2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD

Review and photos by
Paul Williams, Autos.ca

Since its most recent redesign in 2008, the Lexus IS compact luxury sedan has been available in rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions, with a choice of two V6 engines: a 2.5-litre or a considerably more powerful 3.5-litre engine. However, if you wanted all-wheel drive you could only purchase the IS with the 2.5 engine.

2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD

2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD

Along with changes to the front and rear fascias, new trim for the instrument panel and new 18-inch wheels, the big Lexus IS news for 2011 is that the IS 350 is now available with all-wheel drive.

Starting at $44,950, the IS 350 AWD arrives with a six-speed, paddle-shifting automatic transmission and can be optioned to $48,700 with the Navigation Package and $52,950 with Navigation and Luxury packages.

Standard features on the IS 350 AWD include dual-zone automatic climate control, six-disc CD changer with USB input and XM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, rear-seat pass through, keyless entry with pushbutton start, multi-information display, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, automatic headlamps, fog lamps, leather upholstery, LED daytime running lights and xenon headlamps with washers.

The 3.5-litre V6 engine makes 306 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. Fuel consumption is rated at 11.4 L/100 km city and 7.8 L/100 km highway, requiring premium fuel.

Our test car with Navigation and Luxury was wearing Gislaved winter tires rather than the standard performance rubber.

The IS 350 AWD started readily in the extreme cold weather experienced during the period of our test drive. The cold temperatures were accompanied by a generous helping of snow which made the roads very slippery, and a fitting challenge for the IS 350 AWD.

Traction from a standing-start was achieved without fuss; the car tracking straight ahead as required, and without wheel-slip at any corner. In fact, the traction control system rarely intervened when starting; such was the vehicle’s capability on snowy surfaces – most impressive.

The IS 350 AWD stopped confidently as well, but although it feels inherently well-balanced (and well-behaved), the winter tires certainly contributed to vehicle stability in corners and when stopping.

On dry surfaces, the engine’s power can be properly experienced. The IS 350 AWD responds enthusiastically to the throttle, accelerating briskly to highway speeds. The steering is quick and the suspension is supple, making this car feel very much a competitor in the luxury sports sedan segment.

Not being a fan of paddle shifters (unless they are connected to a twin-clutch transmission) I wasn’t too interested in shifting manually, and felt that the manual option didn’t match the crisp performance of the engine and suspension. Leaving the car in “Drive” was entertaining nonetheless.

An idiosyncrasy of the IS 350 AWD is the encroachment of the drivetrain into the footwell on the driver’s side. There’s a bulge on the transmission tunnel against which the driver’s leg finds itself resting, and although it’s not uncomfortable, it can be distracting. Given the option, I’d prefer it wasn’t there.

Inside, the IS 350 AWD is finely tailored, offering supportive but comfortable seating for the driver, a fully adjustable steering column, sporty steering wheel and a very appealing (and easy-to-read) instrument cluster of simple white-on-black gauges.

Notably, in the -25 to -30-degree temperatures endured for a couple of days with the IS 350 AWD, the car exhibited no rattles or creaks, and the engine warmed up quickly enough that heat was available within a few minutes. The heated seats were very quick to provide relief.

The Lexus IS series of cars are compact vehicles, close in exterior dimensions to a Toyota Corolla. Space is not necessarily at a premium, but it is not abundant in the cabin, with some drivers possibly finding it a bit snug. But while the length of the car matches the Corolla, the IS 350 AWD wheelbase exceeds it by 130 millimeters (2730 mm versus 2600), providing more legroom for rear passengers.

Unlike most vehicles in this segment, the rear seat of the IS 350 AWD does not fold down, offering a small pass-through from the trunk instead. With its smallish 378-litre trunk, a split-folding rear seat would add useful cargo space, enabling longer and larger objects to be transported.

While there are many competitors in the compact luxury segment, including the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac CTS and Infiniti G37, the Lexus IS 350 AWD is notable due to its refined chassis and exciting driving dynamics. The engine, especially, is a treat — smooth, powerful and quiet — well-matched to the car’s responsive steering.

The IS 350 AWD does tend to get expensive when options and packages are added. However, pricing across the IS range is down compared with 2010 models, and in comparison to the $51,250 RWD IS 350 with the F-Sport Package, the IS 350 AWD seems a bargain.

Pricing: 2011 Lexus IS350 AWD

Base price: $45,900

Options: None

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,850

Price as tested: $47,850

Crash test results

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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