2017 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

The premium sports sedan for those who don't want to grow up just yet

Just to get it out of the way, the Lexus IS 350 F Sport has been, for the last 4 years, one of my favorites in its class. To be clear, that's a tall order for Toyota's premium brand because the model itself has to compete against the likes of the 3-Series, the C Class, as well as the A4; all German, all legends for providing a premium experience for those who prefer to drive.

But times have changed, and Lexus has to give their IS 350 an update to maintain its position as one of the top contenders in its field, and here is the result.

The changes made to the exterior seem minor, but they're actually more complex. The alteration to the hood and the reprofiling of the fascia are major changes, even though they're quite subtle. If anything, they made the car look angrier with the large spindle grill, the wider intakes, and the fiercer eyes. The rear wasn't changed much apart from the updated LED taillamps, but still, especially in this F Sport trim, the IS 350 is very much a looker.

Pop open the driver's door and you're met by a very sporty cabin, one finished in black and gray, but with red upholstery. The contrast is very striking and definitely one of my favorite color combinations. The minor alterations to the dashboard include the switches on the steering wheel, the larger infotainment screen, and the shroud around the LFA-style gauges are there for this F Sport; a definite upgrade over the conventional gauges in the standard IS 350.

Seating up front is definitely nice and snug, and I like the way the IS seems to surround the driver. The Lexus multimedia control system is still one of my favorites, and definitely adds a touch of high-tech quality to the control system for the navigation, the audio, and other functions. Of course, given that the IS was meant to be driven, the legroom in the back seat isn't what you would expect especially with the large tunnel in the middle of the floor for the propeller shaft on this rear-wheel drive sport sedan.

Despite the sporting inclinations (IS does stand for Intelligent Sport), the daily driven manners of the IS 350 exemplify the very best of Lexus. The sound insulation is superb, turning loud exhaust notes from other vehicles into a neat murmur. With the drive selector in comfort, the ride of the suspension is quite pliant even though the wheels are quite big.

But it is when we start playing with the throttle that the IS 350 F Sport shows us again why we've always liked it. The 3.5-liter V6 under the hood can propel the IS 350 from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.9 seconds, and onward to a 230 km/h top speed. There's a nice growl from the engine bay too at high revs, a visceral note that makes us thank them for sticking to a big naturally aspirated V6 instead of a downsized and turbocharged four-banger.

With Sport+ mode activated, the LFA-style gauges move to the center and feature a white ring around it. More importantly, Sport+ activates the more aggressive settings of the engine and transmission, firms up the suspension (Sport does not alter it), and sharpens the variable ratio steering. And boy, does the IS 350 F Sport know how to move, especially on a mountain pass.

I'll just put it out there that we see the Lexus IS 350 F Sport as a cut-priced M3. And at just over PhP 3-million (thanks to JPEPA tariff cuts), it really demonstrates how reasonably priced premium performance can be.

ENGINE: V6, 3456cc, dohc 24-valve, VVT-i, 8-speed AT with paddle shifters

MAX POWER: 312 bhp @ 4000 rpm

MAX TORQUE: 279 lb ft @ 4800 rpm

0-100 km/h (0-62 mph): 5.9 sec.

TOP SPEED: 230 km/h

FUEL MILEAGE: 6.5 km/l city / 11.3 km/l highway

+: Sharp style, performance, driving dynamics, price

-: Not much

C! RATING: 9.5/10