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  • 2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD

    Posted on May 10th, 2014 ninarussin

    Third-generation compact luxury sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    The Lexus IS that began as a niche product geared towards the tuning audience has evolved into a series of sport sedans that target similar buyers, but with more performance options and luxury accouterments. The third-generation car that debuts this year features is available with a choice of two V-6 engines rated at 204 and 306 horsepower respectively.

    A manual transmission is no longer available, but IS 350 buyers can control the eight-speed automatic transmission with formula-style paddle shifters. The driver can opt for four performance modes ranging from eco to sport plus, depending on the type of driving he is planning to do.

    The rear-wheel drive sedan is also available with all-wheel drive, sending engine power to the wheels with the best grip. Engineers focused on improving the chassis’ torsional stiffness using high strength and extra high-strength steel. New features for 2014 include an electric power steering system to save weight and enhance fuel economy, and a multi-link independent rear suspension.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive IS 350 tested is $41,700, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include an F Sport package that adds a unique grille, 18-inch wheels, thin film transistor instrument cluster, leather steering wheel and shift knob and special interior trim; blind spot monitoring; dynamic cruise control; navigation with a Mark Levinson premium audio system, Lexus Enform, HD radio, real-time traffic and weather. Final MSRP is $50,164.

    Test drive in the Midwest

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    This week, I had the opportunity to drive the new IS on a road trip between Indianapolis and Cincinnati as well as highways and surface streets in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. Cincinnati is always a tough test for cars, with its narrow hilly streets in a perpetual state of construction due to the harsh winters. This past winter was particularly nasty, and road conditions reflected that.

    I would guess that Lexus will lose some devotees of the original IS who preferred the edgier, stripped down model. But it their place will be a new group of fans who appreciate the current model’s versatility. Although it can still do track time, the newest model is a very comfortable daily driver, with better gas mileage and a more upscale interior.

    The jury’s still out on Lexus’ new spindle grille design. I like its unique presence on the road. It makes the car stand out where former models have not. But it seems a bit imbalanced top to bottom. Perhaps some refinement from the Calty Design team will fix that over time.

    But overall, the IS is a very pretty, sensuous looking vehicle. Its wrap-around headlamps and LED tail lamps give the sedan an organic quality. Daytime running lamps are well integrated into the car’s front end.

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    The new car has a three-inch longer wheelbase and is about an inch wider than the outgoing model translating to some much needed rear legroom. The second row still lacks the space of Lexus’ larger GS and ES models, but two adults should be comfortable.

    The 3.5-liter V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission are a pleasing combination, offering up firm, linear acceleration and responsive shifting. I started out the road trip in eco mode to see how much I could stretch gas mileage. I ended up averaging 25 city/highway, which is considerably better than the EPA average. Later, I tried out the sport modes to experience more aggressive acceleration and allow the transmission to hold onto the gears longer.

    Engineers did an excellent job on the suspension. There is an appealing amount of road feel, yet passengers don’t get jostled around too much on uneven pavement. Lexus has improved performance from its electric power steering systems, but they still lack the precise on-center response of traditional hydraulic systems.

    Four-wheel disc brakes stop the sedan in firm, linear fashion. Engineers utilized vortices around the side mirrors and back corners to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve NVH. The sedan’s quiet interior, a Lexus hallmark, makes it easy for passengers in both rows to converse.

    Visibility around the perimeter is pretty good. The optional blind spot monitoring system illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when drivers in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. It’s a helpful feature in cities such as Cincinnati where surface streets have lots of blind corners.

    Driver-focused interior

    Lexus IS 350 Interior

    Lexus IS 350 Interior

    The Lexus LFA supercar was the basis for the new interior. Drivers will notice similar foot wells, a small-diameter steering wheel and short-throw shift knob. Frankly, the front seemed a bit cramped. With my husband sitting in the passenger seat, there was absolutely no room for a small purse or pack.

    The thin film transistor gauge cluster combines analog and digital functions in an attractive and easy-to-read design. The car’s center stack is equally well configured. A split screen navigation function shows the overall route on one side with the next turn to its right. I had no problems reading either display in bright sunlight or after dark.

    A car information screen includes a fuel consumption graph. Average overall gas mileage on the 250-mile drive was 21 mpg: the same as the EPA average. The driver can also call up traffic incidents and national weather reports on separate screens.

    A new design for the dual-zone temperature controls uses touch strips. The driver simply slides his fingers up and down the strip to change temperature. It takes a bit of getting used to but is simpler and faster than rotary dials.

    The driver controls driving modes using a rotary dial on the center console. Buttons next to the dial turn off the traction control for driving at the track and implement second-gear starts for slippery winter weather.

    A locking glovebox provides secure storage inside the car.

    The IS has a tall floor tunnel, so the back is best for two passengers as opposed to three.

    The trunk isn’t exceptionally large, but it easily held our two roller boards and some additional parcels.

    Standard safety

    The Lexus IS 350 comes with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, traction control, stability control, antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring, automatic collision notification and stolen vehicle location.

    The new sport sedan is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.

    Like: A sport sedan that is equally at home on crowded freeways and racetracks, the IS 350 can satisfy all the needs of driving enthusiasts.

    Dislike: New grille design seems unresolved.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Lexus
    Model: IS 350
    Year: 2014
    Base price: $41,700
    As tested: $50,164
    Horsepower: 306 Hp @ 6400 rpm
    Torque: 277 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: 5.7 seconds
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: Standard
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy*: 19/26 mpg city/highway
    Comment: The manufacturer requires 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline.


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