While certain cars beautifully withstand the test of time, the 2019 Lexus IS struggles to make a good case when pitted against newer compact luxury sedans on the market. In fact, it’s the oldest in the segment along with the Infiniti Q50 as both models date back to 2014.
Lexus updated the exterior and added some features as part of a mid-cycle refresh in 2017, but the next generation is not coming until 2020 as a 2021 model. In the meantime, the company is trying to maintain consumer interest as best it can, including with the 2019 Black Line special edition we tested recently.
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Based on the Lexus IS 300 AWD, this exclusive model is available in three exterior colours—Ultra White, Atomic Silver and Obsidian Black—but it primarily stands out with black accents on the 18-inch split-spoke Vapor Chrome wheels, mirror caps and rear lip spoiler. Triple-beam LED headlamps add extra flair, too.
The interior receives a heated F SPORT steering wheel with perforated leather and, for some reason, black wood trim. The highly comfortable sport seats in black NuLuxe leather get red accents on the side bolsters and seat cushions, while additional red accents adorn the centre stack and rear outboard seats. You’ll also find contrasting red stitching in various spots.
Very few people can purchase a Black Line model as only 150 units were allocated to Canada. However, as we write these lines, it is still possible to configure one on the Lexus website (UPDATED: the 2020 IS models are now listed, as well, and the Black Line Edition is carried over in the case of the IS 300 AWD and newly introduced to the IS 350 AWD).
The Black Like edition can only be had as part of a $7,550 package that includes many more options and some F SPORT accessories, bumping the car’s price to $51,100 before freight and delivery charges. Is it worth it? In our honest opinion, no. A comparable model without the black elements is about $1,000 cheaper, and you could also easily make do with just the F SPORT 1 package ($3,850).
Making the Right Choice
For 2019, Lexus decided to offer this special edition on the IS 300 AWD, which is questionable since the latter is neither the best-performing IS nor the one with the best value.
The 3.5-litre V6 under the hood produces 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque—much less than the same engine in the top-line IS 350 AWD, which delivers 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet… while burning the same amount of premium gasoline, curiously (10.9 L/100 km on average). The automatic transmission is a honest worker despite having only six gears, while the all-wheel drive system inspires confidence on wet roads.
If you don’t insist on getting AWD or a healthy V6 sound, the base IS 300 RWD model proves to be an excellent choice if not the best. Equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, it generates nearly as much power (241 hp) as the six-cylinder IS 300 AWD and especially more torque (258 lb-ft), the vast majority of which is accessible at low revs for quick takeoffs.
Furthermore, it’s the only model blessed with an eight-speed transmission, making acceleration smoother and helping drivers save money at the pump (9.5 L/100 km on average).
It’s no German Sedan
Another reason why we recommend the base trim level is that the Lexus IS is no longer the sport sedan it used to be (especially since the death of the V8-powered IS F). Steering, while precise, lacks feedback. Also, ride comfort is a bigger priority than agility and real driving excitement, even in Sport mode.
So, because you can’t do better than the German cars (the freshly redesigned Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series are by far the segment leaders), it’s best to just go the simple route and avoid spending more money than you should. The base 2019 IS 300 RWD has a pretty affordable price of $41,050 and it boasts the same level of quality as the others, not to mention Lexus’ stellar reliability.
One last thing we must absolutely talk about, though, is the ill-designed, outdated and unintuitive infotainment system—a far cry from, let’s say, BMW’s iDrive or Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX. You access and navigate through the various menus via a few buttons and a small, mouse-type controller on the console, but it quickly becomes a pain in the butt. Hopefully the next generation will solve all that.