The third generation Lexus Innovative Sedan, or IS for short, was introduced in 2014, and in just two short years has experienced a significant evolution. First, the brand shuffled the models, dropping the 250 and introducing a new turbocharged entry-level 200t and a detuned 300 version of the 3.5 L V6 found in the 350. Now, 2017 brings a mid-cycle facelift and the addition of extra technology.
Setting the stage for a showcase of the improvements and a demonstration of the vehicle’s performance was the new Vancouver Island Motorsport Park in the Cowichan Valley. Before letting drivers loose on the racetrack, Jennifer Barron—director, Lexus Division—walked through some of the key differences.
“In this particular market segment, exterior styling is one of the top purchase reasons and this new design is highlighted by the Lexus spindle grille,” said Barron.
And what a spindle grille it is. The bottom section has been widened, flaring out further to the sides and flowing into larger front air intakes. As before, the grille is either filled with horizontal slats on regular variants, or mesh on the F SPORTs. All trims get LED lighting and slimmer headlights featuring built-in signature L-shaped styling cues.
At the back, the tail lights have been reshaped to match, housing stacked L layers creating a cool 3-D effect when lit. Dual round tail pipes have been switched out for rectangular units, and small fins have been added to the integrated black bumper diffuser.
The interior has been given an overhaul as well, the seats now utilizing bigger, more supportive side bolsters. In the 200t, the upholstery is made from the environmentally friendly and lighter NuLuxe, a faux leather material. There is a gorgeous 10.3-inch multimedia widescreen display offered as part of the optional Luxury Package (+$6,700) that also comes with 18-inch wheels, navigation, power moonroof, and more.
Another big piece of the refresh is Lexus Safety System +, standard across every grade.
“This is a bundle of features that will help our drivers avoid collisions, stay in their lanes and drive more safely at night,” she said.
Included in the suite are Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Automatic High Beams. At an extra cost, there is an available Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert System.
As mentioned, there are no powertrain changes, and the 2017 Lexus IS continues to be sold in three flavors: a rear-wheel drive 200t producing 241 horsepower; a 300 making 255 horsepower, and a 350 with 306 horsepower, the latter which are both all-wheel drive. F SPORT Series 1 and 2 treatments are also available.
Nevertheless, journalists took turns taking the entire lineup out onto the track to see how the luxury sports sedan performed in a competitive environment. My personal surprising favorite was the lightweight 200t—weighing a full 70 kilograms (154.32 pounds) less than both its AWD siblings—that felt the most balanced on the highly technical course comprised of several tight turns and large elevation changes.
“The Lexus IS has been one of our most popular models and with good reason—it’s always combined great style, luxury, comfort, amenities and impressive performance,” said Barron.
Benjamin Yong is a freelance writer from Vancouver, B.C. and a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Follow him on Twitter @b_yong