HEELS ON WHEELS: 2014 LEXUS IS 350 REVIEW


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2014 Lexus IS 350


HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE IS 350 VEHICLE
The Lexus IS 350 dishes up the perfect size of performance, luxury, and high-tech, wrapped up in – well – the perfect-sized sedan. It’s an instant charmer without resorting to over-the-top tricks to get there, thanks to smart interior construction, an evergreen design with a few modern twists, and an efficient drivetrain arrangement. The new F SPORT edition, a popular package that has done an excellent job drawing attention to other models in the lineup, distinguishes the IS 350 even more.

I drove a 2014 Lexus IS 350 with the 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine, eight-speed Sport Direct-Shift automatic transmission with paddle shifters and rear-wheel drive. Also available in the smaller IS 250, both vehicles are available in one trim with all-wheel or rear-wheel drive and a performance FSPORT package differentiating them. My test drive came with the following standard features: ten-way power driver’s seat; perforated NuLuxe two-tone leather upholstery; leather-trimmed steering wheel with mounted controls; leather shift knob; moonroof; dual-zone climate control; Lexus Display Audio screen; voice recognizing commands; center console controller; eight-speaker premium audio system; Bluetooth; XM Radio; and push-button start. Price as described comes to $39,465.

Having spent time at one-day media event with the IS 250, I was excited to have the IS 350 for a longer test drive. A main competitor would be the Acura RLX, which I was also recently able to test drive.

HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA

Stylish But Comfortable Results: The IS 350 is more conservative than flashy in design, with a modern touch found in the grille. The inviting cabin features black trim against rich taupe-colored upholstery and brown wood trim accents. Lexus deserves praise for its ability to push the technology envelope. There are touch-sensitive electrostatic temperature switches for the climate control; a radio cache feature to never miss a minute of a live game during a call; and avoidance safety technology like Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Much of this cost extra in optional packages, however. The also-available Entune, Lexus’s own infotainment system, offers a high-resolution display with Destination Assist, an app suite with iHeartRadio and Bing, and phonebook synchronization. FSPORT adds a lot of the performance extras, like upgraded wheels, tuned suspension, bolstered seats, and of course, the badging.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not yet tested the 2014 Lexus IS 250/350. However, the 2013 model gets mixed scores – ratings of “Good” in moderate overlap front and side crash test; “Acceptable” in roof strength and head restraints; and “Poor” in small over lap front – and what’s interesting is the website just recently started providing images the vehicles after testing, so you can see for yourself how a model does in each category. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2014 Lexus IS 350 an overall rating of 5-Stars (its lowest score was 4-Stars in frontal crash). Standard safety equipment includes: ten airbags, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system; Anti-Lock Brakes, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control.

Cost Issues: The Lexus IS 250 with no packages starts at $35,950 – the most expensive model is the IS 350 FSPORT with all-wheel drive at $45,230. But Luxury and Premium Packages, along with technology upgrades, easily add another $4k to any model.

Activity & Performance Ability: The Lexus IS 350 is a spirited and connected drive, mainly due to a smart shifting transmission and excellent steering wheel feel. Yet as I mentioned in my intro, a vehicle with a well-balanced offering of qualities means you won’t get performance that puts you on the edge of your seat, as found in a BMW. But that might be what consumers want and what makes the Lexus IS 350 so appealing in my opinion: an accessible sport-oriented sedan for real-life drivers.

The Green Concern: The Acura RLX has a fuel economy advantage at 20-city/31-highway for a combined 24 miles-per-gallon; while the Lexus IS 350 with rear-wheel drive gets 19-city/28-highway for a combined 22 miles-per-gallon. Not ideal for a vehicle of this smaller size.

FINAL PARTING WORDS
The 2014 Lexus IS 350 is a straightforward entry-level luxury sedan, with just the right amount of performance, technology and luxury – a perfect fit you can feel on all levels the moment you get behind the wheel.

2013 Katrina Ramser

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