Review: 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport
Posted on August 12, 2013
Lexus recently redesigned its IS sedan, and as with the new GS, sought to take it in a more sporty direction. The previous generation of IS was a compromised car, trying to challenge the German sport sedan establishment on the one hand, yet trying to stay true to the Lexus virtues of comfort and isolation, but not succeeding with either effort. We got our hands on a 2014 IS350 AWD F Sport and put it through an extended test.
The 2014 Lexus IS represents a ground-up redesign, a la the new Lexus GS. To quickly highlight some of the key changes in the 2014 IS350, Lexus extended the wheelbase three inches and borrowed many of the larger GS’ suspension components. As is required to keep up with the times, the 2014 IS also gets an entirely new infotainment system and technology suite. Our IS was equipped with the F Sport package, which adds several key performance components to the IS, including a sport suspension, sport seats with bolstering, twin HID projector headlamps and a Lexus LFA-like digital instrumentation.
How’s it drive?
We were very impressed with the IS 350’s athletic nature. It’s a very entertaining car that asks you to stuff it into corners at high speed and pin the throttle. Seriously, it’s kind of like the devil who pops up on your shoulder and says “Screw it, gun it.” Moreover, it’s confidence inspiring. The IS is not light, nor does it feel like it is, but the solid structure (Lexus says there’s a lot of laser welding and epoxy bonding going on) and weight gives a sense that it’s buttoned down regardless of what it encounters in corners. Despite the taut suspension, the structure feels incredibly tight and is utterly unperturbed by impacts. The steering is well weighted and provided good amounts of feedback about the road surface and what the front tires were doing. Turn-in was immediate – the IS simply bites into the turn.
Amongst the previously listed items, the F Sport package includes high-friction brake pads. In our test they provided great stopping power in aggressive braking. While we’ve heard complaints that these brakes are grabby, we found them to be entirely civilized in stop and go traffic. If there are any doubts about our assertions that the IS is a bona fide sports sedan, we refer to a recent Car and Driver comparison test wherein an IS350 F Sport bested both a BMW 335i Sport and Cadillac ATS – and note that they were concentrating on the cars’ performance.
There is however a price to pay for this skateboard-like handling – the ride is fairly poor. Regardless of how we dialed the selector knob that allows the driver to choose different dynamic settings, ranging from an Eco to a Sport+, the taut suspension that was so much fun when driving like a hooligan was fairly jostling. The IS350 F Sport simply doesn’t have enough sidewall on its tires or suspension compliance to adequately absorb even moderately sized potholes or heaves. Such road imperfections tip the car slightly to and fro. There’s enough compliance to take the edge off of the impact, but the body (and thus, your body) goes into some motion. We found it especially tiring on an extended highway drive where there were regular seams in the concrete ever 20 yards of so. At the speed we were traveling, the IS would buck at every seam and the IS’ body motion simply wouldn’t settle down. To be clear, the IS350 F Sports ride quality isn’t terrible, but it’s nowhere near traditional Lexus smooth.
In addition to the questionable ride quality, we found that the performance all-season tires on our IS350 were fairly noisy. Given the racecar handling, we weren’t particularly surprised by the ride, but we were surprised that Lexus (of all manufacturers) didn’t do more to quell the road noise. We’ve driven several competitors to the IS that certainly have it beat in this category, despite wearing high-performance, low-profile rubber.
Getting back to the rowdy juvenile antics, the 306-hp V-6 provides ample power. Our IS350 went 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, which is fast, but perhaps not BMW 335 fast. Regardless, it feels plenty fast on the road, and the transmission’s crisp, fast shifts contribute to that feeling. We note that as our tester IS was an all-wheel-drive model, it had the 6-speed automatic. The rear-wheel-drive IS packs Lexus’ 8-speed automatic, which we understand shifts even more quickly. When we charged our IS350 towards redline, the engine emitted a healthy intake and exhaust soundtrack that we found just right. We note that unlike the busy ride quality, when you scale back the pace, the powertrain is both traditional Lexus smooth and quiet.
How’s the interior and space?
Inside the IS350 you’ll a well-appointed contemporary cabin. The dashboard is of the horizontally tiered variety that several recent Lexus and Toyota models have adopted. It’s an attractive, modern look, and finished with glove-soft leathers and rich looking details in the IS. All of the switchgear throughout the IS’s cabin is typical Lexus, meaning that it feels high quality and solid. The F Sport model’s sport seats are very comfortable and offer deep bolsters that held us in place during aggressive cornering, but our test driver’s relatively svelte 33-inch waist approaches the outer bandwidth of torsos that they will comfortably accept. The infotainment system and much of the IS’ technology interfaces are controlled by Lexus’ mouse-type system, which isn’t particularly easy to operate. It requires you to manipulate the mouse-type controller on the center console while watching the cursor on the dash-top mounted screen. Thankfully, the screen is fairly close to the driver’s line of sight to the road. Also, during our test we noticed a couple bugs in the system including an extensive boot time at startup and some hesitancy to respond while driving. Software updates to clear up the bugs are forthcoming, but the inherent disadvantages of Lexus’ interface will remain.
In terms of interior space, the IS offers more limited space than several competitors in its class. The front seats offered enough room for our 6’3” test driver, although there wasn’t much room between his head and the moonroof. Rear space however is much more confined. Lexus allocated most of the space gained by extending the 2014 IS’ wheelbase in its redesign to the rear seat, but the 2013 IS was an incredibly cramp starting point. In our 2014 IS350, we found that we could fit a 5’10” passenger behind our test driver, but his knees were touching the back of the driver’s seat, and his head was in the headliner. Heading out back to the trunk, it’s quite small, but the shape is fairly useable and deep. If you’re looking for room in the moderately priced luxury sport sedan segment, the Lexus IS is likely not your best bet.
We found outward visibility in the Lexus IS was rather sports car-like; meaning it wasn’t great. The A-pillars are moderately thick, the side windows are short and the rear parcel shelf is high, reducing the rear window to a fairly narrow slit. It’s not horrible, but some of the IS’ more upright (and admittedly more dowdy looking) competitors offer better visibility. In fast-paced, high-traffic city driving, we were glad that our IS was equipped with the blind spot monitoring system.
In conclusion, as car enthusiasts, we like the IS350 F Sport a lot. But the 2014 Lexus IS, especially in F Sport trim, really isn’t for everyone. We usually refrain from making recommendations in our reviews, as there are too many factors that go into a car buying decision for a generic review to make the right recommendation. Notwithstanding that, we’ll go out on a limb here and say this: if you’re looking for a nice, comfy, moderately priced luxury car (or a nice, comfy, moderately priced Lexus), look at something other than the IS. In F Sport trim, it’s an aggressive animal that will be downright uncomfortable for the average driver. In base / luxury trim, it will be more civil, but for daily driving it is still a compromised thing that is bested by other models both within and outside the Lexus line. If you’d like to see how the Lexus IS350, or any other Lexus, suits your needs, visit us at Car Match Car Buying Advice.