The 2014 Lexus IS 350 Review: Like all luxury brands, Lexus has its crosshairs trained directly on the heart of BMW. Nowhere is this more true than with the new-for-2014 Lexus IS, a car that has been redesigned, refined and tested to match the best sports sedans coming out of Germany. In fact, Lexus is so confident in saying "we can beat the Germans" that they invited me to a racetrack in Austin and handed over the keys to the new IS and its competitors from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. If that's not boasting, I don't know what is.
IMPROVEMENTS: Other than the engines, a 2.5-liter and the 3.5-liter V6 designs that carry over from last year, the IS is an all-new vehicle for 2014, and the changes are noticeable. It's a bigger car now, with much better back-seat legroom than in the previous generation, and it comes with a high-tech cabin with features inspired by the LFA Supercar. That means it has all kinds of wow-your-friends wizardry, like electrostatic temperature switches and a customizable digital instrument pod with a center ring that moves mechanically.
It also has a new body style, with a more aggressive spindle grille and more swept-back headlight and taillight shapes. Still, in typical Lexus fashion, the new look is conservative enough that it didn't draw many stares driving on the streets of Austin, more evolutionary than revolutionary.
The best changes were reserved for the driving feel. When pushed hard, the IS performs much more like a true, sports sedan now. Body roll is reduced, and steering, brake and suspension feel are all made more precise, especially when "Sport+" mode is engaged in the IS 350.
But don't worry, comfort lovers. Dial in "Normal" driving mode, and the soft, silent, supple Lexus feeling returns for ordinary drives around town. It does a good job transitioning between aggressive and laid-back driving styles.
ON THE TRACK: The IS's serious emphasis on performance was evident at Driveway Austin, a small but technically challenging racetrack designed for training professional drivers. To be clear, the competitive models Lexus brought to the track for comparison were 2013 versions of the BMW 335i M Sport and the Mercedes C350 with the sport package. It wasn't a true 2014 vs. 2014 comparison, but it is the best match up available right now.
The Mercedes, even with the sport suspension, felt soft and out of place on the track, with enough body roll to make my back-seat passenger nauseous.
The BMW, as to be predicted, is a much more enjoyable car under pressure, with that unmistakable low-end grunt and awe-inspiring handling that make the 3 Series such a magnet for flowery adulation in the automotive press.
But what is remarkable is just how close the new IS 350, and even the less powerful IS 250, come to the more expensive BMW 3 Series. The IS350 is just as thrilling, just as fast in the right hands, and just as appealing as what is traditionally the best sports sedan in this class.
To my taste, the BMW is just a hair more enjoyable to fling around the racetrack, if only because my mind has been trained to think, "this is what great sports sedans feel like." It's based more on a gut feeling than anything tangible, and it's easy to offset with the BMW's higher price.
From a logical perspective, though, it's hard not to lust over the new IS. Lexus has the world's best reputation for dependability, and its new suite of in-car electronics, far too extensive to detail in a short review, to give it more of a wow factor than the BMW.
It also matches the 3 Series so closely in performance and driving engagement that the difference boils down to personal preference, something that ought to fill the Lexus team with pride.
What was tested? The 2014 Lexus IS 350 RWD with a base price of $39,465. Options on the test car: The F Sport package for $3,620. The total MSRP price as tested including the $895 destination charge came to: $43,980.
Why buy it? It's a dramatic improvement over the outgoing IS. Rear-seat legroom makes it a more comfortable car for passengers, and it's a true rival with the BMW 3-Series. By Derek Price © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
The 2014 Lexus IS 350 Bottom Line Review provided by: Tony Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
The Bottom Line: The 2014 Lexus IS 350 now has precise, sparkling handling in addition to upgraded electronics, more interior rear seat room and all new body panels and lines. Plus the new generation IS cabin is some of Lexus' best work, especially for people who like high-tech gadgets. It has a customizable gauge cluster inspired by the LFA Supercar and with the F Sport option package it has the looks, sounds and feel of a sportscar. For 2014 the Lexus IS 350 now comes in a hardtop coupe and a IS 350C retractable roof convertible, and maybe, just for that reason alone, you should “Drive one, Buy one, Today ©”
Bottom Line Review provided by: Tony Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
“Tony the Car Guy” is an automotive writer, editor and publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you have a question or comment for Tony send it to TonyLeo@pacbell.net or visit AutoWire.Net at www.autowire.net - And remember: “ You Are What You Drive © ”
Column Name: On track with the new IS
Topic: The 2014 Lexus IS 350
Word Count: 948
Photo Caption: The 2014 Lexus IS 350
Photo Credits: Lexus IS 350 Internet Media
Series #: 2014- 28
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