Nearly a year has passed since Lexus pulled the cover off the 2014 IS. We were initially disconcerted by the enormity of the spindle grille, especially on the F Sport models. Time, and perhaps Lexus’ proliferation of the design, has moved us closer to acceptance. Beyond the Lexus’ new face, almost all of the IS is redesigned, with a focus on the interior and suspension. Surprisingly untouched for 2014 are the two engine options, the 2.5L V6 of the IS250 and 3.5L V6 of the IS350. While that is worrisome, the cumulative effect is more than enough to keep the Lexus IS competitive as a sport sedan.
The IS350 without the F Sport package, like the one we tested, isn’t a bad looking car. Unlike the F Sport’s mesh grille, the front of the regular IS350 gets two visually distinct distinct sections. This, along with the front plate bracket, goes a long way towards breaking up the front end. The new IS retains much of the side profile from the previous generation. The biggest difference is the rising design line that curls out of the sideskirt, continues through the taillights and concludes as the upturned lip of the rear decklid . We call it “the swoop”, and it appears to control much of the rear 3/4 design of the car. The rising cut of the rear door glass and small “shark fin” reflectors on the rear bumper all follow the same angle. It all works rather well. What doesn’t work, for me at least, are the headlights. From a distance, the LED running lights appear to outline the bottom of the lens, but up close it’s apparent that they’re completely separate from the oddly-shaped headlights. The actual lens is a bulbous, upright setup sunken into the front end. No matter what angle you look at them, they’re downright strange looking.
The Lexus IS gets an all-new interior for 2014. The backlit analog clock and drive select knob are familiar touches built into a completely new dashboard. The console is wide and fairly high, making the front footwell feel narrow and cramped. On AWD models, like our IS350, the front transfer case is mounted beneath a large hump in the driver’s footwell. At times, I could feel it with the back of my calf, adding to the tight feeling. Some of the materials on the center console also felt surprisingly un-Lexus-like. Our test arrived with the Luxury+Technology package, an option listed in the promotional brochure but not found as a stand-alone option in the online configurator. Online, the Luxury+Technology package is always paired with the Navigation package. This would upgrade the infotainment system and add the leather-wrapped Remote Touch controller. Without it, our IS350 was left with a plastic storage bin and a finicky control knob. Similarly, since our IS350 wasn’t equipped with the F Sport package, it didn’t benefit from the LFA-inspired instrument cluster. The standard cluster is easy to read, but washes out in direct sunlight. The rest of the interior lives up to Lexus’ high standards. The leather seats are immensely comfortable, with heating and ventilation thanks to the aforementioned package. The hidden stitching in the leather door panels and mix of dark wood and metal accents add a classy touch. The LFA-inspired steering wheel tilts and telescopes to the perfect position, and the electrostatic switches for temperature control are a novel new feature. They take a bit of getting used to but work just as well as buttons or dials. Overall, like every Lexus we’ve tested, the interior is a very nice place to be. There’s enough tech and gadgets to remind you you’re in a premium brand, but the basic needs to spirited driving don’t suffer as a result.
Much like the interior, the handling of the new IS350 balances comfort and control. For 2014, the IS350 gets the multi-link rear suspension and steering system from the Lexus GS. Compared to the chassis of the Cadillac ATS and BMW 3 Series, the Lexus IS can’t be beat. The ride is comfortable and undisturbed by rough roads, but doesn’t eliminate road feel. The steering is lighter than the ATS and yet it remains every bit as direct and communicative. The AWD system adds some weight and brings a bit of understeer, but it can be managed effectively with the horsepower on tap. The IS350’s chassis is the Goldilocks of sport sedans; neither a hard race car nor a luxury land yacht. On the highway, the car almost disappears because of how composed and easy to drive it is. Flick the drive control knob over to Sport and everything tenses up just enough to bring the task of driving back into focus.
The 2014 IS350 makes due with the same 3.5L V6 as the previous generation. The engine pulls linearly to a maximum of 306 hp at 6,400RPM. An appealing engine note becomes apparent above 4,000RPM but it won’t be confused with the V8 roar of the IS-F. Torque peaks at 277 lb-ft. Rear-wheel drive models get an 8 speed automatic but AWD models, like ours, are left to make due with two less cogs. Left to its own devices it works very well and, even when commanded to shift through the steering paddles, it obeys without hesitation. Acceleration is smooth, but feels unhurried. With a chassis this good, there’s an air of disappointment from the drivetrain. It’s not slow by any stretch, but you’re left wanting more power because the car feels like it can be much faster. The IS350 has enormous potential here; a bit more torque from the engine would be welcomed. Maybe it’s just the power-hungry enthusiast in me, because the rest of our staff didn’t note any lack of zest from the V6. Our week of mixed driving yielded 23.6MPG, above the EPA estimate.
Lexus has built the best IS ever. It will undoubtedly be successful, but is it good enough to draw people out of a 3 Series or ATS? We’re not so sure. You may question the new looks outside, but the all-new interior won’t make any enemies. Just be sure to equip navigation. There’s also no question about the handling capabilities of the IS350. We’ve driven most of its competitors and the IS350’s chassis outshines them all by being both comfortable and engaging. Unfortunately the drivetrain feels a bit dated. The 2014 IS isn’t too hot or too cold, then. It’s just right.
|2014 Lexus IS350 AWD
|All Weather Package||$360|
|As Tested MSRP||$47,480|