2018 Lexus IS

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MSRP: $38,210 - 43,995

2018 Lexus IS Review

The 2018 Lexus IS finishes in the middle of its class rankings. While it provides a nice combination of athleticism and luxury, it doesn’t really excel in either area.

Pros & Cons

  • Upscale interior
  • Quick acceleration
  • Cushioned ride
  • Subpar fuel economy
  • Undersized trunk
  • Frustrating infotainment system controller

New for 2018

  • IS 250 renamed IS 300
  • V6 engine gains 5 more horsepower
  • Rearview camera now standard

Is the Lexus IS a Good Car?

Despite its midpack ranking, the Lexus IS is a good car. Its place in the class is more indicative of how great many other luxury small cars are. This Lexus has two energetic engine choices, and it handles winding roads with composure. Its ride quality also stands out; road imperfections pose no problems. However, the IS isn't the most athletic or fuel-efficient vehicle in the class.

Inside, the IS boasts an attractive, posh setup with two rows of spacious seats. Lexus outfits this sedan with a hearty list of standard and available tech features. Thanks to its combination of overall value and quality, the IS was named a finalist for our 2018 Best Luxury Small Car for the Money award. 

Should I Buy the Lexus IS?

If you’re looking for a great value in the luxury small car class, the Lexus IS may be the right choice for you. However, several classmates are better all-around, with nimbler handling and nicer interiors.

Some longtime class behemoths are worth considering. Despite its lower starting price, the BMW 3 Series combines great overall performance with an upscale interior. The Audi A4 also has a lower starting price than the Lexus, but it doesn’t sacrifice any athleticism and has arguably the nicest cabin in the class.

Compare the IS, 3 Series, and A4 »

Should I Buy a New or Used Lexus IS?

For 2018, the base model is renamed the IS 300 and a rearview camera is now standard. The optional V6 engine gets a 5 horsepower boost, from 306 horsepower in 2017 up to 311 horsepower for this model year. You can likely save money and get a nearly identical car by shopping for a 2017 IS instead of a 2018 model. Older models should cost you even less, but you'll have to weigh those savings against the changes for every model year. For 2017, the Lexus Safety System was made standard, with driver assistance features like a pre-collision braking system, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and lane keep assist. For 2016, the trim names were changed from IS 250 and IS C to IS 200t and IS 300.

To research some other models in this generation, check out our reviews of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Lexus IS. If you decide an older model is right for you, check out our Used Car Deals page to learn about savings and discounts on used vehicles.

Compare the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Lexus IS »

We Did the Research for You: 36 Reviews Analyzed

Our car reviews include everything you need to know before heading to the dealership. We combine the opinions of the automotive press with quantifiable data like crash test results and reliability ratings to form a complete picture of every vehicle we rank. This 2018 Lexus IS review incorporates applicable research for all model years in this generation, which spans the 2014 through 2018 model years.

Why You Can Trust Us

U.S. News Best Cars has been ranking vehicles since 2007, and our team has more than 75 years of combined experience in the automotive industry. Our car reviews are objective. To keep them that way, our editorial staff doesn’t accept expensive gifts or trips from automakers, and a third party handles all the advertising on our site.

How Much Does the Lexus IS Cost?

The Lexus IS has a base price of $38,210. A handful of luxury small cars have higher starting prices, with the most expensive starting around $43,000. However, several rivals have base prices that are at least a few thousand dollars less. The highest IS trim – the IS 350 F Sport – has a starting price of around $45,000, which is less than many competitors’ top trims.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Lexus dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Lexus deals page.

Lexus IS Versus the Competition

Which Is Better: Lexus IS or BMW 3 Series?

The BMW 3 Series practically defined the concept of a small luxury sports car. It ranks solidly higher than the IS, but it has a lower starting price by a couple thousand dollars. The 3 Series is one of the most engaging cars in the class to drive, and it has a wide variety of engine and trim choices. That includes a fuel-efficient turbodiesel and the high-performance M3. For your money, you’ll get a higher-quality interior, more comfortable seats, and a larger trunk than the IS. You can also get features that are unavailable in the IS, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In the end, the 3 Series is a better car than the IS, and you’ll probably like it more.

Which Is Better: Lexus IS or Audi A4?

The Audi A4 is a perennial strong performer in our luxury small car rankings. The A4 is quick and agile, and it delivers a comfortable ride. Audi also offers the performance-oriented S4, which is more powerful than any IS model. Inside, the Audi’s cabin quality is outstanding, and adults will have ample room in both rows of seats. The IS has a higher starting price, but a fully loaded IS costs less than a fully loaded A4. These are both good cars, but you should opt for the Audi for its more luxurious interior.

Compare the IS, 3 Series, and A4 »

IS Interior

How Many People Does the IS Seat?

The IS seats five people. The front seats are comfortable and supportive for the most part, and F Sport models’ front seats have added side bolstering. The rear seats have a generous amount of legroom.

IS and Car Seats

There are two full sets of LATCH car-seat connectors in the IS. Fitting in large child seats may take some finagling, but the system is otherwise easy to use.

IS Interior Quality

You’ll have no qualms with the IS’ cabin. It looks great and offers high-quality materials throughout.

IS Cargo Space

This Lexus has one of the smallest trunks in the class, at just 10.8 cubic feet. That is still enough space for about eight shopping bags. The rear seats fold down, but they don’t lie flat.

IS Infotainment, Bluetooth, and Navigation

Standard features in the IS include a moonroof, Bluetooth, a 10-speaker sound system, satellite radio, and a 7-inch infotainment display screen. Available features include a 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, integrated navigation, a 10.3-inch infotainment screen, the Remote Touch controller, and the Lexus Enform App Suite. 

The infotainment screen looks sharp and is easy to see, but the Remote Touch Controller – a mouselike device – makes operating the system a chore. Also, the IS doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though many rivals do. For more information, read What Is Apple CarPlay? and What Is Android Auto? Then, see the Best Cars With Apple CarPlay and Best Cars With Android Auto.

Read more about interior »

IS Performance

IS Engine: Two Responsive Powertrains

There are two engine options with this car. The IS 300 features a 241-horsepower turbo-four, and the IS 350 features a 311-horsepower V6. Both engines accelerate the car quickly and have plenty of power for all driving situations. A responsive eight-speed automatic transmission is standard.

IS Gas Mileage: Subpar for a Small Car

Most cars in the class get better gas mileage than this Lexus. With the four-cylinder engine, it gets 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. The BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class will all cost you less in gas money than the IS, though the price differences aren’t drastic ($50 to $100 per year).

IS Ride and Handling: Good on Both Counts

The IS may not be the most athletic car in the class, but you’ll have no reason to complain. Handling is decent – especially with F Sport models – and the ride remains cushioned over road imperfections.

Read more about performance »

IS Reliability

Is the Lexus IS Reliable?

The 2018 Lexus IS has a below-average predicted reliability rating of 2.5 out of five from J.D. Power. A score of three is considered average for all new cars.

Lexus IS Warranty

The Lexus IS comes with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty. Many luxury car competitors only offer the four-year/50,000-mile warranty.

Read more about reliability »

IS Safety

IS Crash Test Results

The Lexus IS earned five out of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While that’s a great overall safety rating, it’s worth noting that the IS only received four stars in the frontal crash test. From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the IS earned the top score of Good in five individual crash tests. The IIHS gave the IS a score of Superior for its front crash prevention features, and a rating of Acceptable for headlight performance. As a result, the organization named the IS a 2018 Top Safety Pick.

IS Safety Features

Standard active safety features in the IS include a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Available features include front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert. 

Read more about safety »

Which Lexus IS Model Is Right for Me?

There are four trims to choose from when buying a Lexus IS: 300, 300 F Sport, 350, and 350 F Sport. The F Sport models are just sport-tuned versions of the base models (same engine, different suspension setup). The main difference between the 300 and the 350 is the engine (300 models have a turbo-four, while 350s have a V6).

Picking the right trim boils down to how much value you place on driving enjoyment. If you’re OK with a more docile ride, the base IS 300 will suit you just fine (it offers all the same bells and whistles as the other trims). If you don’t need more power but want a little more agility, opt for the 300 F Sport. Likewise, if you’d like more power but don’t care about agility, the IS 350 is the best choice. For more power and more agility, step up to the 350 F Sport.

Lexus IS 300

The IS 300 is the lowest trim. It has a base price of $38,210. Standard features include a 241-horsepower turbo-four engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive, a moonroof, satellite radio, and adaptive cruise control.

There are several available features and option packages. The Navigation package ($1,735) adds navigation, the Lexus Enform App Suite, advanced voice recognition, and Remote Touch. The Navigation/Mark Levinson Premium Audio package ($2,835) adds those same features and a Mark Levinson audio system. The Premium package ($790 or $350 in AWD models) adds heated and ventilated front seats, and the Comfort package ($620) adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.

Individual add-ons include a heated steering wheel ($150), front and rear parking sensors ($500), and all-wheel drive ($2,450).

Lexus IS 300 F Sport

The IS 300 F Sport has a starting price of $41,405. Standard features include heated and ventilated front sport seats, an adaptive sport-tuned suspension, and several styling upgrades. Both navigation packages, as well as the Comfort package, are available. Adding all-wheel drive costs $2,050.

Lexus IS 350

The IS 350 starts at $41,830. It comes standard with a 311-horsepower V6 engine, but its standard and available features otherwise mirror those of the IS 300. All-wheel drive costs an extra $2,165.

Lexus IS 350 F Sport

The IS 350 F Sport has a starting price of $45,025. It, too, features the 311-horsepower V6. Beyond that, it has the same standard and available features as the IS 300 F Sport. Upgrading to AWD will cost you $1,335.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Lexus dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Lexus deals page.

See 2018 Lexus IS specs and trims »

The Final Call

The 2018 Lexus IS finishes in the middle of our luxury small car rankings. That’s not a knock against this sedan; this is just an extremely competitive class. The IS is upscale and quick, but there are class rivals that surpass this Lexus in both respects. The Lexus also has a higher base price than many competitors. In short, while the IS is certainly worth considering, there are better, higher-value cars in the class.

Don’t just take our word for it. Check out comments from some of the reviews that drive our rankings and analysis.

  • "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. … 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." -- Kelley Blue Book (2017)
  • "The 2017 Lexus IS 300 is one of the more aggressively styled luxury compacts, even if performance isn't a primary focus. But considering its all-wheel drive, well-honed ride, ample features and low noise levels, it's got enough going for it to be a convincing choice." -- Edmunds (2017)
  • "If you enjoy, or at least don't mind, the strong styling choices Lexus has made with this IS (inside and out), the car acquits itself reasonable on the road and on paper. You'll save a few thousand versus the asking price for a comparable 3 Series or C-Class, and the whole Toyota/Lexus reliability reputation helps out, too. Easy to drive, quick, and painless – the IS 200t might not be an enthusiast's first choice, but it'd hardly be a wrong one." -- Autoblog (2016)
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