First Drive: 2014 Lexus ISPosted on May 2nd, 2013
Compact sport sedan for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
This summer, Lexus rolls out the third all-new version of its IS sport sedans. The model that began with one variant in 2001 now includes the 250 and 350: both available in rear-wheel or front-wheel drive.
An optional F-Sport package adds a unique grille, bumper fascia, staggered wheels, LED headlamps, special seats and interior trim, adaptive variable suspension, sport plus mode, variable gear ratio steering and stickier brake pads.
Although the original IS appealed mainly to sport compact car enthusiasts, the new models cover a wider audience. Lexus positions the IS as one of three entry luxury models, the other two being the CT 200h hybrid hatchback and the ES 350 midsized sedan.
Pricing ranges from $35,950 for the rear-wheel drive IS 250 to $41,700 for the all-wheel drive IS 350.
Styling is a radical departure from the outgoing model, with Lexus’ now signature spindle grille front and center. The new car is 1/2-inch wider and 3-1/2 inches longer than the current model. An increase of 2-1/2 inches in wheelbase translates to more rear legroom.
Large fender flares, an aggressive side character line and more dynamic rear styling give the new IS a more masculine appearance.
There are two available V-6 engines: a 204 horsepower 2.5-liter block and direct injection 306-horsepower 3.5 liter. The smaller engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection. IS 350 models get an eight-speed direct shift automatic. A new G-force artificial intelligence feature automatically downshifts during cornering.
Test drive in San Francisco
This week, I had the opportunity to drive the IS 250 and IS 350 on the track as well as surface streets and highways in the Bay area. I was particularly interested in the IS 350’s performance with the new engine and eight-speed automatic transmission.
On the track I compared the IS 350 rear-wheel and all-wheel drive models to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The 3.5-liter engine is indeed a beautiful piece of work, reaching peak torque at mid throttle for excellent acceleration off the line. Zero-to-sixty is 5.4 seconds.
Fuel economy isn’t great, about 21-22 miles-per-gallon depending on whether the driver chooses the all-wheel or rear-wheel drive variant. The engine also requires premium-unleaded fuel, which buyers should take into account in thinking about cost of ownership.
However, the exhaust note during wide-open throttle will make all of that worth it to the right buyer. The eight-speed automatic transmission rivals a manual gearbox in terms of performance, maintaining high enough engine speeds during aggressive driving to stay within the power band.
Engineers improved the car’s torsional rigidity by utilizing body bonding and adding additional spot welds, in order to improve steering feedback. Steering feel is heavier at high speeds, while there is more assist at low speeds to enhance maneuverability. The electric power steering system is one of the better units on the market, but in this writer’s opinion, on-center feedback still can’t match traditional hydraulic units.
Following time at the track, I drove a rear-wheel drive IS 250 F-Sport on a short loop in the area, combining some time on the freeway with surface streets around Oakland. I put the car in sport mode, since I was more interested in power than saving fuel.
While it doesn’t have the brute force of the larger engine, the 2.5-liter block has ample power, with the additional advantage of better gas mileage. The rear-wheel drive model averages 30 mpg on the highway; both engines average about two miles-per-gallon more than comparable IS 350 models.
Although the adaptive variable suspension makes instantaneous adjustments to road surface conditions, the IS has a very firm ride, which is especially noticeable in sport mode. I personally like it, but some drivers might find it too harsh.
The test car is equipped with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. The $600 option is well worth the investment for anyone who drives in dense traffic on a regular basis. Blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors to warn the driver about vehicles passing through blind spots in adjacent lanes. I found it very helpful on the section of highway leading north out of Oakland.
Engineers employed aero fins similar to those in the GS to reduce wind noise and improve straight line stability. The IS has the legendary quiet interior Lexus in known for.
The F-Sport model inherits the high-tech TFT gauge cluster that debuted in the Lexus LFA. The driver can modify the screen to highlight the speedometer itself, or add information such as fuel economy and driving range to one side. It’s very cool.
The front seats in the new model are 20 millimeters lower than the current car, so the driver and passenger sit lower in the frame. The position feels sportier, and I had no problems seeing over the cowl.
I found both the regular seats and sport seats in the F-Sport model quite comfortable, although my time for each drive was under an hour.
The 2014 models come with free traffic and weather updates courtesy of HD radio. Buyers formerly had to purchase navigation to access this service. For non-navigation models, updates are hourly. Cars with navigation are updated every two minutes for traffic and every ten minutes for weather.
A mouse device on the center console enables the driver to program the audio and navigation systems. It’s intuitive for anyone familiar with personal computers.
The only new feature I wasn’t wild about is a tactile bar that controls dual-zone climate settings. It doesn’t work any better, if as well as the knobs on the current model do.
Rear seats have enough legroom for small adults in the outboard position. The car’s floor tunnel and the position of the center console eliminate most legroom in the center position. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin. Both rows of passengers get overhead reading lamps.
With the rear seats in place, the trunk can hold a moderate amount of luggage and groceries. The seats fold flat, extending the cargo floor for longer items. Cyclists however will be better served by one of Lexus’ crossover or sport-utility vehicles.
The 2014 IS comes with front, side, side curtain, driver and front passenger knee airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, daytime running lamps and tire pressure monitoring.
Like: Its new styling should turn heads as the all-new Lexus IS hits rolls onto American roads. The new 3.5-liter engine is responsive and powerful, and the eight-speed automatic transmission offers performance comparable to a manual gearbox.
Dislike: Lag in on-center response from the electric power steering system.
Model: IS 250 and IS 350
Base price: $35,950
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 204 Hp @ 6400 rpm (2.5L); 306 Hp @ 6400 rpm (3.5L)
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm (2.5L); 277 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm (3.5L)
Zero-to-sixty: 7.9 seconds (IS 250); 5.6 seconds (IS 350)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy*: 21/30 mpg (IS 250 RWD); 19/28 mpg (IS 350 RWD)
Comment: Both the 2.5 and 3.5-liter engines require premium-unleaded gasoline
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