San Francisco ?Since the birth of the brand in 1989, Lexus has been producing an outstanding series of luxury vehicles, leading the industry with top-level ratings in nearly every category. About eight years ago, they expanded the menu offering with a rear-wheel drive sport sedan designed to compete in the highly contested mid-level sport sedan category. The Lexus IS was a very good car, but it never quite got the combination right to produce a high level of popularity and sales. The 2014 Lexus IS could be the car that changes all that.
In my mind, that category is by far the most exciting group of cars in the industry with vehicles like BMW 335i, Mercedes-Benz C350, Audi A4 along with several others closely behind. After some back-to-back comparisons on an autocross track with the listed vehicles above and the 2014 Lexus IS, it is obvious that the new IS is IN THE GAME with a strong competitor.
Down the long straight stretch at the start of the autocross, the twin turbocharged BMW 335i had a slight advantage, but the 2014 Lexus IS 350 was a close competitor. Though the sharp corners and the other gyrations of the course, the IS was smooth, exceptionally well posed and as fast and accurate as any of other the other three competitors. (As a testing note, I didn?t think the Audi A4 was a fair comparison, because the car provided was the front-wheel drive turbocharged four-cylinder with CVT transmission. To get a fair comparison it should have been the all-wheel drive quattro model with the seven-speed DSG transmission. )
Out on the open road, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 is a great car with lots of power for quick acceleration onto the California freeways that feel more like a giant NASCAR track than a highway. It handles well on smooth roads and on the rough windy back roads as well. At all times, the IS is composed, comfortable and quiet. Improved handling on the 2014 Lexus IS is due in part to the much stiffer body structure and improved double wishbone front suspension and rear multilink suspension. The F Sport option also adds an Adaptive Variable Suspension to further improve high-speed manners.
The 2014 Lexus IS comes in both rear- and all-wheel drive variations. The bread and butter car is the rear-wheel drive IS 250. Under the hood is 204-hp, 2.5-liter V-6 attached to a six-speed automatic transmission. The engine gets an EPA rating of 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. Lexus says it will make the 0 to 60 mph acceleration run in 7.7 seconds and it has a top track speed estimate of 140 mph.
The favorite cars for the buffs will be the IS 350 and the IS 350 F Sport. It gets a 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 hooked up to a very nice eight-speed transmission pirated from the Lexus IS-F high performance model. That transmission is only available on the rear-wheel drive version. The AWD model has the six-speed automatic. Lexus says the IS 350 makes a 0 to 60 mph run in 5.6 seconds and has a top track speed of 143 mph. Fuel economy is 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. All models have steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and require premium fuel.
Pricing ranges from $36,845 for the IS 250 RWD up to $42,545 for the IS 350 AWD. The AWD option adds $2,235 to $2,535 to the IS 350 and IS 250 respectively. Both models are available with Premium, Luxury and F Sport packages and with standalone features like navigation, Mark Levinson audio, 18-inch wheel packages, variable gear ratio steering and Intuitive Park Assist. It is possible to run the price up to about $48,000 when all the options and packages are selected.
I give the 2014 Lexus IS high marks for styling. The new IS look can be especially ominous when seen in another drivers rear- or side-view mirror. The integration of the Lexus family spindle grille and angry headlights produce quite an imposing look. Speaking of the headlights, the standard versions are HIDs and with twin projector LEDs as part of the F Sport option package.
The styling includes some nicely choreographed lines that sweep up the sides and visually integrate with the taillights and rear fascia.
The all-new IS has a longer wheelbase, which translated into three inches more rear legroom and more cargo space ? now 13.8 cubic feet.
Models equipped with the F Sport option package are designed with inspiration from the Lexus LFA supercar and include an innovative TFT instrumentation with the moving center ring. The dash gets a couple trendy touch-sensitive electrostatic temperature switches. I am old fashion about switchgear preferring buttons and knobs, but they only have two touch controls switches for the temperatures. They make sense and are easy to use. I might get me used to them a little at a time.
Models equipped with navigation have the Lexus Remote Touch Interface, which also controls climate, audio, communications and a few other features.
The safety equipment list in the 2014 Lexus IS has a forest of acronyms with highlights being VGRS (Variable Gear Ratio Steering), PCS (Pre-Collision System), ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control), BSM (Blind Spot Monitoring), RCTA (Rear Cross Traffic Alert along with about a dozen others included.
The 2014 Lexus IS is impressive to look at and to drive. With the brilliant Lexus engineers and designers turning their attention to the IS, the competitors should keep a close eye on their rear facing mirrors.