2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD Review

Expert Reviews Lexus

By Derek Mau


  • Sharp steering and disciplined handling
  • The most entertaining driver’s vehicle in the Lexus line-up
  • AWD system distributes power from the 306 hp V6 engine uniformly


  • Manual gearbox only offered with the lesser IS 250
  • Cramped back seat room
  • Onscreen interface and graphics are past due for an update

Ruling: A luxury car with some sport pretensions, the 2011 Lexus IS 350 is very satisfying to drive.

2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD

Lexus has made minor modifications to its IS lineup of sport sedans for 2011. The IS 250, IS 350 and IS-F retain the same engines, transmissions and overall look, but they get one big change: LED daytime running lights.

The LEDs are optional on the IS 250 and standard on the IS 350 and IS-F. They’re also optional on the convertibles, but the retractable hardtop models do not get any other exterior modifications like the sedans.

For 2011 the sedan exterior enhancements include new unique front bumper and front grille with a new tail and a revised exhaust tip. The new sculpted exterior pieces make them more slippery in the wind with a low drag coefficient of 0.28 (Cd). New standard 17-inch wheels and new optional 18s on the sedan models have become more aggressive looking and stylish. The interior trim has been changed to black metallic. The IS 350 also adds an all-wheel-drive model.

Bi-Xenon™ HID headlamps

A big call to action of the IS 350 remains its engine, a 3.5-liter V6 using an innovative fuel delivery system combining direct injection and port injection. Lexus developed this system to get the efficiency advantages of direct injection, and at slower speeds preserve the luxury character of the vehicle with the lesser noise of port injectors.

The result is an engine that produces 306 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, and 277 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. With its new all-wheel-drive system, the IS 350 earns EPA fuel economy of 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Even with our wannabe Ken Block driving style, we logged almost 19 mpg. After giving up our fantasy of becoming the next Dale Jarrett, the IS 350 returned a respectable 22 mpg at the end of our time with the car

Sadly, there is still no manual transmission available, one element keeping the IS 350 from true sport car status. Instead, drivers have to settle for a six-speed automatic. While this transmission offers a Sport mode and manual gear selection, manual shifting wasn’t as snappy as we would have liked because there is no getting around the inferior performance of the torque converter. With the gear change lag, we tended to leave the transmission in Sport mode.

2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD

On the flip side, handling dexterity of the IS is very good with minimal body lean and abounding amounts of traction bestowed by the AWD. The all-wheel drive system defaults to a bias of 70 percent torque to the rear wheels and 30 percent to the front, but shifts torque to a 50/50 split as needed. Lacking torque vectoring, we didn’t find it offered as noticeable a difference as Acura’s, Audi’s, or Mitsubishi’s all-wheel-drive systems. Nevertheless, we expect the Lexus all-wheel-drive system will make a bigger difference on muddy or snowy roads.

The suspension isn’t particularly high-tech, but it strikes a smart balance between offering a comfortable ride when cruising, and maintaining stability while cornering. The firm suspension lets you feel a lot of road imperfections, but nowhere near the kidney bashing you would receive after riding in a Japanese import with an aftermarket suspension setup by your 20 year-old nephew.

2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD

With all the luxury features, sound dampening materials, and safety equipment, the IS 350 is carrying a significant amount of baggage evident with a curb weight very close to 3,900 pounds. Thank goodness the 3.6L V6 engine doesn’t have to work overtime to hustle the sedan up to speed. Overall, we found the ride quality very pleasing when traversing rough pavement, serving up some Lexus luxury.

An electric motor provides a power-steering boost, and Lexus did a tremendous job of tuning it for road feel and precise turn-in. But the steering and suspension are not quite up to hard-core driving. When really pressed, the car shows some sloppiness, the front end getting a little aimless with the power on in a turn.

2011 Lexus IS new black metallic interior

The basic exterior shape of the IS is sleek and fairly attractive, echoing the style of the IS’s bigger brother, the GS. With its unmistakable Lexus style cues, such as the roofline extending back toward the trunk, the Lexus IS strikes a handsome profile and stands out from the crowd.

Decor is a mix of rich-looking upholstery, soft-touch surfaces, and high-grade plastics. Ergonomics achieve the classic Toyota model of efficiency, although the rear seat area and the trunk are both on the meager side. Legroom for the back seat passengers is suitable for munchkins and smurfs at a paltry 26 inches.

2011 Lexus IS has 13 cubic feet of trunk space 2011 Lexus IS back seat legroom is tight

The IS 250 and IS 350 sedans share the same interior dimensions at 86 cubic feet of passenger volume. If you find the inside of the IS sedan small, you may want to look at larger sports sedans like the Acura TL or Infiniti G37, which have 98 and 99 cubic feet of interior space, respectively.

Thankfully, the IS has given up on its sport pretensions and concentrated what it does best by providing an astute entry-level luxury sedan with an adept level of performance. Priced competitively, the IS 250 starts at $32,145 and range topping 350 AWD has an MSRP of $41,030.

RATING 4.5 4.0 4.5 4.5 4.0 4.5 4.3/B+

LexusOfficial website for Lexus cars, hybrids, and SUVs – www.lexus.com

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  • TC says:

    Not a car for suckers…I doubt anyone would confuse a Lexus for anything other than what it is…The best mass produced Luxury car. Lexus was not intended to be a Performance car so it shouldn’t be compared on those levels with the 3 Series or A4. If you want the best interior design, quietness and reliability you’ll choose Lexus again and again…that’s there bread and butter formula that’s helped them become and maintain the #1 spot…even with recent issues! If that doesn’t speak for itself I don’t know what does.

  • Derek says:

    While researching the 2011 IS, I learned that aspirations of being a serious 3-series competitor just isn’t there anymore for the folks at Toyota. They know the strengths of the IS sedan and are fully aware of its place in highly competitive sports sedan market. However you add it together, the sum of the parts are what they are.

    Now if you look at the IS-F and how it is engineered, that team has the M3 set dead straight in its target path.

  • Peter Anastopulos says:

    This car is tired time to rebuild and ready for a full redesign .This car has never been on the level of 3 series,G or the A4.It’s to heavy and has a miserable back seat..The Navi is stupid and I was in the showroom when the salesmen in California tried to sell add on undercoating. The Lexus dealers are really all up marketing to the extreme even if they give you juice or coffee .It’s truly a car for suckers.

  • suzie says:

    If Lexus is following the typical German cycle of 7 years, then the new IS would be coming out in 2012 as a 2013 model.

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