By Keith Buglewicz
KBB Expert Rating: 9.1
The compact entry-level, luxury-sedan market is one of the most competitive out there, with "excellent" being the minimum standard. Yet even then, the 2017 Lexus IS stands out. The styling is part of the reason, and one look at the gaping grille and sharply angular lines explains why this luxury-sports sedan turns heads. But there's more, like the advanced technology inside, indisputable reputation for reliability, the prestige of the Lexus brand, and the impressive attention to detail that comes with it all. Then there's performance, with both 4-cylinder and V6 models offering a rewarding driving experience. Consider the competition -- BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS -- and the fact that this Lexus holds its own is even more impressive.
…you want a luxury-sports sedan with striking looks, great driving and nearly flawless reliability. You also haven't been brainwashed into thinking a car must come from Europe to be fun to drive.
The IS sports some polarizing styling, and that means some people just think it's ugly. There's also the loyalty factor among European brands, and the fact that Lexus hasn't been known for building truly sporty cars.
KBB Expert Ratings
The 2017 Lexus IS lineup sports a revised nose and tail with a slightly different grille, headlights and taillights. The interior also gets a modest upgrade, with a bigger infotainment screen and better integrated center console. Active cruise control, collision warning, and other high-end safety features are now standard.
Around town, the 2017 Lexus IS offers up a comfortable ride, luxurious surroundings, and it keeps an admirable lid on road noise, all qualities that you expect from a brand...
... known for isolating its passengers. Yet under that soft layer, you'll also notice a bit more bite to the suspension, a sharper edge to the steering, and a satisfying growl every time you floor the throttle whether you're driving an IS with the 4-cylinder turbo or the V6. And when that prods you to take an onramp just a little quicker than you might have, the car responds beautifully, revealing itself to be an excellent luxury-sports sedan. Take it to your favorite mountain road and prepare to be rewarded with sharp turn-in and gratifying amounts of handling and horsepower. The F Sport models add bigger wheels and tires, and slightly firmer suspension if you need that extra little bit.
STANDARD LEXUS SAFETY SYSTEM+
Standard on every 2017 Lexus IS is a suite of safety systems that are optional on competitors, if they're even available. There's a pre-collision system, lane-departure alert with steering assist, active cruise control, and even automatic high beams. It's a nice perk in any car, and even better that it's included.
2.0-LITER TURBOCHARGED ENGINE
The new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine in the IS 200t is high-tech, using both direct and port fuel injection for a total of 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, all routed through an 8-speed automatic transmission, to get you from a standstill to 60 mph in less than seven seconds.
It comes as no surprise that the 2017 IS interior is impeccably assembled with high-quality materials everywhere. But with a few changes, Lexus has improved on an already good design. The center stack is now flush with the rest of the dash and looks better. The infotainment screen now makes full use of the real estate allotted on the dash -- it's no longer letterboxed by plastic -- but the mouse-like controller is still frustrating to use at times. We like the F Sport gauges, inspired by the Lexus LF-A exotic car, with their digital instrument cluster and sliding bezel.
It's no secret that the design of the Lexus IS -- especially that big "spindle" grille -- ruffled some feathers when it came out. After a styling update this year, it looks like Lexus is happy leaving those feathers ruffled, too. Lexus revised the headlights, grille, front bumper and taillights on the 2017 IS, but nothing detracts from the eye-catching grille that looks like it's about to eat you alive. The bumper revisions give the F Sport a bit of a "chipmunk-cheek" look though. Regardless, in profile and from most angles, the IS remains a uniquely styled car, and that's the point.
In addition to the newly standard Lexus Safety System+ on all 2017 Lexus IS models, you get a moonroof, HID headlights with LED running lights, LED fog lights and 17-inch wheels. Push-button start, keyless entry and Bluetooth are also standard. Included is Lexus Personalized Settings to allow drivers to tailor electronic settings to their liking. Siri Eyes Free Mode accommodates better integration with the infotainment system and Apple's iPhones, but curiously, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available. There's an 8-speaker audio system with a 7-inch VGA screen on the dash, USB and auxiliary inputs and luxury comfort and convenience items.
Besides engine choice and all-wheel drive, options include an upgraded 10.3-inch screen for the Navigation Package, which adds upgraded Bluetooth, HD radio and the Lexus Enform suite. There's a Mark Levinson audio system available with 15 speakers and 835 watts. A luxury package adds a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, heated steering wheel, leather interior with contrasting stitching, and wood trim. The F Sport package gives the grille an even more aggressive look, firms up the suspension, increases braking power, and adds a lot of other sporty trim throughout, including the cool gauge package.
Rear-wheel-drive (RWD) 2017 Lexus IS models can be equipped with either the new-last-year 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with its 241 horsepower, or a 3.5-liter V6 with 306 horsepower. Both are connected to a very good 8-speed automatic transmission that includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel. If you want all-wheel drive (AWD), you have the option of the same 3.5-liter V6 in either 255- or 306-horsepower versions. IS models with AWD get a 6-speed automatic transmission. While the V6 has more power, the smaller turbocharged 4-cylinder feels plenty quick from behind the wheel, and gets notably better fuel economy as well. That's important, as all IS models require premium-grade fuel.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
241 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,650-4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/32 mpg
255 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
236 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/26 mpg
306 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
277 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28 mpg (RWD), 19/26 mpg (AWD)
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The base Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on a 2017 Lexus IS 200t is about $38,800 including the $975 destination charge. If you want all-wheel drive, the 2017 IS 300 AWD starts at about $41,100. A rear-drive IS 350 runs about $42,300, while the AWD version is closer to $44,500. F-sport versions add about $3,000 to any given model, give or take. It's all fairly priced, along the lines of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but you can get into an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Cadillac ATS for notably less, but those cars may have less equipment standard. Check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area paid for their 2017 Lexus IS. Finally, rest assured that the IS, like just about all Lexus vehicles, will maintain a relatively high resale value over time.