Last November, Lexus handed us the keys to a 2014 IS350 all-wheel-drive. We were impressed with handling and the all-new interior. That car left us wondering what else the Lexus IS lineup had to offer. After all, there were a few notable omissions on the spec sheet. Thankfully, we were given the opportunity to follow up with a rear drive IS350 F Sport. The first IS350 was just right. Can the IS350 F Sport be better?
On the surface, the changes aren’t subtle. The standard 17” wheels are replaced with staggered 18” wheels wrapped in summer tires. A unique front fascia and grille means doing away with the fog lights to provide better air flow. Finally, the entire car sits lower on its Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS). Visually, this IS means business. The front spindle grille is even more in your face than the more subdued regular version. Still a love it or hate it style, the front end continues to grow on us. We appreciate its aggression. The strange headlight design remains unchanged, however, and we’re still not sold on it.
Inside, the IS350 F Sport retains the same quality and comfort of the IS350 AWD. However, the F Sport package brings power sport seats, a sport steering wheel, and aluminum pedals. The driver’s seating position is one that the Germans could learn a thing or two from. In a word; perfection. The IS350 F Sport also solves all the interior problems we had with our AWD tester. Without the need for a front transfer case, the driver’s footwell is flat. Our F Sport tester also came equipped with the optional navigation package. While the current navigation interface isn’t as simple as the new touchpad controller implemented in the RC and NX, it is better than the finicky control knob. Finally, the F Sport package fits the IS with an LFA-inspired instrument cluster. This upgrade is easy to read and didn’t wash out in direct sunlight.
You could have left us with that and we’d have praised the F Sport as better than the AWD model. But it gets better. The IS350’s 3.5L V6 remains unchanged with 306 hp and 277 lb-ft torque. Instead of the 6-speed transmission found in the AWD cars, rear-drive IS350s are equipped with an 8-speed sport automatic. F Sport cars also get high-friction brake pads for better stopping performance. Our tester came fitted with the optional Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) to adjust steering angle based on speed. The way this car drives is what sets it apart from our last go-round.
Everything seems sharper, more connected, and more responsive. Without an AWD system, our IS350 F Sport didn’t have as much traction off the line, but was 144 lbs lighter than our previous tester. Performance statistics are the same as last time. Lexus’ 8-speed auto makes all the difference in the world. It downshifts on command and the upshifts are quick and precise. There’s some IS-F-inspired induction noise that’s more noticeable in the F Sport. Lexus has added an intake sound generator to get a bit more rumble out of the V6. The chassis really stands out here with the suspension upgrades. As we mentioned last time, we knew there was a gem of a chassis in the IS. With the additional tweaking of the F Sport package and the proper front-engine rear-drive layout, this IS350 really shines.
Everything about the ride seems right, its comfortable yet solidly planted. The addition of Sport+ to the drive control settings adds another level of tautness to the suspension and throttle. Turn in is sharp and aggressive as the car goes exactly where you want it to. It should be mentioned that is is one of the few variable steering systems that didn’t feel artificially boosted. Like its competitors, the IS350 F Sport lacks a limited slip differential. That doesn’t seem to hurt the IS when it comes time to put the power down. As we found in our previous test, the IS350 chassis is so good it makes the car feel underpowered. Lexus’ naturally aspirated V6 lacks the torque found in the turbocharged BMW 335i or supercharged Audi S4/S5. We don’t want to sound selfish, but the IS350 could absolutely handle more power. With the looming release of the RC-F, the IS may very well find a V8 under its hood once again. Hey, we can dream.
Most of the problems we had last November, the washed-out guages, lack of navigation, and intrusion into the driver footwell, are gone in the IS350 F Sport. As if that weren’t enough, the seats and suspension got better. We even returned a similar fuel economy figure to the IS350 AWD: 22.7 MPG. The best part? This improved IS350 F Sport costs $8 less than the IS350 AWD. That’s because the AWD system commands a $2,235 premium over its rear-drive counterpart. For those that live in a four-season climate, Lexus offers the F Sport package on all IS models, even the IS250 and IS350 AWD. Last time around the Lexus IS350 was just right. This time, in F Sport guise, everything got even better.
|2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport
|F Sport Package||$3,620|
|Variable Gear Ration Steering||$400|
|Blind Spot Monitor||$600|
|As Tested MSRP||$47,472|