Sport sedans have taken a back seat lately to a new crop of sporty SUVs, but the good news is that there still are some good options out there. The 2023 Lexus IS is one good example that competes with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It’s offered in several versions, the IS 300, IS 350 and the IS 500. While it may not be without its minor imperfections, the IS captivates with its sleek styling, precise handling and luxurious interior. Most notably, the IS 500 is the choice if you want the best the IS sedan can offer thanks to its V8 under the hood.

2023 Lexus IS 500 Review

Lexus aficionados and performance enthusiasts alike have held their collective breath, wondering if a true successor to the venerable IS F would ever grace us with its presence. While the rumors surrounding its return continue to swirl in the automotive ether, Lexus has, in the interim, introduced the IS 500 F Sport Performance – a tantalizing offering that elevates the compact sedan’s performance credentials to thrilling new heights.

At the heart of this performance marvel lies a time-tested gem: Lexus’s revered naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 engine. This powerhouse of an engine has long been celebrated for its unwavering commitment to performance, having graced not only the IS F but also other high-octane Lexus models like the GS F and RC F. It’s an engine that refuses to bow to the pressures of forced induction, yet it effortlessly summons an impressive 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque, delivering its symphony of power to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The absence of turbocharging means you need to coax this V8 gem a bit to unlock its full potential. Peak horsepower unfurls its mighty banner at 7,100 rpm, while peak torque strides in gracefully at 4,800 rpm. Consequently, the IS 500 is rather docile in the realm of city driving, masquerading as a well-mannered sedan. Yet, a gentle nudge of the throttle is all it takes to awaken the beast within. In a mere 4.4 seconds, the IS 500 surges from 0 to 60 mph, leaving a trail of exhilaration in its wake.

2023 Lexus IS 500 Review

Surprisingly, despite its robust power output, the IS 500 maintains a poised and controlled demeanor on the road. It gracefully combines performance with refinement, steering clear of the extreme sportiness that characterized its predecessor, the IS F. This positioning sets it apart from the likes of the BMW M3 or Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing, as it leans more towards the comfort side of the spectrum.

When pushed to its limits, the transmission subtly conveys its preference for leisurely shifts, a characteristic that doesn’t improve significantly even when engaging the Sport S and Sport S Plus drive modes. Thankfully, the presence of paddle shifters allows for a more hands-on approach, should you desire it.

The IS 500’s suspension, equipped with adaptive dampers, excels at cushioning the ride from road imperfections. However, the story changes when tackling winding roads with fervor. Here, the suspension exhibits a tad too much compliance, permitting a bit more body roll than enthusiasts would prefer. Furthermore, the steering, while precise, lacks the communicative feedback that instills confidence during spirited driving. The brakes, too, demonstrate a tendency to fade under the relentless demands of a track day.

While the IS 500 undoubtedly represents a marked improvement over its V6-powered sibling, the IS 350, it falls short of delivering the hardcore sport sedan experience that some were hoping for. Undeniably, its engine is a marvel, but the rest of the package leans toward comfort and relaxation.

2023 Lexus IS 500 Review

While the IS 500’s exterior styling has managed to capture the admiration of onlookers, the interior design and technology haven’t fared quite as well. Lexus primarily directed its attention towards refreshing the exterior aesthetics, resulting in minimal changes to the cabin. Observing the 10.3-inch touchscreen, it becomes glaringly apparent that the IS is overdue for an interior overhaul. The IS remains bereft of Lexus’s latest and notably improved infotainment system, instead relying on the aging Inform multimedia system.

This infotainment system grapples with low-resolution graphics and a clunky operating interface, while even the backup camera appears to have stepped out of a time capsule from a bygone era. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come to the rescue, offering a means to bypass the outdated infotainment system, although a wired connection is still required. The IS 500 does come standard with a lavish 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, a sonic delight in an otherwise tech-challenged environment.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that there are minimal distinctions between the IS 500’s interior and those of its IS 350 or IS 300 counterparts. Aside from slightly sportier front seats, it’s challenging to distinguish this high-performance variant from its siblings. Externally, the presence of special 19-inch wheels and quad exhausts, in addition to the IS 500 badge, is the only tangible giveaway that this isn’t your average sedan. This sleeper quality lends the IS 500 a certain allure.

In the grand scheme of things, the IS 500 nudges the performance envelope further, yet it falls short of establishing itself as a direct competitor to the high-performance sedans of German descent, such as the M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63. The V8 engine is undoubtedly a standout feature, but an enhanced suspension, available all-wheel drive, and more robust brakes would be required to truly rival its Teutonic counterparts in the realm of performance.

Fortunately, the IS 500 offers an enticing entry point, with a starting price of $59,420, including destination charges. This places it distinctly apart from its more expensive European adversaries, making it a compelling choice for those seeking a dose of V8-powered performance without breaking the bank.

While Lexus has yet to officially confirm its future plans, the automaker has expressed its intent to continue emphasizing sportier iterations within its lineup. Therefore, even as we relish the IS 500, the door remains open for the return of a true IS F, promising the potential for a true performance icon to grace the Lexus stable once again.

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Marc Carter is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of The Torque Report.
2023-lexus-is-500-review-lovely-v8In the grand scheme of things, the 2023 Lexus IS 500 nudges the performance envelope further, yet it falls short of establishing itself as a direct competitor to the high-performance sedans of German descent, such as the M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63.