South Africans are besotted with the german marquees. The BMW 3 series nearly pips the Polo on sales for a single model monthly. On the roads, the Mercedes C-Class, 3Series and A4 are everywhere and that limits exclusivity. As much of a status symbol as these vehicles are, incredible deals seem to now allow anyone the opportunity to take one to the road, which can also bring real personalized service into question.
Enter Lexus, the luxury marquee of Toyota (sidenote – Nissan brings Infinity, their luxury brand to SA in a few months) who believes that luxury should come standard. The “IS” is the model which competes with the 3series, C-Class and A4, and compete it does. Lexus proudly boasts about the incredible value the IS range has directly compared with rivals (http://www.lexus.co.za/model/IS350/value-comparison), and it, as well as Lexus’ incredible reputation for excellent personalized service cannot be ignored.
The IS 350 was recently added to the range, which previously only featured 2 engine derivates, in the form of a 2.5litre V6 and a 5litre V8. So needless to say some kind of mid range engine was needed, which is the 3.5litre V6 in the 350. Lexus puts the impetus right on the acceleration of the vehicle, which is an astonishing 5.6seconds to 100km/h. This makes you think that this is in fact a performance or sports saloon…well that’s something like saying just because you’re skinny means you should be a model. Nought…there’s the IS-F (The crazy performance saloon) for that.
The IS then really competes against the likes of the C350, BMW 335i and Audi 3.2FSI. Unfortunately for Lexus, BMW just launched its new 3 (and it’s really good), and the C-Class and A4 more recently had an update. Even though the IS came out of a refresh in 2011, the car now seems a little “old-school” in some aspects when compared to the newer rivals, and let me explain why:
The 3.5litre V6 is an incredibly gutsy engine. With 233kW and 378NM of torque available it makes for effortless overtaking, acceleration and cruising. I really liked the V6 growl, there’s so few of these naturally aspirated V6’s left these days that it is a real treat to pull off and floor it. None of the competition come close in terms of performance, but in this day and age, you can get similar acceleration and better fuel consumption out of a 6cylinder turbo charged petrol, or large capacity diesel engine. Times are a changin’.
The 6 speed sequential auto is great if you’re not intending on buying a sports saloon. Lexus has such an amazing 8speed auto in the IS-F that makes this 6speed look like something that should belong to Fred Flinstones’ car. It does an excellent job at smooth changes, and the engine has enough low-down grunt to really negate a lot of switching, but when you’ve driven the 7 or 8-speed gearboxes in the rivals’ vehicles, it now feels a tad ‘Cadillac’. Also, sport mode isn’t really what you would expect. It’s actually a “hill climber” mode, which allows you to select the maximum gear the gearbox can use. Nifty, but not really that functional or understandable to most. Unless you live halfway up the French Alps of course.
Whereas many of the rivals now employ a central driving mode selection (Comfort, Sport, Eco etc.) the Lexus is still very old-school where you have to select Sport on the gearbox, then on a little button next to the steering column select a different mode for the traction control. It’s all a bit 2000 and late, that’ll suite a guy in his mid-40’s just fine, but seems a bit disjointed when the rivals have moved on.
Spec for spec, the Lexus trumps the competition hands down. So badly in fact that it really makes you hate on the German marquees for the way they structure their pricing around options and leave very little standard. Sat-Nav, HID headlamps, electric heated & cooled seats, reverse camera, premium sound & electric rear sun shade just to name a few, are standard on this 350.
The interior is, a comfortable luxurious, quiet place to be and everything is simple and easy to understand. It’s very well put together and definitely more comfortable than anything from BMW / Audi. What I loved (Read hated) was the Cadillac wood trim and seating position, in which it leaves about 1centre of headroom on its lowest setting for me. Also, to then negate that, you lower the seatback, only to crush the person’s legs in the seat behind you. Fun. Something quite nifty is the way the dials light up in orange and red as speed and RPM increase.
I hate to pick holes, the IS range is by no means a bad choice of vehicle (in any guise but the convertible) but in 2012 with the competitors having launched updated or new vehicles altogether it is unfortunately showing its age.
The IS 350 is for all intent and purposes a great luxury cruiser with a very powerful engine. It’s by no means a very focused sporty sedan, even though Lexus seems to drive home the 0-100 time, I think this car speaks more to the man that wants a luxury sedan with TONS of spec and exclusivity, a good bit of power but without the very sporty ride.
Where the rivals will never come close to competing with Lexus is on specification and customer service. I have yet to hear a single horror story, actually I’ve heard only the opposite, and it’s a more mature buyer that realizes that comfort, spec and long-term customer service is really where it’s at.
The IS 350 SE (available in EX trim too) comes in at R548 600, and features a 4yr 100 000km distance plan complete service plan and warranty.