As I barrel down the meandering hills, the superb handling becomes clear, as, considering that it’s a rear-wheel-drive car, I never feel out of control or that I’m in danger of losing control of the vehicle, especially at higher speeds. The seats are constructed using an integrated foaming method which gives the driver a supremely comfortable, yet supportive, driving position. All the IS350 models come with an 8-Speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) Automatic Gearbox, which is excellent, but, for the purposes of being a driver’s car, one wonders whether a manual transmission wouldn’t have been the more ‘fun’ option.
As with all Lexus models, safety is a key characteristic, and the IS350 range is no different. Ten SRS air bags are fitted throughout the vehicle, and the new design allows for great improvements in vehicle-to-vehicle as well as vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions. One of the many new additions to the Lexus safety portfolio is the Auto Location Tyre Pressure Warning System (AL-TPWS), and this allows the driver to basically see the tyre pressure of each tyre in real time, making it easier to prevent accidents and excessive wear and tear. The hairpin bends complete, we turn towards the N2 and head back towards King Shaka International Airport, where our journey will come to an end. I then start thinking about the value that the new IS350 would create for potential buyers. In terms of price, the range starts with the IS350 E, costing R449 900, and for a luxury 3.5-litre V6, this is a seriously good price, but does not include Park Assist, Park Distance Sensors or Rain-Sensing Wipers. Next, one finds the IS350 EX priced at R499 900, which comes with all of the above-mentioned, but not the 18-inch Sport Alloy wheels or any of the sport instruments such as aluminium sport pedals or sport seats, which are reserved solely for the IS350 F Sport, which would set you back R553 900.
To conclude, in terms of looks, the new Lexus IS350 isn’t an unattractive car, but falls short when compared with its competitors. The interior is bold and intuitive, but remains luxurious, and ranks up there with some of the best. There is ample power for exhilarating driving, but the option of a manual gearbox might have been a welcome addition. That the would-be passengers are well protected in the case of an accident is an understatement considering all the gizmos the team at Lexus has included as standard on all the models. Pricing is extremely competitive, and I believe that the IS350 EX model offers the potential buyer the most value. To answer my initial question of whether the team at Lexus has managed to go beyond itself and create a fun car to drive whilst maintaining its apparent quality feel, my answer is an emphatic, definitely!