2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD With 2015 Updates Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
New styling and structural and suspension improvements keep the Lexus IS350 competitive in the compact sports-luxury market
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyers Guide
Lexus's second generation IS sports sedan had an unusually long life, from its model year 2006 debut through 2013 with no major changes and remarkably few minor ones. Was this a sign that Lexus was losing its competitive edge?
Hardly. That iteration of the IS aged particularly well, quite a feat considering that it competed with luxury-sports sedans like the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Cadillac CTS. Change comes for 2014, with the newest IS.
Where the second-generation IS was revolutionary, with a new structure and styling and replacing the original 3.0-liter inline-six engine with a choice of 2.5- or 3.5-liter V-sixes, the third is more evolutionary. Powertrains remain the same, both offered with rear- or all-wheel drive, although the rear-wheel drive IS350 gets an eight- instead of six-speed automatic transmission. Structurally, new construction techniques result in increased structural rigidity and a three-inch stretch in wheelbase and redesigned rear suspension improve rear-seat and trunk space. Outside, the latest Lexus styling cues are immediately evident, while inside is more room for everyone, and new styling that borrows heavily on Lexus's exotic LFA.
Since it aims at the sport side of sport-luxury, but not all potential customers want the firmer suspension that "sport sedan" means, the standard suspension tune is appropriately moderate. The F-Sport package, available for all models, both RWD or AWD, is for those who want a spicier driving experience with their luxury. Content varies according to model but includes upgraded wheels and suspension and sportier body styling at a minimum, and on the IS350, multi-mode Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) and further development of the Drive Mode Select system that is standard in all models. All IS350s and the IS250 F Sport get an "intake sound generator" for, in Lexus's words, "a more sporting exhaust note".
A rather fully-equipped 2014 IS350 AWD F-Sport has been my test car for the past week. A 306-horsepower V6 matched to a multi-mode six-speed automatic transmission and the AVS and addition of Sport S and Sport S+ modes to the Drive Mode Select took care of the sports sedan side of its character very well. The ability to turn to Eco or Comfort around town, in traffic, or on the highway and then Sport S+ when opportunity arose, using less unleaded premium when possible to atone for guilty pleasure on the back roads led to a 20 mpg average for the week, with minimal highway droning. On the comfort and luxury side, well, this is a Lexus. So, leather and stitched soft-touch materials, power everything, sunroof, all of the expected audio options plus Bluetooth for phone and streaming audio and more are standard. Options including blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, and a Mark Levinson audio system plus navigation and information galore and the Enform suite of infotainment possibilities should keep everyone happy.
From the slightly tentative IS 300 in model year 2001, the Lexus IS has carved its own niche in the luxury compact sports sedan class. And since the third generation debuted less than a year ago, one would expect that 2015 would bring few changes, maybe color or upholstery choices. While the basics haven't changed -- meaning anything written here can also apply to a 2015 equivalent -- details have. LED foglamps join the running lights and headlights. The F Sport package gets heated and ventilated seats for year-round comfort, and a heated steering wheel is optional in standard AWD and standard in F Sport AWD models. And there is more connectivity for iOS and Android devices.
APPEARANCE: Love it or hate it, there is no ignoring Lexus's hourglass-shaped "spindle" grille. Look beyond that, and the newest IS is not all that different from the previous version, for continuity and recognition. It's a bit longer, but doesn't really look it. In profile, it's more like a coupe than a sedan, with a near-fastback passenger cabin. L-shaped LED running lights bracket the headlights. F Sport gets you a sportier front fascia, with a low front splitter (be careful parking), functional ducts immediately outboard of the lower grille, and faux ducts beyond those. Sculpted rocker panels emphasize the modestly-flared fenders. Fittingly, considering the likely maturity of buyers, it has a sports sedan look without being an obvious "boy racer". There is a subtle ducktail at the trailing edge of the trunk, no lurid wings here thank you.
COMFORT: One of the major reasons for the IS when the IS 300 debuted was to give potential customers choice: ES for American luxury, IS for more European. And the IS is still the most Euro of Lexus's offerings, with uncluttered interior styling in addition to the expected comforts and gadgetry. State-of-the-art technology abounds, especially in F Sport models, with TFT instrumentation and a moving center speedometer ring. Information, both necessary (tach, coolant temperature, fuel level) and less so, is displayed well and all systems are simple to use and understand. The trackball-like controller on the console for the center stack information display is a bit gimmicky but requires no assistance from the manual. Seat comfort in front is first class, power-adjustable of course. The steering wheel manually adjusts for tilt and reach and has auxiliary controls for most systems. Old-fashioned knobs supplement the screen-based controls for the climate system. Because of a high and wide central tunnel, the rear seat is best thought of as for two people. They get floor heat vents and console AC, plus a bit of storage in front seatback and door pockets and a center armrest with cupholders. The good-sized trunk has a space-saver spare lurking under its floor.
SAFETY: Strong materials and careful design and construction protect passengers. All IS models have four-wheel disc brakes; IS350s have ventilated rear discs as well as fronts. Antilock, of course, with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and traction and stability control, all managed by the Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) system. There are ten airbags, front, knee, and side for front passengers plus rear side and full-length side curtain. Optional safety systems include blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and the Pre-Collision System.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Improvements in rigidity of the IS's unibody from greater use of high- and ultra-high tensile strength steel, laser screw welding and adhesive bonding to attach sections, and rear subframe and cowl bracing mean a quieter ride and better suspension response. Revisions to the front double-wishbone and rear multilink systems take advantage of that. The IS 350 F Sport's Adaptive Variable Suspension is integrated with the Drive Mode Select system to change damping from moderately soft in Eco and Comfort modes to firmer in Sport S and more so in Sport S+ modes. The result is a car that is comfortable in daily use and very competent for high-performance driving.
PERFORMANCE: With 306 horsepower (at 6400 rpm) and 277 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm), there is no shortage of power from the namesake 3.5-liter V6. Aluminum alloy block and heads keep weight down, and direct fuel injection allows a high compression ratio -- 11.8:1 -- for efficiency. Auxiliary port injectors makes for quicker warmup and better low-throttle operation. VVT-i variable cam phasing and lift dynamically optimizes airflow for optimum efficiency with minimal emissions. Power delivery is linear, and for most daily driving, transmission in D and Eco or Comfort mode is perfect. When it comes time to play, go directly to Sport S+ for quickest throttle response and, in D, more performance-oriented shift points. Even better then, slide the gear lever to manual mode and use the paddles behind the steering wheel arms. This is not a fuel economy-oriented car, but an average of 20 mpg with maximum fun roads and minimal highway is nothing to be ashamed of given the performance.
CONCLUSIONS: New styling and structural and suspension improvements keep the Lexus IS350 competitive in the compact sports-luxury market, especially in F Sport trim.
2014 Lexus IS350 AWD
Base Price $ 41,700
Price As Tested $ 49,600
Engine Type DOHC aluminum alloy V6 with VVT-i continuously-variable cam phasing and valve lift for all camshafts
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 210 cu. in.
Horsepower 306 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 277 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed multi-mode automatic
Wheelbase / Length 110.2 in. / 183.7 in.
Curb Weight 3737 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 12.2
Fuel Capacity 17.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires Bridgestone Turanza EL400 F: 225/40R18 88W R: 255/35R1890W
Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS, EBD, BA, BSC, TRAC all standard and integrated into VDIM
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent multilink
Drivetrain longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 26 / 20
0 to 60 mph 5.7 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Blind-Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and auto-dimming outside rearview mirrors $ 600
F Sport Package -- includes: Exterior: F-Sport front bumper and spindle grille, LED headlamps, 18" F-Sport alloy wheels with all-season tires Interior: TFT instrument cluster, heated front F-Sport seats, perforated leather steering wheel and shift knob, black headliner Performance: Adaptive Variable Suspension and sport S+ mode $ 3,180
Navigation System With Mark Levinson Premium Audio: includes: 835W, 15-speaker 5.1 surround sound audio, backup camera, remote touch interface, Lexus Enform with app suite, Destination Assist & eDestination (includes 1-year trial subscription), Voice Command, HD Radio with real-time traffic and weather $ 3,225
Destination Charge $ 895