It's quite clear from the moment you step off the plane that the Americans know how to enjoy themselves. They are the masters of luxury and icons of self-indulgence.
The most over-the-top state is undoubtedly Texas - the lone-star state. The people in this glorious state are proud of the fact that everything is bigger, better and more luxurious than anywhere else in the USA.
That's what made it such a perfect place to launch the all-new Lexus IS 350. As with Texas, the new Lexus IS is bigger, better and more luxurious. But it isn't competing against the previous version of itself. It's up against the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class.
Lexus is so convinced of the new IS' on-road abilities, it made a 335i available so we could drive both back-to-back on a track. As I'm not much of a track driver to begin with, I honestly couldn't tell the difference. Like every other car I've driven around a track, the IS was good fun. I have no doubt that it easily qualifies as a full-blown, card-carrying member of the premium sporty sedan club.
It certainly looks the part of a sporty Japanese sedan. I love the sleek cut-out headlamps and LED slashes beneath them, not to mention the rear lamps that curve all the way into the side panels. It's just one of those cars that grabs your attention and keeps it. On the road, it's unlikely that it'll be mistaken for anything else.
While the exterior may be impressive, it's got nothing on the interior. It may be hard to tell the difference between the IS and its competitors on the track, but interior-wise the Lexus is at the top of its game.
First up, it's as modern and Japanese as I was hoping it would be. By that I mean it's elegant and traditional in terms of materials used, but not in the way you interact with said materials. You adjust the temperature of the climate control by stroking the centre console for goodness’ sakes! In the F Sport model, the dials behind the driver change and move around according to which mode the driver has the car in.
The interior not only looks good, but is comfortable and luxurious as well. The leather seats are sumptuous and offer support in all the right places. As I've said before, Lexus does luxury even better than the Americans. In fact, the new IS 350 goes above and beyond anything we've seen before in this segment. The full list of standard specification will be made available closer to the local launch, but Lexus has a tradition of including everything and the kitchen sink as standard. There's no reason to believe it won't do the same thing this time round.
South Africa will initially receive two models, both powered by the same 3.5-litre V6 engine. It produces 228kW and 370Nm of torque. It's the same silky smooth powertrain we know and love, but this time it's mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
As stated before, it does a marvellous job on the track, but it really shines on the road. The IS is never left wanting and as a result is a relaxing car to drive. You merely point it where you want it to go, push lightly on the throttle and the car does the rest. Lexus, it seems, really does understand the definition of luxury.
Details on pricing will be made available at the local launch in June. Lexus has, however, revealed that we can expect the new car to be priced in the same ballpark as the previous model, even though it offers a lot more in terms of technology and standard specification.
I can't wait to see what this car does once it's launched into the local market. Lexus has never been a volume seller in this segment, but this new IS may be the car to change all that.