2020 Lexus IS 300 AWD Review

Disappearing into the shadows of the competition


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Quiet and composed ride, solid build quality, great set of standard equipment, nimble and easy to drive.
Negatives: A bit anonymous in the segment, design is getting old, horrendous joystick infotainment control, not particularly thrilling to drive.
Bottom Line: The IS 300 is a decent sports sedan in the generic sense of the term, but against its more modern rivals, it leaves us wanting in virtually every area except for build quality. It's ok to drive, decent to sit in, but it's just not that exciting. Thank goodness the new one is coming next year.
The third-gen Lexus IS has been around for seven years now, and it's starting to show. What was once a competent sports sedan has seen its competitors get redesigned or refreshed (Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia) while new ones have come into the fray (Genesis G70). The Lexus IS sedan has also gone through a number of permutations including the 200t and the 250. Now, only the 300 and 350 are available. There's also F Sport and AWD configurations in the mix. We drove the IS 300 AWD, with its 19 additional horses over the RWD IS 300, for a week to see if still retains any of its charm at the end of its life. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

7.2

 

The IS 300 AWD is competent but not particularly exciting. In a world dominated by crossovers, it's definitely more engaging, but if you compared it the likes of the new Genesis G70, whose base price is less, the IS fall short. At least on the highway, it's composed and comfortable.

Ride Quality: Good at isolating you from road surfaces, the IS 300 does a good job of cushioning bumps without feeling mushy and disconnected.

Acceleration: Throttle response from the naturally-aspirated V6 is very good, as is the 6-speed automatic transmission. 0-60 comes in about six seconds. That's quite a bit slower than the Audi A4 with its turbo-four and 248-hp at 5.2 seconds.

Braking: Brakes are easy to modulate, and we sensed no grabbiness or dead spots.

Steering: The steering is good but not sharp. It responds well to inputs and has precision, but it's devoid of feel.

Handling: Even in non F-Sport trim, it still handles body roll well. It just doesn't feel very lively.

Technology

5.8

 

There's really no longer any excuse for a luxury sports sedan to have an infotainment system that's mediocre and frustrating these days, and Lexus has gone far too long with one of the worst controllers on the planet.

Infotainment System: Our tester benefitted from the optional 10.3-inch screen, far better than the standard 7-inch screen. It's just too bad there's still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto even available on the IS.

Controls: The only thing worse than the Enform touchpad is the Enform joystick, a distinct displeasure to operate. It has all the precision of a Ouija board.

Styling

6.5

 

When the IS is outfitted in F Sport trim, it still looks pretty good. But in base trim, it's kinda sad looking with its less-sporty fascia. The car is in desperate need of a redesign, which has just been unveiled in a more aggressive and refined execution.

Front: We hate the odd shape of the headlights and how disjointed they look against the sharp DRLs. The non-F Sport grille looks lame with the horizontal chrome bars.

Rear: At least there's some character to the back end that's not off-putting. The sharp taillights that descend into the rear quarter panel are unique.

Profile: Aside from the back 3/4ths of the car, the IS 300 looks a bit vanilla. It needs a little more visual punch. At least the split-spoke wheels look good.

Cabin: The IS's has a good, clean layout, but some of the controls are too small, and the center stack looks a little dated and cheap for a luxury brand.

Comfort

8

 

Lexus materials are generally top notch, and the IS 300 gets solid build quality and surfaces that are nice to the touch. It's not a big sedan, but at least the seats are comfortable.

Front Seats: The bolstering and cushioning are good, as is the adjustability to get just the right seating position. 6-footers should have no problem getting situated.

Rear Seats: Legroom is tight, and tall adults can't sit back there for too long. Headroom is also a bit compromised due to the angle of the roofline.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Just like most Lexus vehicles, the cabin is quiet even at high speeds. Build quality is also superb, so there are no creaks to speak of.

Visibility: Overall visibility is very good with no dramatic blind spots. The rear deck is a good height, as is the trunk.

Climate: Despite the annoying temp sliders, the system works very well, as do the heated and ventilated seats.

Safety

8

 

The Lexus IS didn't win any awards from the IIHS, but it scored very well overall. The NHTSA gave it top marks. Also, gain peace of mind from the fact that the IS gets some very good standard safety features.

IIHS Rating: It scored "good" in all crash tests with only an "acceptable" rating for headlights. Its front crash prevention tech received a "superior" score.

NHTSA Rating: It attained 5-stars from the federal government.

Standard Tech: The Lexus Safety System+ is a full suite of standard tech that includes Pre-Collision System w/ Pedestrian Detection, High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert w/ Steering Assist, and Intelligent High Beam Headlamps.

Optional Tech: Our tester had the Premium Package with Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

Storage/Cargo

6

 

The IS sedan gets some demerits in terms of storage space and trunk space. While it does provide a modicum of options in the cabin, they're by no means large.

Storage Space: Aside from they top angled tray in front of the infotainment screen (where you should never put your phone since you'll forget it), there's really just the cupholders for easy small item storage. The small armrest tucks gear out of the way, but it's not much good while you're driving.

Cargo Room: 10.8 cubic feet in the trunk is about on par with the Volvo S60 and the Genesis G70 but way smaller than the BMW 3-Series' 17 cubic feet.

Fuel Economy

7.1

 

The naturally-aspirated V6 is a good engine. It's smooth and easy to live with. Fuel economy is decent, but don't look to nail high numbers when you drive it in Sport mode. We have no doubt more conservative driving could nail the EPA estimates.

Observed: 18.2 mpg.

Distance Driven: 84 miles.

Audio

9

 

$2,845 to get navigation (which you'll probably never use) and the excellent Mark Levinson system is a lot of money. It's one of the better premium systems out there, but the price tag is awfully high. We think the system sounds better in larger cabins, but it's still a pleasure to listen to with great bass, clarity, and no distortion.



Final Thoughts

It's hard to recommend the IS 300 AWD aside from the value it provides. Toyota/Lexus always provides good standard features, safety, and reliability. But you buy a sports sedan to have fun, and the IS 300 doesn't provide a lot of smiles when helming it in a spirited fashion. Most of the sports sedans out there are newer, fresher, more fun, and better looking. We're excited to see what the 2021 model is like when we get behind the wheel. We recommend buying a used IS 350 F Sport AWD if you really are set on getting a small Lexus sports sedan.
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