2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Review

We go in-depth with the new 3-Series fighter.

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October 24, 2013

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Review

The IS has near-perfect weight in its steering, with good feel, but as you get closer to the limit, it goes from razor-sharp reflexes to sloppy.

Introduction
Lexus is in the midst of an image makeover. No longer content to be the purveyor of staid luxury models, the brand now wants to be known as one that produces both boring luxo-rides (ES) and sexy sports sedans (GS) alongside its stable of family-focused crossovers (RX, GX, LX). Kind of like BMW.

Enter the IS. The IS sports sedan is entering its third generation on the U.S. market, and Lexus had some work to do after its previous generation fell short of enthusiasts' expectations. The redesigned 2014 IS had to be a credible performance car that still coddled passengers in order to successfully challenge the 3-Series.

We sampled the car once already, now it's time for the full meal.

2014 Lexus IS 350 On the Road The high-zoot version is the IS 350 F Sport, with 306 horsepower, sport-suspension tuning, 18-inch wheels, and some F-Sport-only interior and exterior trim bits. This adds up to a sporty package that goes like hell from a stop, with a ferocious exhaust note that escalates in intensity as the revs rise. Call this car the silent killer - it's quiet at low rpms, but tromp on it and pedestrians take note. There's plenty of sound and fury as light poles come towards you at an alarmingly rapid rate. Acceleration: check.

Handling is a different matter. The IS has near-perfect weight in its steering, with good feel, but as you get closer to the limit, it goes from razor-sharp reflexes to sloppy, with both understeer and oversteer occurring as the limit is reached and then passed. We got a short track drive in our tester at a media track day, and we found that the same car that brought us mostly joy on our favorite back road was gooey and slushy when pushed too hard. There's a Jekyll and Hyde thing here, on two levels. There's the sedate commuter/back-road banshee dichotomy, along with the fact that the IS is a great performer, right up until it isn't.

Ride is sports-car stiff but acceptable. The IS offers several drive modes - Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport +, and it was hard to pick out changes in ride among them, but we did notice differences in throttle tip-in and response from the eight-speed automatic transmission.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Exterior The first IS was a boxy little sportster, the second was swoopy and curvy, and this iteration is sleek. It has a blend of luxury-car curvature and sports-car intensity. The IS has a purposeful stance and an aggressive grille to complete the look. It's a handsome car that doesn't hide its sports-sedan intent, while still maintaining enough innocence for commuting. It won't be too hard to say 'who, officer, me?' with believability when the inevitable traffic stop occurs. It may be quick, but it's still an inoffensively handsome Lexus.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Interior We like the chronograph-style gauge cluster - which is customizable - and we dug the analog clock, the dash-top nav system, and the use of real knobs in the audio system. We're less fond of the unrelieved mish-mash of black buttons above the audio knobs, and we have mixed feelings about the mouse-like infotainment system controller - sometimes it feels intuitive, sometimes it feels a tad wonky.

There's enough head and legroom upfront, but the rear can be tight for taller passengers. We did feel coddled by the seats and felt that the materials match the price point well.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Final Thoughts We praised the car as a worthy competitor to the 3-Series in our initial review, and a week with us did little to dissuade that opinion. We'd like some at-the-limit handling adjustments, but even if our on-track experience was a letdown, we were pretty happy with what happened on the back roads, as long as we kept it below the limit. The car is a blast to drive.

And it does all that while still being a damn good commuter. Middle managers who are looking for alternatives to Bavarian driving machines, your ride has arrived.
2014 Lexus IS 350 Specs, Features, Prices Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drive Wheels: All-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway

Base Price: $39,465

Available Features: Dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, navigation system, infotainment system, pre-collision warning system, lane-departure warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, USB port, heated and cooled front seats, rearview camera, Mark Levinson premium audio system, sports suspension, performance brake pads, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, satellite radio.

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