A face-off between two high-value, non-German luxury sports sedans.
This review intends no disrespect to Audi, BMW and Mercedes. These companies produce excellent luxury sports sedans that invented and continue to rule the segment. On the other hand, they will rule your pocketbook if you get too eager with the options list. It’s almost shocking how easy it is to end up with a $60k price tag by checking some boxes.
Luckily some alternatives don’t break the bank quite so much, including the two models under review here. One is an impressive new entry from an upstart brand that is looking to steal market share. The other is an established player from a brand that is trying to infuse more excitement into its identity. Both can be well optioned for a bit over $50k.
Lexus IS 350 F Sport: A solid sports sedan, but could use a full makeover
Along with the Infiniti G35, the original IS 300 persuaded quite a few people to turn their gaze to the East when shopping for a performance sedan. Now in its third generation, the IS 350 F Sport is the highest performance IS model you can buy since Lexus decided to limit the full-blown F treatment to the RC coupe and GS sedan
Under the hood is the same boring 3.5-liter V6 that has been available since the second generation came out in 2005. The spec sheet says the engine makes 311 horsepower, but seat-of-the-pants feel suggests this is an optimistic number, as acceleration is lackluster.
Exacerbating things is a somewhat lethargic 8-speed transmission that only starts to hustle when you dial up the Sport+ setting on the drive mode select.
Fortunately, the IS still features an excellent chassis that lends itself well when chucked into a corner. Although, the car defaults to understeer when driven at the limit. Blame for this benign but boring handling behavior goes to the diminutive looking 18-inch Dunlops that come in an aggressive staggered fitment. The front tires are quite narrow at 225 mm, while the rears are over an inch wider at 255 mm.
The F Sport package also includes an adaptive variable suspension that offers three distinct settings with tuning favoring the conservative side. In anything other than Sport+ mode, the suspension is too soft for a sedan with sporting aspirations. Especially for one with an exterior design that screams sports sedan as loudly as the IS 350.
Showing its age
Unfortunately, it has been six long years since the current IS made its debut in 2013. Granted, there was a significant exterior refresh in 2016, which gave the IS the somewhat controversial spindle grille that has come to define Lexus design. Although this is still a competent sports sedan, time has not been kind to the IS, as it is now eclipsed in almost every way by newer, faster competitors.
The interior of the IS 350 is where things get even more dated. The dashboard almost looks like a time capsule to electronics from 20+ years ago. Sure, there is a 7-inch touchscreen, but the buttons and knobs are from a different era. The presence of an actual CD player is an especially nostalgic touch.
As you would expect from Lexus, build quality is first-rate, and everything is likely to last for at least a few decades. And despite the aging design, all of the latest high tech safety equipment is included, including a pre-collision system and radar cruise control. The IS 350 isn’t a bad car. It’s merely past due for a full makeover. Rumor has it a new model will finally arrive in 2021.
Genesis G70: Perfect? No, but pretty darn close
Much has already been written about the new G70, and many accolades awarded. Given that Genesis itself is an aspiring new luxury brand, exceeding expectations is perhaps the greatest challenge the G70 will face.
Like the Kia Stinger, its platform sibling, the G70 comes with all the requisite sports sedan hardware. Two different turbocharged engines, available AWD, and a dialed-in chassis, all of which was developed by a team headed by the former head of BMW’s M division. To differentiate itself from the Stinger, the G70 has a shorter wheelbase and designed as more luxurious and having a sharper performance envelope.
Our test car featured the 3.3-liter V6 engine and RWD, making it the enthusiasts choice. And what an engine this is. Rated at 365 horsepower, it almost feels stronger. Turbo lag is minimal, and once full boost comes on it pulls with impressive authority. The only thing holding it back a little is the transmission, which like the Lexus, is also a bit sluggish—especially compared to what you’d find in a comparable Audi or BMW.
Almost more impressive than this powerhouse of a motor is the chassis and suspension. Dynamic and Sport models of the G70 feature adaptive dampers, and even in the normal setting, these are tuned to be on the firm side. Dial-up Sport mode and the suspension firms up even more, but not to the point of being unforgiving and harsh. The result is an exceptionally well balanced and poised sports sedan.
A set of staggered high-performance tires also come standard, in this case, the new Michelin Pilot Sport 4S mounted on 19-inch rims. Unlike the IS 350, there is minimal understeer, and the car rotates with dexterity when pushed. On public roads, the grip is high enough to discourage exploring how much oversteer can be induced, but the G70 has more of an inner hooligan than it’s buttoned-up exterior design suggests.
More than a gussied-up Hyundai
Suffice it to say, the G70 is an excellent drivers car, if not the best in the segment. But what about luxury? This is where Genesis has exceeded expectations, in that there is nothing about the G70 that suggests it’s merely a dressed-up Hyundai.
The interior is very much class-competitive, with quality materials and robust design. All of the expected tech and safety features are available, and the overall level of execution is commendable for a first effort. About the only shortcoming is a cramped rear seat. Those needing more rear space might consider the Stinger with its three inches of extra legroom, although the rest of the Kia’s interior is straight out less polished.
Verdict: Genesis for the win
Both the IS 350 and G70 prove that value-oriented buyers should walk right past the BMW or Audi dealership when shopping for a sports sedan. Each offers more features for less money. Although the IS 350 definitely needs some work to become a true contender again, the G70 is a remarkable example of what happens when a new brand comes out swinging. Not since the original Lexus LS 400 came out and shook things up has a new model from a new brand made such a strong statement.
Photo credit: Derek Mau
Specs: 2019 Genesis G70 3.3T RWD vs. Lexus IS 350 F Sport
|2019 Lexus IS 350 F Sport||2019 Genesis G70 3.3T|
|Price as tested||$52,163||$51,245|
|Engine||3.5L DOHC V6||3.3L twin-turbo V6|
|Power (hp)||311 @ 6,400 rpm||365 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque (lb-ft)||277 @ 4,800 rpm||376 @ 1,300 – 4,500 rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|Drivetrain layout||rear-wheel-drive||rear-wheel drive|
|Curb weight||3,593 lbs||3,774 lbs|
|0 – 60 mph||5.6 seconds||4.5 seconds|
|Top speed||142 mph||NA|
|EPA-estimated fuel economy||28 mpg (combined)||21 mpg (combined)|
|Wheelbase||110.2 inches||111.6 inches|
|Length x height x width||184.3 x71.3 x56.3 inches||184.4 x 72.8 x 55.1 inches|
|EPA passenger volume||90.2 cu. ft.||104.3 cu. ft.|
|Cargo volume||10.8 cu. ft.||10.5 cu. ft.|
Last year, Nathan got an early opportunity to preview and drive the 2019 G70. Watch the video to see if his assessment agrees with Alex.