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Driven: The 2023 Lexus IS 500 Will Turn You Into an Accountant

For automakers, getting you, the paying customer, into the seat of a vehicle is what it’s all about. Having a buyer sit there and really picture themselves owning a car is half the battle. It works on nearly everyone, and the Lexus IS 500 is like a little Jiminy Cricket perched on your shoulder, telling you that really, the right thing to do would be to bust out the spreadsheets and figure out where you can plug some leaks. It’s only $57,000.
Lexus IS500 47 photos
Photo: Chase Bierenkoven/autoevolution
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It starts when you get about 10 feet away. Any more than that, and the IS 500 seen here looks like a regular ol’ Lexus sedan in a neat color. Heck, it looks like a regular ol’ Lexus sedan from any point in the last 10 years or so from far enough away. But then you see the tall hood, the big brakes, the quad exhausts, and the tiny “F” badging.

Then you start it, and whoopsie! Guess you won’t be buying a home any time soon. I’m a sucker for a car whose personality is almost solely determined by its engine, so it's no wonder I’d have the Lexus IS 500 over anything in the segment.

Design Evaluation

The IS is nice to look at, especially given other selections in the Sports Sedan world right now. The Audi S4 is… well, an Audi. It neither leaves me wanting for more nor does it leave me repulsed. It looks like an S4, and that’s just great. The M340i is still more classically BMW, and a solid looker, especially considering the M3.

The Lexus’ looks come and go for me. I much prefer the way the company integrates the hourglass-shaped grille onto the LC 500 (which this shares an engine with), but the IS has long been an excellent-looking sedan with sharp lines and a nice stance. Really, what makes this car is ordering it in one of The Good Colors, like this Infrared shade.

Interior Assessment

Like the exterior of the car, the IS 500’s interior is largely Lexus IS from afar, with some subtle F Sport badging and nicer interior trim elements tossed in for good measure. It feels upscale enough for its $66,625 as-specc’d price, and nothing feels overly cheap. More importantly, I can’t tell that a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff is made by Toyota.

Lexus IS500
Photo: Chase Bierenkoven/autoevolution
The seats are comfy too, offering some solid adjustment, but not quite as much as those in the BMW or Audi. But hey, if they’re comfy, what else matters? The back seats are comfortable too, but some taller adults will be squeezing their heads against the roof. That’s okay, because honestly, when was the last time you had three grown adults in the back of your car?

Storage here is ample as well, and I’m a sucker for the car’s moving display, which is incredibly useful and always fun to watch. Some folks will gripe about the touch-sensitive climate controls. Honestly, I’m not sure why they are here either. In some of the brand’s other models, physical switches are still in use. But other than this minor quibble, there’s nothing to beef over in here.

Driving Take

Notice the word “V8” hasn’t been used once. While the IS 500 is no doubt dominated by its 472 horsepower, 5.0-liter V8, I feel it's important to have looked at the IS 500 without acknowledging the single item that would outweigh nearly any flaw I could find with the car. Much like the LC 500, this V8 overwhelms the driving experience.

Any act of driving is consumed by a sole challenge: get the V8 to its 7300-rpm redline. Or, in traffic, moving the V8 past 2,800 rpm. It’s at that point that a bypass valve opens, letting you hear much more of the noise.

You’ll want to hear all of it, of course. There’s not much for four-door V8s in the world anymore. Journalist types have been saying for ages that everyone should enjoy *this year’s V8 car here* because they won’t be around forever. Here’s hoping we continue to be wrong about that because the IS 500 sounds so overwhelmingly special, with all the high and low notes that make up a good-sounding V8.

Lexus IS500
Photo: Chase Bierenkoven/autoevolution
This is paired with an Aisin-made 8-speed gearbox moving just the back two wheels. Throw the IS 500 into some of its sportier modes, and the transmission keeps up. That is, unfortunately, all it does, and those from BMW and Audi feel far ahead. Thankfully, it’s never in the way, and it never once denied me a downshift. I’ll give it a pass, but we’d rather someone graft the Supra’s manual transmission onto it.

Thankfully, the rest of the driving experience is more on-pace with the V8 star of the show. The chassis is communicative, but without being overtly stiff. The diff locks up in a progressive manner, encouraging big slides the instant the traction control is off. I even came around on the steering, which was not too heavy, if a little digital for my liking.

Everyday Living

Going fast and leaving hot tire stuck to asphalt is only half the IS 500’s M.O. This is still a four-door luxury sedan, and it feels it on the day-to-day. Lexus has finally relented on its dismal touchpad, allowing touch-screen functionality on Android Auto and Apple Carplay. That, paired with the updated Mark Levinson sound system in the Premium trim IS 500, makes for a fantastic place to spend time.

Drop the seats, and just about anything will fit in the trunk. Mountain bikes fit without issue, and so do the groceries. There’s 11 cubic feet with the seats up, which is more than enough for any daily activities. Plus, with the mult-langual suspension system, the IS 500 is perfectly comfortable around town.

Fuel economy is the only drawback here. If you can call the trade-off for V8 sounds a drawback. I saw around 16 mpg, which is still not awful considering V8s used to get about 1 mile of range per cylinder.

Lexus IS500
Photo: Chase Bierenkoven/autoevolution

Test Drive Roundup

There’s no reason you can’t just buy an IS 500 and use it every day. The thing just works. I like the sound system, the engine, the size, and the tech. Aside from a few minor shortcomings, the IS 500 hardly puts a foot wrong.

There’s a point at which, while testing a car, you start to picture yourself in it. You start doing the math, whispering about interest rates and insurance premiums with Jiminy on your shoulder. Anything for that V8.

Pros

  • V8
  • Also V8
  • Sedan practicality meets sports car fun

Cons

  • Transmission is just passable enough
  • Still has a trackpad
  • My kingdom for a six-speed
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About the author: Chase Bierenkoven
Chase Bierenkoven profile photo

Chase's first word was "truck," so it's no wonder he's been getting paid to write about cars for several years now. In his free time, Chase enjoys Colorado's great outdoors in a broken German sports car of some variety.
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