We just got some seat time in the new 2014 Lexus IS-350 sedans out at the former Alameda Naval Air Station near San Francisco to sample the new sport sedan against its rivals from BMW and Mercedes Benz. The new Lexus IS sedan is an important new launch, and how it compares to its German foes will be key to its success.
The new Lexus IS sedan is available in both IS 250 and IS 350 models. The IS 250 is the entry level play with a 204 horsepower DOHC V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. For those wanting more, the IS 350 sports a 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with 306 horsepower.
We tested the IS 350 and IS 350 FSport models, all with an 8-speed automatic transmission While no manual transmission is available, fear not. This gear box is plenty sporting with the console mounted drive mode knob and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. You can also dial the F-Sport up to Sport + model which rev matches for down shifts, holds gears for performance driving and snap shifts tight when you want it.
The suspension also dials up stiffer when you click to Sport +, with a noticeable sharpness that you can feel in transitions, braking and the staccato of road textures. Steering with the new electronic power assist is well balanced, again changes with drive modes and feels more communicative than we expected. The F-Sport is available with a variable rate gear ratio steering rack on rear wheel drive models.
Handling compared to the BMW 335i and Mercedes E350 which Lexus had on hand put the IS 350 square between them. The BMW seemed a bit sharper and more loose on the course than the IS where the Mercedes felt heavier and a bit more laid back in its responses. The IS 350 is virtually dead neutral in its handling, with little tendency to under or over steer unless you really really really make it do so.
The large 13” front disc brakes are tough as them come, even in harsh cone war as we put the IS 350 through. Pedal effort is stiff and linear and fade is minimal. Grip is also plenty satisfying with both the standard 17” rubber on the IS 350 as well as the wider 18” tire and wheels which are found on the F-Sport.
Inside is where the new Lexus IS steps up. Seating in the new IS 350 is about an inch lower than the previous model, and in the F-Sport a new sport seat features larger bolsters and sides to keep you planted well. Even the standard IS 350 seating is plenty supportive however. SofTex simulated leather is standard on the IS 350, with leather optional.
The center console has both the drive mode knob which adjusts engine response, steering feel and transmission shift behavior as well as the infotainment control puck. On standard cars the display audio has subscription free traffic information through HD Radio, a first. With NAV equipped cars you get the interactive control puck for all infotainment and car controls.
The latest generation of connectivity from Lexus is now in the IS 350 with way more features than we can list here, but suffice it to say its got all that. The overall interior impression is that of a significant step up over the previous IS in design and aesthetic appeal in addition to quality of materials.
The F-Sport has a unique “Optitron” LCD instrument cluster inspired from the LFA which moves to the side for a custom gauge layout. Its a slick sporting feature which allows ultimate control over your information. The look is down right mean and surely something to show your friends.
Exterior design is much sharper than before, though an evolution of the previous model. A creased cut line extends from the lower front rocker up into the tail lights in a very artful way. F-Sport models get a more pronounced front fascia with larger air inlets and a more aggressive cut.
Up front, Lexus has split the LED “L” driving light from the main headlamp. The look is unique and has already gained a love hate reaction to those we have spoken to. Models with headlight washers get a large chrome knob that is sure to become a new styling statement on other models if we dare say.
The Lexus IS 350 will accelerate from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds according to Lexus and our seat of the pants puts that right on target. With rear wheel drive the IS 350 is rated to achieve 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined. The IS 250 model does slightly better at 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined.
Overall we came away impressed with the new 2014 Lexus IS 350. It’s a bit larger and heavier than before but still has its edge. Pricing for the IS 350 starts at $39,465 for RWD and $41,700 for AWD, 2.1% lower than the 2013 model. The F-Sport package adds $3115 and we highly recommend it.