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Chicago Auto Show: 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

The 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport is a sophisticated $40,000 ride, but it can be a bit of a fair weather friend.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

The 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport continues the Lexus style evolution with smooth, aggressive styling, turbocharged power and ample in-cabin technology. But, if you have someplace to go, don’t let it snow.

Lexus handed over an IS 350 with the F Sport performance package (a sport tuning setup sold across much of the Lexus line) as my transport leading up to the Chicago Auto Show. And, as long as the skies didn’t open up, I was motoring in style.

The F-Sport version provides tightened handling and sport tuning – teamed with top trim interior styling and an F badge. Standard, the IS 350 offers a 3.5 liter, V6 putting out 306 horsepower. That’s tied to an eight speed automatic, shiftable transmission, rear wheel drive and for way independent suspension.

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On the street or highway, it’s a striking car that will move as quickly and as tightly as you could ask for in an urban environment. Unfortunately, Mother Nature revealed a weakness for this F Sport model. We’re talking Chicago, and we’re talking a week leading up to the Chicago Auto Show in February. Snow was inevitable.

True to form, an early February blizzard smacked the Midwest from Chicago to Milwaukee to Minneapolis with some spots pulling down more than a foot of snow in less than 24 hours. You probably didn’t hear about it. When New York gets three inches on a pleasant winter night, CNN and Fox News march out their reporters in parkas from the Situation Room and call it Snow Death Blood War Horror 2015. In the Midwest, they grab a shovel and go to work. But, I digress.

With the flakes flying, the roads quickly became a brutal mix of slush, drifts and ruts. And, the IS 350 lost a lot of its charm. In fact, it was incentive in the weather and got stuck more than once — forming me to do the old reverse/drive, rock n’ roll techniques to get the car moving again. The car was very disappointing in the weather.

And this is not some Californian or a big city resident who relies on public transportation. I grew up in winter weather. Snow is not a worry for me. I’ve also done winter drive training and testing at tracks from Montreal to Connecticut. Even with all my tricks, the IS 350 F Sport had trouble putting its torque to the ground and struggled to find any grip. There was plenty of power to use, but the car couldn’t put it to a slippery road.

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The car has a Snow driving mode, in addition to its Eco, Sport settings. Strangely enough, that Snow option didn’t help. The traction control didn’t help. I had to turn off all of the driving aids and rely on my training in throttle control and steering to get the car moving.

Now, all of that is a little unfair to the IS 350 because I haven’t reviewed its rivals from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and other cars in the class in similar conditions. And, an IS F Sport is not an SUV designed for heavy conditions. This Lexus got a raw deal via the polar vortex, but I have to review a vehicle under the circumstances I encounter it.

The 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport is well-styled, plenty powerful and entirely comfortable – but it might not be the prime option for nastier winter climes.