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2014 Lexus IS350 AWD F-SPORT Review By Steve Purdy

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2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport AWD


By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Our week with the new Lexus IS 350 AWD F-Sport began with a bitterly cold snow and ice event. We were happy to have the all-wheel drive on our drive to a charity event about 50 miles away. Everyone else was slipping and sliding and skating along while we barely felt a wheel spin the whole way.

This full-time all-wheel drive system on the new Lexus IS 350 is a charm. It felt as steady in these dismal conditions as if it had been an Audi quattro – and that is high praise indeed. Even as we changed lanes through the accumulated freezing slush we barely felt any wallowing.

This is the third generation of the small Lexus IS model. As the brand’s entry-level sedan it has been around since about 2001 with a major redesign in 2006. This one brings the car up to modern standards in every way, particularly in style. Mechanically, it is little changed because under the skin it was already fully modern and competent.

Every luxury automaker seems to target the iconic BMW 3-Series when designing their entry model sedans and Lexus is no exception. Interior volume and most other measurements are within a close range of the 3-Series and a plethora of other beautiful and competent sedans like the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, Cadillac ATS, Infinity G and Acura TL.

This new design-intensive IS seeks to court young buyers. The marketing folks claim it already has the youngest demographic in its class but they would like it to skew down the age scale even more. Sleek body design, aerodynamic details and judicious cladding result in a laudable 0.28 coefficient of drag. The car’s rear view reflects more personality than most cars in order to accentuate the rear-wheel drive character of the car. Deep sculpting of the front fascia and more dramatic character lines all around give it much more personality than its rather tepidly designed predecessor. Visually, it makes a substantial leap forward.

The interior shows fresh design trends with a variety of high quality materials and a more horizontal theme. Leather surfaces define the space with lots of stitching and complimentary materials that flow nicely together for a luxurious feel. With 3-inches extra wheel base the interior volume increased but most of that went to enhance rear seat dimensions. The sport leather seats are well-bolstered and firm with a decent range to accommodate large and small drivers. Larger drivers though (whether big or tall or both) will have a very hard time getting into and out of the small front door opening. I fit into the “big” category and found it a real struggle on ingress and egress in spite of having the seat back and down.

Most controls and information are nicely laid out with a neat little rocking joy stick on the console to control most functions through the multifunction screen. We get needed haptic feedback as the cursor lands on functions around a huge variety of screens. Navigation around the screens is fairly intuitive but a new owner would have a substantial learning curve getting used to it all. Without delving too deeply into the navigation and controls we were not overwhelmed with complexity.

One of our trips into the city revealed an inadequacy in the traffic warning function of the navigation system. In one direction it failed to show a three-mile slowdown behind a freeway patching crew and on the return trip it showed a short slowdown where there was none. I’m not particularly well versed in how these systems work but I understand that there is a lag between when things happen and when they get reported on the car’s map.

The IS can be had with either a 2.5-liter V6 making just over 200 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque or this 3.5-liter V6 with about 300 horsepower and a solid 277 pound-feet of torque. The IS 250, IS 350 F-Sport and both all-wheel drive versions come with the carry-over 6-speed automatic transmission. The IS 350 comes with a new 8-speed automatic. Zero-to-60mph times range from 5.6 seconds for the rear-wheel drive 350 to 8.3 seconds for the all-wheel drive 250. Both engines require premium fuel. EPA estimates fuel economy for the ES 250 at 21/30/24 and 19/28/22 for the ES 350. Subtract a couple mpg for all-wheel drive models.

On the road – especially a dry road – it is a thrill to drive hard and fast. Under gentle driving it is very quiet and serene but put your foot in it and it begins to emit a thrilling, throaty thrum once past 4,000 rpm, which we reach in a hurry. The Sport Mode selection, which is part of the F-Sport Package, firms up the suspension and changes shift points which we notice on spirited driving short of maximum. F-Sport adds no extra power though it may feel that way.

Base price for the IS 250 is $35,950 for the rear-wheel drive version and $38,485 for all-wheel drive. Our IS 350 AWD starts at $41,700. Adding to our cost is the Blind Spot Monitor for $600, F-Sport Package (special grille, LED headlamps, special trim, 18-inch sexy wheels, and adaptive suspension) for $3,100, Radar-controlled Cruise Control with Pre-Collision Warning for $500, high-zoot Navigation System/Mark Levinson Premium audio with Surround Sound and App Suite for $3,200. With the $895 delivery charge we’re looking at just over $50,000 on the sticker’s bottom line.

An extension of the focus on youngsters includes establishing two new functions at all dealerships - a delivery specialist to go over all aspects of the complex new car and technology specialists who are available to instruct the new owner on the extensive capabilities and deep technology. These specialists will have no sales responsibilities so they can focus entirely on making sure the customer knows all about his/her new automobile.

While much of the rest of the world will get a hybrid version of the IS we will not see it here in the U.S. They figure the ES and the CT Hybrids will cover that base.

The Lexus warranty covers the whole car for 4 years or 50,000 miles and the powertrain for 6 years or 70,000 miles.

This IS350 is a great combination of Lexus luxury and feisty performance and you can access either just by how you drive it. Tactile elements such as the steering feel and the smooth, tight actuation of the shifter, and particularly the mouse-like controller reflect a luxurious ambiance but with just a wink of the eye you can be playing boy racer.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved