The 2019 Lexus IS takes on compact sports sedans from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. Angular styling themes, available sport trim packages, and a strong V-6 option pronounce the 2019 IS sedan’s intentions.
Power begins with the IS 300’s turbo-4 mated to an 8-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive. The setup carries a promising 241-horsepower rating but ultimately lacks finesse as a team thanks to the automatic’s indecisive nature. A 3.0-liter V-6 swaps in with all-wheel drive for a step up in cylinder count on the IS 300, but though the larger and more powerful 3.5-liter V-6 in the IS 350 is much more rewarding to drive. An optional F-Sport trim enhances the capable chassis but is no match for the long-gone, V-8-powered IS F. An available all-wheel drive system brings peace of mind to those in the snow belt. The Lexus IS handles with verve, aided by a balanced chassis and grippy tires on most versions.
The 2019 Lexus IS demonstrates great attention-to-detail, and gracefully incorporate the brand’s signature spindle grille. Up front, the Lexus IS’ headlights bring a high-tech appearance to its front end, but they don’t distract from its standout grille. Limited shaping to the IS’ sides draws the eye to the wheels, which are pressed outward tucked within sharply creased wheel wells. The look makes for a performance-minded stance, with the eye-grabbing front end leads the charge back to balance afforded by the rear-wheel drive layout. All of the 2019 Lexus IS’ multitude of configurations are well-honed.
Lexus reprogrammed the IS 300’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 this year, but its 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque remain the same as last year. We’ve not yet driven the 2019, but we doubt the changes will alter its personality much. Last year’s model provided decent thrust with its 8-speed automatic. The base IS 300 is a better bet than the IS 300 with all-wheel drive, which has the same name but drops in a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 260 hp. It’s smooth, but it uses a less-sophisticated 6-speed automatic. Predictably, the IS 350 also has a 3.5-liter V-6 underhood, this one’s a peach though: 311 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission with rear-wheel drive, or once again a 6-speed automatic with all-wheel drive. The IS 350’s V-6 provides linear power delivery and reacts quickly to inputs, which was the case with AWD F Sport test model.
Regardless of what’s underhood, the IS has sharp handling and a firm ride that’s composed in most situations but at times it can be a bith busy on choppy pavement thanks to a relatively short wheelbase. Helping enhance the powertrain are four selectable drivetrain modes. The energy conservative Eco mode slows throttle response and overall power demand leading to a sluggish driving experience. The system defaults to Comfort, which encourages early transmission upshifts in the name of fuel economy. Sport mode is positioned for enthusiastic winding road attacks and the even more “extreme” Sport+ mode, included with the F Sport package, commands the transmission to hold the lowest gear possible. The F Sport package also brings adaptive dampers and a limited-slip differential that move the IS closer to the BMW 340i or Mercedes-AMG C43.
The 2019 Lexus IS falls in the lowers range of the sport sedan segment. The rear-wheel-drive IS 300 gets 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined. With all-wheel drive, the IS 300’s ratings slide to a low 19/26/22 mpg. The rear-wheel drive IS 350 is rated by the EPA at 19/28/22 mpg. Opting for all-wheel drive lowers the rating to 19/26/21 mpg. With no hybrid option and a premium fuel requirement, the 2019 IS is not among the thriftiest compact sports sedans.
The 2019 Lexus IS comes standard with laudable active safety tech and earned generally good scores in crash testing. The 2019 IS is equipped with standard suite of active safety equipment: active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. Options include blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts. On the ratings front, the NHTSA awards the IS with a five-star overall rating, though it scored four stars for front-impact protection. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick thanks to good performance in its barrage of crash tests, an automatic emergency braking system that rates “Superior,” and “Acceptable” headlights.
The 2019 Lexus IS is short on spaciousness, but its details and materials impress. The 2019 IS sedan’s interior is best appreciated up close. The cockpit sensation is created by its wide center console, high beltline, tiered dashboard, and physically narrow cabin resonate with its driver-focused intentions. Up front, the IS’ seats are firm and power-adjustable. The optional F Sport trim’s seats have beefier bolsters. Rear seat passengers may be wishing for more leg and shoulder room based on their stature. The cabin ensures controls are within reach, but the touch-sensitive climate control system can’t be used when wearing gloves. The analog clock, which adjusts via GPS, and finely designed analog gauges lead suggest precision and detail. A wide range of upholstery and trim options slather the Lexus’ interior in real wood or aluminum and buttery soft leather. Overall, the IS interior materials have a satisfying feel. Trunk space is reasonable for a car this size at 13.8 cubic feet.
The 2019 Lexus IS casts a wide net in terms of standard features and options. The list of standard features on the 2019 IS is extensive: a 7.0-inch infotainment display, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, synthetic leather upholstery, and a moonroof. At about $39,000, the base IS 300 offers a decent value against its rivals. Selecting the Premium package adds heated and cooled front seats, blind-spot monitors, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers. Other packages upgrade the infotainment screen to a 10.3-inch display, add a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, and swap in leather seats. The F Sport package can be added to any IS and includes a digital gauge cluster, upgraded front seats, silver-finish interior trim, adaptive dampers, and revised front and rear bumpers. For about $46,000, an IS 350 F Sport with rear-wheel drive undercuts equivalent German rivals by 10-15 percent. All-wheel-drive adds about $1300. Paired with Lexus’ traditionally strong resale values and the brand’s red carpet dealer experience, it’s a sedan worth considering.
The 2019 Lexus IS is an impressive sport sedan that can hang with the best of the German rivals. The question comes down to if you want to make the smaller interior sacrifice for your canyon-carving needs. If the answer, is no and you lean more towards comfort and space you’d be better served by Lexus’ own ES, but if indeed you love a thrilling drive, then the Lexus IS is a great sport sedan to pick.
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