Lexus IS350 Combines Power with All-Wheel Drive for a Good Winter Combination

The Lexus IS350 does something a good portion of the United States welcomes in the Winter of 2011: combines power with all-wheel drive for a good winter combination.
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The Lexus IS350 has two much needed improvements for 2011: a redesigned exterior and, just in time for a horrific New England winter I have been experiencing, optional all-wheel drive.

Fortunately, the Lexus IS350 loaned to me for a week by the manufacturer comes with the optional all-wheel drive. It managed to face any wintry challenges thrown its way with a measure of refinement appropriate to the Lexus badge.

The all-wheel drive option had only been available previously on the Lexus IS250. But now Lexus has wisely made it available on the more potent IS350 that has a 3.5-liter V6 that offers a stronger 306 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 277 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm.

Normally a 10 percent drop in torque below horsepower would concern me but I discerned no problems with the IS350’s performance. Lexus says it is capable of a 5.7-second 0-60 time. That’s plenty quick for any driving circumstance.

The all-wheel drive option is not just needed for inclement weather. When it’s not snowing outside (a feat that seemingly hasn’t occurred since Christmas in Connecticut where I live), the all-wheel drive is going to greatly enhance performance on what is normally a rear-wheel drive sedan. One can argue about front-wheel drive vs. rear-wheel drive when it comes to handling, but you can’t dispute that all-wheel drive simply trumps both.

The all-wheel drive version could be a big seller for Lexus. The IS250 AWD version accounts for 30 percent of IS250 sales in the United States. Granted, some IS250 AWD buyers will move up to the IS350 but the additional of AWD should attract new luxury buyers to the brand who may have been underwhelmed by the power of the IS250.

In addition to the all-wheel drive, the IS350 also offers Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), which Lexus says is designed to anticipate the onset of a vehicle skid or slide and help correct the situation with a combination of braking and throttle control. VDIM integration provides precise management for electric power steering (EPS), vehicle stability control (VSC), the anti-lock braking system (ABS), brake assist (BA), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), and engine torque (via the electronically controlled throttle). The driver can disengage VSC via the "TRAC off" switch, which can be useful in certain situations.

One of those situations would actually be in snowy weather. If you’re sliding on a hill, you might want to consider disengaging traction control because it can work against you in certain situations with its greater tire spin as it tries to gain purchase.

Of course, there is going to be a price to pay at the pumps because of all-wheel drive. Its combined fuel economy is 20 mpg compared to 22 mpg for the rear-wheel drive IS350. In a year’s time, that is going to cost you $2513 for the AWD vs. $2286 for the RWD version.

Speaking of cost, there is a premium for the all-wheel drive IS350 in addition to that paid at the pump. The model loaned to me by Lexus cost $41,030 before the $875 delivery. The base IS350 with rear-wheel drive starts at $39,070. It’s worth paying the extra money, though, if harsh winter weather hits where you live.

The exterior of the Lexus IS350 has been redesigned for 2011. A new front grille and bumper distinguish the IS sedans for 2011, while at the rear, the models show a new tail light cover and revised tailpipe design. New high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps with LED daytime running lamps are standard on the IS 350.

Probably the biggest flaw with the Lexus IS350 would be its cramped rear seats. Lexus says there is 30.4 inches of legroom in the rear seats, which puts it a full four inches behind the BMW 3 series sedan that has an inch longer wheelbase. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. You just need to decide how you are going to use your Lexus IS350.

Planning to bring adult passengers? It’s only going to work for short trips if the driver is taller than 5’8” or so. Also, older children may find it uncomfortable to sit back there, too. Space isn’t going to be an issue if you are an empty nester. People primarily using this car as a commuter vehicle also shouldn’t be concerned.

VITAL STATISTICS

  • Wheelbase: 107.5 inches
  • Length: 180.3 inches
  • Width: 70.9 inches
  • Height: 56.1 inches
  • Curb weight: 3703 lbs.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Horsepower: 306 hp @ 6400 rpm
  • Torque: 277 lb. ft. @ 4800 rpm
  • EPA estimated mpg city/highway: city/ highway
  • Base price: $41,030
  • As-tested price: $45,452
  • Also consider: (a comparative vehicle) BMW 3 series, Infiniti G37 sedan, Audi A4 sedan

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