The third-generation Lexus IS
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Published on Sun, Oct 19, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Mark Dorman
Lexus coined the phrase “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” as their marketing slogan. If you have owned or test driven any of their different models over the past 15 years, you can appreciate the efforts to live up to that motto.
The 2014 IS 350 is the third generation of Lexus' BMW 3-series fighter. The first IS model (IS 300) released back in 2001, and was a decent first attempt. They did fall short of the Bavarian target, but they were a lot closer than the mark of the Spinning Blue Propeller would like to admit. After the second generation IS was released, the gap continued to close as sales numbers went up, and the comparable features and performance measures became more equivalent. Enter the third generation Lexus IS (or 3IS as some people refer to it). Though the car isn't perfect (none really are), it’s a big step in the direction of perfection.
A quick look at the car alone is enough to see Lexus put some real thought into the design of this car. Taking a progressive approach to creating new trademark styling cues is great for brand development and recognition. BMW has done this for decades with its kidney grilles and angel eye headlights, and Audi has their own distinct grille shape and pioneered the heavily copied LED DRL headlight strip. Now Lexus has created an easily identifiable hourglass-shaped grille and DRLs separate from the headlight housing. These will become mainstays and I'm sure trademarks on future Lexus models. The new aggressive styling may be a hit or miss at first with some buyers. However, the look grows on you quickly, as do many other features of the car.
The interior is another area where one can feel a bit disenchanted at first glance. Though not as artistically appealing as the interiors of some of its competitors, one day was all it took for me to really appreciate what the designers had done. The ergonomics of the IS are quite impressive. The seats are very supportive and sporty feeling without being uncomfortable or too intensely bolstered. The center arm rest is perfectly positioned for a relaxed driving position while the cup holders were positioned to not interfere with changing gears or operating the Lexus Enform System. The layout of everything feels logical. Whereever you feel like something should be, there it is (minus the start button, but even that is easy enough to find). The Enform System is definitely one of the better multimedia/navigation interfaces. Some of the inputs can be a bit redundant, but it’s all very logical and simple. Most consumers should be able to get by in the vehicle without referencing the owner’s manual all the time. The new design accompanied by additional interior space for all occupants makes the new IS a much better competitor in this segment.
Pursuit of the Ultimate Driving Machine
The word “sporty” and “Lexus” have rarely been used synonymously when it comes to the driving experience. Lexus has definitely made some progress in breaking out of its stereotype with the IS. The past renditions of the IS have struggled to find that perfect balance between power, handling, comfort, and driving feedback that is so highly sought after in a sports sedan. The power category has not changed since the previous IS model, offering the same 2.5 liter and 3.5 liter V6 options (the 3.5 liter 2GR-FSE in the IS 350 is still a great motor). Power is delivered through an eight-speed automatic gearbox that does a good job at being eco-friendly when needed and aggressive when desired. On the other hand, with the absence of a manual transmission on both the IS 250 and IS 350, this author would have liked to see a sporty dual-clutch system available at least on the F-Sport Models. Shifts in sport mode are decently quick, but it still lacks that crisp immediate response of the its Bavarian rival. By the way, there are rumors of a new turbocharged power plant to be available in the entry level IS by maybe as early as the 2016 model year.
The End of the Chase?
If I had to choose one word to describe my experience with the IS 350, it would be “Impressed”. Don't get me wrong, Lexus has made some impressive vehicles that are truly great. The reason I’m impressed is not because of the expected Lexus qualities that make them impressive vehicles, but because of what it doesn’t have. Lexus toned down its normal “isolated from the road” feeling, and made the IS more connected to the experience of driving. They dialed back its typical power steering system to provide the driver more feedback—you can feel what the car is doing. The interior went from a conservative comfortable vessel to a more driver-oriented cockpit. Lexus has finally learned that customers who want a luxury sports sedan look for the focus to be on the driver. Lexus has delivered.
I feel as if can get into this car everyday for the next several years and still feel excited. If Lexus keeps up this kind of progress, they have more than a shot at surpassing its competition in the performance arena (they’ve already surpassed its luxury car competition in US sales). Now, if they only bring back the manual transmission option for the purists.
For more information about Lexus products, go to www.lexus.com
Name of vehicle:
2014 Lexus IS 350
$49,048.00 (as tested, including $795.00 destination charges)
EPA fuel economy ratings:
19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Normally aspirated 3.5 Liter V6
306 @ 6400 rpm
277 pound-feet @ 4800 rpm
Drive Configuration: Rear-wheel drive Transmission: Eight-speed Sport Direct-Shift automatic transmission with paddle shifters Steering: Electronic Power Steering (EPS), vehicle speed-sensing rack and pinion Suspension Front: Independent double-wishbone Rear: Independent multilink Brakes Front: 13.1-in ventilated discs (front) Rear: 12.2-in ventilated discs (rear) Dimensions Length: 183.7 inches Overall Width: 71.3 inches Overall Height: 56.3 inches Wheel Base: 110.2 inches Curb weight: 3,593 lbs