Some cars don’t mix sportiness and luxury very well. But the 2014 Lexus IS sports sedan has been strategically revised to provide both luxury and sporty driving.
Width of the new rear-wheel-drive IS has been increased by nearly half an inch for a more aggressive stance. The large bold-looking grille has a more “three-dimensional” design with a chrome-plated frame, but looks overdone. However, styling is generally sporty.
Major changes include a nearly 2.7-inch wheelbase increase to 110.2 inches for more rear seat legroom and cargo space. The interior easily holds four 6-footers, but isn’t spacious and has little in-cabin storage. There’s a larger, decent-sized trunk, and split 60/40 rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to enlarge the cargo area.
Importantly, there’s a new multilink rear suspension for more grip and control, along with a revised front suspension. The more compact rear suspension also contributes to greater trunk room.
I found the new electric power steering system has a smoother, more accurate feel with greater road feedback. Its firmness helped make the car a good highway/freeway cruiser. New construction techniques provide an increase in body rigidity, and new rear sub frame and cowl side braces help enhance handling control and steering response. The rather dark upscale, quiet interior of my 2014 test vehicle seemed more “German” than “Japanese,” but lighter interior materials are offered.
There’s a more driver-focused cockpit, but the dashboard would be sportier with a conventional analog speedometer instead of a digital speedometer put inside a conventional analog tachometer. A new driver’s seat provides greater comfort and good lateral support in curves and during quick maneuvers.
There are two multimedia systems—a standard high-resolution Lexus Display Audio with controller or optional Lexus navigation system with remote touch interface. The dual-zone automatic climate control has new touch-sensitive electrostatic switches for the automatic climate system.
They’re slender wedges flush with the dashboard that allow a driver to change temperature settings without taking eyes from the road by sliding them up or down. However, there are too many small dashboard controls, although they’re within easy reach. The IS comes with carryover engines.
The 250 model has a quiet, refined 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V-6. The more-luxurious, faster 350 model has a road-eating 3.5-liter 306 horsepower V-6 that doesn’t work as hard as the smaller engine. Rear- or all-wheel drive are offered, and there is a new Drive Mode Select system with up to five driving modes.
The IS 250 and 350 feature Eco, Normal and Sport modes. The IS 350 F Spot has Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+ modes. Also, all-wheel-drive models feature a Snow mode, which came in handy with my test car during Chicago’s frigid, snowy January, although I didn’t think it was very effective moving from a parking area surrounded by fairly deep, slippery snow.
The IS 250 has a six-speed automatic transmission, and the IS 350 has an eight-speed automatic. Both have manual-shift features, but neither model has a regular manual transmission. I tested the new all-wheel-drive IS 250. It was a bit slow off the line, but otherwise had lively in-town acceleration and good 65-75 m.p.h passing on highways. The IS 350 version naturally is faster.
The IS 250 with all-wheel drive does 0-60 mph. in 7.9 seconds, while the IS 350 reportedly hits 60 in 5.5 seconds. My approximately 3,700-pound IS 250 all-wheel-drive test car provided an estimated 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highways. Estimated figures are 19 and 28 with the larger V-6, which calls for premium fuel. List prices are approximately $36,000 to $46,000.
I tested the $38,485 IS 250 all-wheel-drive model with the $2,675 F Sport option package. I recommend this new option. It provides no additional power, but has 18-inch wheels and special suspension tuning, besides a somewhat unique interior and exterior design. It’s available for IS 250 and IS 350 rear- and all-wheel-drive models.
Another major option is the $2,085 Navigation Package, which contains items including a backup camera and remote touch interface. The IS also may be equipped with a pre-emptive Pre-Collision system that incorporates adaptive cruise control. Several advanced new active safety features include an automatic high-beam headlight and lane-departure alert systems and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert—always handy in crowded parking areas.
Regular safety features include ten air bags, including front knee air bags and full-length side curtain air bags. Handling is sharp, and stability is enhanced by an integrated management system. It integrates the anti-lock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution, traction control and vehicle stability control. The brake pedal has a firm, progressive action, and strong brakes quickly stop the IS.
Lexus has been mainly and widely known for big, fast, luxurious cars that offer little driving enjoyment. The 2014 IS models should help change the automaker’s image.
Pros: Revised. Quick. Roomier. Supple ride. Available all-wheel drive.
Cons: No analog speedometer. Small controls. Front cupholders set far back.
Bottom Line: Worthy substitute for a BMW 3-Series or Cadillac ATS.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.