2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Introduction
Lexus has always positioned the IS as a sport sedan designed to be as fun to drive as a BMW 3 Series and as dependable as a Toyota Corolla. The first Lexus IS arrived for the 2001 model year, and it drove much like a BMW 3 Series. An older one. And that was just fine by me, especially in ultra-cool SportCross format. To this day, I fondly remember the original Lexus IS.
The second-generation Lexus IS arrived for the 2006 model year, sleek, modern, and instantly appealing at a time when BMW 3 Series design was going a little bit sideways. The new IS was more powerful and more sophisticated than the original, but it traded some personality and dynamic engagement for wider appeal to attract a broader base of buyers. An all-wheel-drive system became available, and the IS Sedan spawned both a 2-door convertible with a power retractable hardtop and a performance-tuned IS F variant built to go head-to-head with a BMW M3.
Now, the third-generation 2014 Lexus IS is on sale, displaying daring styling (for Lexus anyway), promising improved driving dynamics, and offering lots of modern technology all wrapped in a package that provides more room for rear-seat passengers.
Having now spent a week schlepping pre-schoolers, running errands, navigating traffic, and ripping around on my favorite mountain roads in the IS 350, it appears that Lexus has successfully married the character and dynamics of the first-generation car with the refinement and sophistication of the second-generation car, creating a genuine alternative to both established entry-level luxury sport sedans and compelling newcomers alike.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
The 2014 Lexus IS 250 starts at $36,845 including the $895 destination charge. The IS 350 commands a $3,515 premium in exchange for a more powerful V-6 engine that shaves 2.1 seconds off the 0-60 acceleration time, an 8-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission with paddle shifters, Drive Mode Select technology with Comfort, Normal, and Sport driving modes, and larger front and rear brakes.
Otherwise, the two cars are identically equipped, and are offered with identical options. All-wheel drive is available, as well as an F Sport Package, but my Silver Lining Metallic IS 350 test sample had neither.
Instead, the car in the photos came with a Navigation Package that included a navigation system, Lexus Enform App Suite telematics, a reversing camera, heated and ventilated front seats, LED headlights, a Blind Spot Monitoring System, and attractive 18-inch aluminum wheels with summer performance tires. Add a carpeted trunk mat, and the sticker price came to $45,135.
Lexus continues to offer the IS C convertible and the IS F performance model, but both remain based on the previous-generation IS.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Design
- Redesigned inside and out
- Separated LED running lights
- Optional LED headlights
- F Sport Package adds unique design details
- LFA-style instrumentation for F Sport models
I will admit that when the 2014 Lexus IS debuted at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I was taken aback by the design. Especially in F Sport trim, this car’s protruding spindle-style grille, exaggerated brake cooling ducts, bulging beady-eyed headlamps, Nike-swoosh LED running lights, boldly-creased hood, and daring upswept character lines leading from the bottom of the front doors up and through the rear wheel wells to meet the dramatically tapered wraparound taillights, were not collectively appealing.
Viewed in the context of its natural surroundings, in natural light and without the F Sport treatment, the Lexus IS looks exactly right. Long denounced for its lack of style, Lexus has produced an unmistakable new IS that won’t be confused with every other entry-luxury sport sedan on the road.
Inside, the IS represents an equal departure from the model it replaces. Starkly architectural, the 2014 IS diverges from the simplistic, almost Germanic cabin design ethos of the second-generation IS in favor of a technical appearance rich in artful details with few components that are sourced from Toyota’s massive parts bin. Again, when sitting in the driver’s seat, I am reminded of that first-generation IS except that instead of a chronographic gauge cluster, this new model is available with instrumentation that replicates what the automaker installed in its LFA supercar.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Quilted driver’s seat design
- Longer wheelbase adds rear seat legroom and trunk space
Tall people will like this new Lexus IS far more than they did the previous one. The driver’s seat offers 10-way power adjustment, and there’s plenty of seat track travel. I’ve got a 33-inch inseam, and didn’t need to place the seat in its rearmost position. People who like to sit up tall in the saddle like I do will also be happy with the amount of seat height adjustment. You’ll run out of headroom before the seat stops rising.
Comfort is in plentiful supply, and the IS provides an outstanding driving position. Toss the car into corners, however, and the driver might find it uncomfortable to brace his or her left leg against the hard plastic on the driver’s door panel. I also found that while shuffle steering through tight S-curves I banged by right elbow on the tall center console. Remember, I sit up nice and high, which should alleviate such a problem. People preferring a lower driving position might find this to be an even bigger nuisance.
Lexus says it has fixed the previous IS model’s rear legroom problem, and that’s not a false claim. Because it is based on a scaled-down version of the platform used for the 2013 Lexus GS, the new Lexus IS is 3.4 inches longer, with a 2.7-inch wheelbase stretch. As a result, the IS gains 1.6 inches of rear room for legs, and the scooped-out front seatbacks help adults fit for more than just a cross-town jaunt. The back seat still isn’t what one might call roomy, but neither is it a rolling example of solitary confinement.
Where Lexus seems to stumble with the new interior is in regard to storage space. A friend who was checking out the car said this:
“Know that the problem with this car is? Where do I put my cell phone? There’s nowhere to put my cell phone. And where do I put this key fob? Look. My cell phone and the key fob are in the cupholders. Now, where do I put my coffee?”
He’s right. The IS offers precious little space for stuff. At least the new version has a bigger trunk than last year, at 13.8 cu.-ft.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Free real-time traffic and weather
- Touch-sensitive climate temperature switches
- Next-generation Remote Touch controller
- Improved Mark Levinson audio option
If Lexus didn’t quite get the storage solutions right, it does a great job of making the new IS very easy to understand and use. From the Remote Touch controller, which mimics the operation of a computer mouse when using the menus on the upper display screen, to the logical array of well-marked buttons and controls, including a couple of unusual gray rubber knobs for controlling the stereo, it doesn’t take a doctorate in programming to figure this car out.
A Cadillac ATS? Not so much.
As an example, when I paired my iPhone to the car’s Bluetooth, it literally required two inputs. First, I needed to make my phone discoverable. Second, I needed to tell the Bluetooth system to pair with my phone. No need to input a code. No need to confirm phonebook download. No need to wait while that aggravating little dial spun on my phone’s screen. Done. Next. And thank you so much, Lexus.
One more observation bears mention. I can’t really find anything inside of this car that is shared with a Toyota-badged model. That alone makes the IS look and feel special, which is as it should be.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- 10 standard airbags
- Optional Lane Departure Alert
- Optional Blind Spot Monitor
- Optional Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
Lexus also keeps it simple when it comes to safety equipment. This is not a car that beeps and flashes at you to the point that you tune the safety systems out or become aggravated by false warnings. The reversing camera offers a wide enough view to help the driver see more than what’s sitting directly behind the vehicle, and the Blind Spot Monitor illuminates to warn of vehicles in adjacent lanes.
Standard safety equipment for the 2014 Lexus IS includes 10 airbags and Smart Stop technology that makes it impossible for the car to accidentally accelerate as long as the driver is pressing on the brake pedal. Safety Connect service with Automatic Collision Notification activates if the IS model’s airbags deploy and speeds rescuers to the scene of the collision. A Vehicle Integrated Dynamics Management (VDIM) system helps the driver to keep the car under control, operating in relatively subtle fashion.
Additionally, the Lexus IS is offered with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Alert, and an Advanced Pre-Collision System. My test car did not have these features.
2014 Lexus IS Crash-Test Ratings:
As this review is written, the redesigned Lexus IS has not been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- 8-speed automatic transmission for IS 350
- Drive Mode Select powertrain configuration
- Revised front suspension; new rear suspension
- Electric steering derived from larger GS model
- F Sport Package adds handling enhancements
While the rest of the 2014 Lexus IS is redesigned, the powertrains carry over from the previous-generation model. If you were hoping for turbochargers, you’ll be disappointed.
Instead, the IS 250 is equipped with a 2.5-liter V-6 engine. No, you read that right. It’s a V-6, making all of 204 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm while burning premium gas. Paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the IS 250 is rated to get 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg in combined driving. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 7.7 seconds.
As an aside, it is worth noting that the standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine in a Kia Optima makes almost as much horsepower and more torque than the IS 250, and at lower rpm, and in a lighter car, while returning an EPA-rated 28 mpg with regular unleaded.
My IS 350 test car had a 3.5-liter V-6 good for 306 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. A new 8-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission is standard for the IS 350, equipped with paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel and downshift rev matching. Lexus says the transmission’s shift programming adapts to spirited driving depending on g-force measurements. According to Lexus, acceleration to 60 mph takes 5.6 seconds in exchange for a fuel economy penalty of 2 mpg in the city, on the highway, and in combined driving.
Both models also include new Drive Mode Select technology, giving the driver a choice between Eco, Normal, and Sport powertrain modes. An all-wheel-drive system is optional for the IS 250 and the IS 350. Under normal driving conditions, it splits power evenly between the front and rear wheels. Depending on driving conditions, it automatically varies that power split up to 30/70 at either end of the car. Evidently, Lexus is marketing this feature as All-Weather Drive.
Both versions of the new IS can also be optioned with an F Sport Package that adds unique wheels, revised front fascia design with larger brake cooling ducts, upgraded brakes, a sport suspension, a Sport Plus setting for the Drive Mode Select system, gauges inspired by the LFA supercar, sport-bolstered seats, an F Sport steering wheel and shift knob, silver interior trim, a black headliner, and aluminum pedals. The IS 350 F Sport adds an Adaptive Variable Suspension and can be optioned with Variable Gear-Ratio Steering.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
My test car didn’t have the F Sport Package, and in my opinion, it didn’t need one.
I’m a fan of this 3.5-liter V-6 engine. In the IS, it behaves in a refined and docile fashion until you wake it up by pushing hard on the accelerator. Then, a visceral growl enters the cabin and the IS leaps forward with surprising alacrity, feeling every bit as capable as the quoted 5.6-second acceleration time would indicate. Unfortunately, there is a very slight whine that increases in frequency as the engine revs, and it’s noticeable most of time unless you’ve got the stereo turned on. Fuel economy isn’t spectacular, either, though my 21-mpg average didn’t miss the 22-mpg combined driving EPA estimate by much.
The new Drive Mode Select system alters transmission shift mapping for three distinctly different acceleration characteristics. In Eco mode, the car upshifts rapidly to help conserve fuel, but if the driver suddenly decides he or she requires quick acceleration, the powertrain is quick to respond. In Sport mode, the engine is always ready to rock because the transmission holds revs a little higher to make the car feel more responsive no matter how far you dip into the throttle.
The steering is a work of art. It is electric, but you would never guess as much. Likewise, Lexus has perfected the ride and handling mix in this car. It feels firm but never harsh, and exhibits almost zero squat, roll, and dive no matter how hard the IS is driven. Pitch the car into a curve at double the posted speed, and it glides around the corner with astonishing grace. Hit unanticipated pavement anomalies, like the rumpled mess of pavement halfway down to the beach on Malibu’s Latigo Canyon Road, and the Lexus proves unflappable, remaining utterly planted to the pavement.
Stab the brakes, or attempt to finesse them in traffic, and a hint of artificiality is evident in the feel of the pedal, but the stoppers themselves are stout, withstanding significant abuse on a warm summer testing day that involved lots of abuse on downhill stretches of twisty two-lane.
The car’s Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) system provides a safety net that most IS owners will want to rely upon most of the time. It predicts when the car might skid, and prevents it from occurring by applying the brakes at individual wheels, modulating engine power, and providing steering assistance. Enthusiast drivers traveling a favorite stretch of pavement will find VDIM intrusive, even if it does operate with much greater subtlety than Lexi of the past. To defeat this feature, push and hold the traction control switch for three seconds, but remember, after that you’re on your own.
Normally, I don’t advocate shutting safety systems off when traveling public roads, but the new IS has performance potential that far exceeds the VDIM system’s threshold of tolerance, and to extract maximum enjoyment from the car, it’s gotta be shut down. Before doing so, I thought the IS was a fun car to drive, but VDIM activity equated to regular splashes of cold water in my face. After doing so, I decided the IS clearly one of the best sport sedans in its class.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
For a long time, Lexus has been relentlessly pursuing perfection. Now, first with the new 2013 Lexus GS followed by this redesigned 2013 Lexus IS, the automaker appears to realize that it must also pursue passion if it wants to be a legitimate A-list luxury brand. Though it is true that the comparatively staid Lexus ES and RX remain the company’s best-selling models, the new 2014 Lexus IS further demonstrates that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes don’t have a monopoly on building engaging, distinctive, world-class sport sedans.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Luxury Sport Sedan Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- A blast to drive
- Comfortable front and rear
- Unmistakable design inside and out
- Carryover powertrains
- VDIM remains intrusive
- Lacks interior storage
- Unimpressive fuel economy
Lexus supplied the vehicle for this review
2014 Lexus IS 350 photos by Christian Wardlaw