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2011 Lexus IS 350 (photos)

For the 2011 model year, Lexus made a few good updates to the IS 350, adding the option of all-wheel drive, bringing in some new services to the cabin tech, and fitting it with LED parking lights.

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Wayne Cunningham
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1 of 17 Josh Miller/CNET
Lexus introduced the IS 350 model in 2006, a major update to the IS line. For 2011, Lexus gives the car modest changes, primarily new cabin tech, LED parking lights, and an all-wheel-drive option.

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The IS 350's styling still stands out, its tight grille and roofline extending back to the trunk, giving it a unique appearance. LED parking lights in the headlight casings are a new feature.

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The IS 350 uses a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with a unique fuel delivery system. It has direct injection for higher engine speeds, and port injection for low-speed driving. The former delivers power, and the latter reduces engine noise.

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Sharing the bottom of Lexus' lineup with the ES model, the IS 350 is not a big car, but has some good sport attributes. Front seat space is comfortable, but the rear seat is a little tight.

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When it launched the IS 350 and IS 250, Lexus only offered all-wheel drive on the IS 250, but now is extending it to the IS 350. This all-wheel-drive system defaults to 70 percent torque to the rear wheels, but can adjust to a 50/50 split as needed.

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The IS 350 trunk is not overly large, in keeping with the car's smaller dimensions compared with larger Lexus sedans.

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Lexus does a very good job with the interior of the IS 350, giving the cabin a luxury feel through the use of quality materials.

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The IS 350 uses an electric power-steering unit, which Lexus tuned well for road feel. Steering feels tight and responsive, bolstering the sporty nature of the car.

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Light-up rings around the dials indicate going over a user-configurable speed limit, or over-revving the engine.

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The IS 350 is stuck with a six-speed automatic transmission; there is no manual option. This automatic offers a Sport mode and manual gear selection, in conjunction with paddles on the wheel.

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The maps in the navigation system are bright and easy to read, but there are no 3D maps. The navigation system is hard-drive-based, allowing for quick response times.

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Lexus uses a nice graphic style on this destination options screen, but all other screens use ugly gray buttons. The destination options include the new Enform telematics service.

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With Enform, drivers can talk to an operator and get destinations downloaded to the car's navigation system.

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iPod integration offers choices for viewing the music library by artist, album, and genre, but we found this interface very slow.

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The IS 350 gets a very nice-sounding Mark Levinson audio system, which supports 7.1-channel recordings. We were impressed by the balanced frequency response and the detail of the sound.

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Lexus puts three speakers in each front door, with an overall count of 14. The amp puts out 300 watts.

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The IS 350's Bluetooth phone system downloads a phone's contact list, making it available on screen and through the voice command system.

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