Lexus’ updates to the 2017 IS make for one appealing, assertive and sharp sports sedan

VICTORIA, B.C. – The work to the 2017 Lexus IS, which stands for Innovative Sedan, is designed to bring the look in line with the new Lexus image. As before, it will be offered in the rear-drive IS 200t, as well as all-wheel-drive versions of the IS 300 and IS 350.

The restyle is much bolder, giving the sports-oriented sedan a more planted stance and a purposeful look. The key changes include a new front bumper with a much larger “spindle” grille that’s flanked by air intakes to go along with LED headlights. The back end is defined by the new-look combination lamps and revamped exhaust diffusers — the tailpipe tips are now oblong and look to be part of the car and rather than an add-on. If you want more, opt for the F Sport package and its expressive treatment. Inside, it boils down to better seating, more equipment and some nicer trim pieces — there is also a new, optional, 10.3-inch infotainment screen with the second-generation Remote Touch controller. It is still as finicky to use.

2017 Lexus IS 350

2017 Lexus IS 350

The update also brings, as standard equipment, the Lexus Safety System+. The addition, among other things, brings a pre-collision system that uses a camera and millimetre-wave radar to “look” for other vehicles and pedestrians ahead of the IS. The system provides audio and visual alerts and brake assistance when a potential crash is detected. If the driver does not take any action after the warnings, the system automatically brakes the car, and can bring it to a halt before the impact if needed. The pedestrian side works between 10 and 80 km/h; the vehicle aspect works at any speed over 10 km/h. The package also includes lane departure warning with steering assist, intelligent high beam assist and high-speed adaptive cruise control.

Where the IS stands pat is in the powertrain lineup. The IS 200t features Toyota’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. It produces 241 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,650 rpm – driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic that focuses on performance. The first six gears look after the launch and mid- to upper-ranges, and the end result is a run from rest to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds. The other two gears bring better fuel economy and quiet highway cruising.

Around the track, the IS proved to be a willing worker that was quick to tuck into a corner, and it managed to get the power down efficiently powering out of it. Thank the P225/40R18 rubber that comes with the $4,800 F-Sport Series 1 package. This also brings some needed equipment like a rearview camera, heated and cooled sport bucket seats, blind spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert, among other items. This makes the package all but mandatory in my book.

The midrange IS 300 AWD comes with a 3.5-litre V6 engine that’s good for 255 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque at a low – for a naturally aspirated engine – 2,000 rpm. It works with a six-speed automatic. This combination sees the IS run to 100 km/h in 6.4 seconds.

The engine of choice is found in the range-topping IS 350 AWD. It arrives with the same V6 engine and six-speed transmission, but it has been retuned to crank out 306 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. This mean a faster work ethic — 6.0 seconds to 100 km/h.

Where the IS 200t and IS 300 AWD make do with a three-mode Drive Mode select system (Eco, Normal and Sport), the IS 350 AWD with the F-Sport Series 3 package adds a fourth extension. The package ($1,300) brings most of the stuff from the Series 1 package, but adds an adaptive suspension and P225/40R18 front and P255/35R18 rear tires. Selecting the fourth mode, Sport Plus, alters the throttle, steering and shift points as well as the adaptive damping. This sharpens the driving dynamics noticeably. In the first three modes, the IS 350 was compliantly comfortable. Selecting Sport Plus made it discernibly firmer.

For the most part, forget Eco and Normal, and stick with Sport for everyday driving. The throttle response is crisp, but it upshifts nicely without holding the gears for too long. However, around the Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit’s technical track – uphill off-camber corners with blind apexes! – Sport Plus came into its own. The steering has much better feel and the firmer damping dialed out unwanted body roll. The fact it powers all four wheels also meant it could handle a much deeper stab at the gas when exiting the corner than the IS 200t. That said, if fun is the order of the day, it’s much easier to flick the rear-drive 200t’s tail out!

While the changes to the latest IS are modest in the scheme of things, they do make for a more appealing and assertive drive. The IS 350 AWD F Sport was good through the twisties and even better on the track. The 2017 Lexus IS starts at $40,150 for the base 200t and tops out at $53,350 for the IS 350 AWD. The model tested carried a sticker of $55,300, F-Sport package included.