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2020 Lexus IS300 AWD Review: In Desperate Need of an Update

Updated: Jul 30, 2020


2020 Lexus IS 300 AWD in Atomic Silver

MSRP as tested: $47,500

Specs: Naturally Aspirated 3.5L V6 @ 260 hp, 236 lb.-ft. Torque, with an 8-Speed Auto

0-100kmh as tested: 6.0 seconds

Reliability comes at a cost… And no, we're not talking about dollar figures here; we're referring to the outdated technology and powertrain that Lexus STILL stubbornly refuses to give up, in the pursuit for reliability and corporate cost-efficiency. They might be able to get away with it on their models targeted towards older individuals, but the IS appeals to a younger sportier audience, competing against the likes of the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, and Audi A4. And in a segment as competitive as this, the Lexus IS just feels a bit behind the competition.



Driving Impressions:

The driving experience is one of the few areas where the IS still shines, as long as you’re not taking it to a drag strip. On everyday roads, the car feels great to drive, offering engaging steering and tight handling, while still retaining the buttery smooth acceleration and cushiony ride that Lexus is known for. Despite its aging platform, the Lexus IS is still without a doubt the best riding vehicle of its segment, outclassing the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, and Audi A4 in smoothness, ride quality, and cabin noise.

Behind the wheel of an F-Sport model. Sharp handling and a composed ride makes the IS a pleasure to drive

Unlike its turbocharged competitors, Lexus has decided to stick with the tried-and-true naturally-aspirated 3.5L V6 in the IS 300 AWD and IS 350, found in a variety of Lexus and Toyota products such as the ever popular RX350 and Toyota Camry V6. The result is bulletproof reliability and a great exhaust note, in exchange for terrible fuel economy and slightly softer torque numbers. However, Lexus does the IS 300 AWD no favours by deliberately neutering its power output to 260 horsepower, reserving the extra power for the $10,000 pricer IS 350. While it doesn’t feel slow by any stretch (0-100km/h was achieved in 6 seconds flat during testing, and the IS 300 does feel quite punchy in everyday driving), there is no reason a modern vehicle with 260 horsepower should achieve similar fuel economy figures as a Mustang GT. So much wasted potential…


The non-AWD IS 300 does come with a smaller 2.0L turbocharged unit, but we found it to be even more disappointing. 0-100km/h came in at an abysmal 7 seconds, the exhaust note suffers, and fuel economy is only marginally improved. The lack of AWD also makes this model less practical in Canada. The $2500 price difference between this and the AWD model with a larger power plant, makes the upgrade well worth it.


Overall, the Lexus IS still impresses behind the wheel, offering good driving dynamics the smoothest ride in its class, and a great exhaust note to boot, in exchange for slightly slower acceleration figures and poor fuel economy.

The Naturally Aspirated 3.5L V6 found in a plethora of Lexus products, including the IS 300 AWD and IS 350


Interior:

On the inside is where the IS really starts to show its age. While the cabin is solidly built and is ergonomic in design, the overall design just feels outdated. Case in point, the IS still has a CD-player right smack in the middle of its centre console, and the overhead cabin lighting is plucked straight out of a 2010's Toyota product. Space is also quite limited up front; optimists might say it feels sporty, but personally we just found it a bit cramped. Rear seat passengers should be happy though, thanks to decent legroom, plush seats, and a refined ride.

Inside the 2020 Lexus IS 300 AWD (Premium Package)

To top it all off, the Lexus IS continues to shoulder the burden of having the worst infotainment system in the entire auto industry. This is not an exaggeration… And to make matters worse, you won’t find Apple CarPlay or Android Auto here. Instead, you’re forced to navigate Lexus’s convoluted ‘Lexus Enform’ system through an infuriating oversensitive mouse-like contraption; something that has mercifully been abandoned by most of the Lexus lineup in favour of a far better touchpad system.


Though the tech is outdated, luckily Lexus doesn’t skimp out when it comes to safety features, offering more standard than most competitors. Pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, dynamic radar cruise control, 10 air bags, and automatic high-beams all come standard, with blind-sport monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert available as options.




Exterior:

The exterior styling of the IS has been a point of controversy since the debut of the current generation in 2014, with some praising the aggressive design, and others claiming it looks like an over-styled predator mouth. Personally we find it quite attractive and unique, especially when dressed up in F-Sport apparel. The 'spindle-grille' design also looks more at home on the IS than any other Lexus model in the lineup, given its an aggressively styled sports sedan.

The Lexus signature 'Spindle-Grille' has been a point of controversy ever since its debut on the 2012 GS

Ownership Experience:

Lexus knows how to spoil their owners, treating you like royalty and offering an unparalleled service experience. At my local Lexus dealer (Don Valley North Lexus), they offer free meals at their in-house restaurant when you come in for service, and provide complimentary luxury loaners for anything that takes over an hour. And the service is just as good, if not better, at smaller dealerships in smaller cities (Lexus of London, in London, Ontario), making up for the free meals with amazing staff and a hassle-free experience.


Ownership is quite affordable too due to superior reliability, low cost for parts, and reasonable servicing costs when compared to luxury rivals. Though beware of poor fuel economy; we averaged an astonishing 13 L/100km in mixed driving, compared to the BMW 330i's 8.3 L/100km and the Audi A4's 7.8 L/100km.

The IS isn't exactly fuel efficient, costing us more to fuel up than any comparable sports sedan


Recommended Build: IS 300 AWD w/ Premium Package ($45,700 CAD)

The Lexus IS’s greatest strength lies in its bang-for-your-buck, especially given its stellar reliability and low maintenance costs. With this in mind, we strongly recommend picking up a certified pre-owned facelifted model (2016 onwards). Higher miles is less of a concern with the IS’s bulletproof powertrain, and Lexus’s CPO Powertrain Warranty should cover you for 2 years/40,000km in the unlikely even that something does go wrong within the first few years.


If you wish to purchase brand new, we recommend going for the IS 300 AWD with its larger 3.5L engine and AWD for an additional $2500, and the Premium Package ($1950) to add heated + ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, and blind sport monitoring w/ rear cross traffic alert. If AWD and extra power is not a huge deal, consider saving yourself $2500 and a bit in fuel costs with the IS 300 RWD.
















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