A few weeks ago, my colleague Robert Maduri and I were talking about what type of cars best suit our respective personalities. He as well as a couple other of our staff members tend to go weak in the knees at the sound of a V8 muscle car going by. I was accused of being a “hot hatch guy”. While I always appreciate the feeling of a boosted 4-cylinder, I found something missing when I was testing the new Ford Focus ST. I drive a BMW 3-series, and I’ve been seriously pondering an Audi S4 for as long as I can remember. It’s the entry-level luxury and sports sedan class that really has me itching. The 2014 Lexus IS F-Sport is a car I’ve been waiting for from before it was released.
One of my closest friends drives a first-generation IS300. Its inline 6-cylinder engine is among the smoothest motors I’ve ever driven, and it feels tight and fresh more than a decade after its introduction. The second-generation Lexus IS was a beauty in the visual department, but didn’t really tickle my fancy in the way it drove. This new one though, is absolute animal. With class leaders such as the BMW 335i, the Audi S4, the Cadillac ATS, and the Volvo S60 T6 all being such well-balanced vehicles, the IS has some serious competition. My tester was the rear-drive IS350 with the 8-speed automatic transmission and the F-Sport performance package.
It’s clear that during its three-year development, Lexus emphasized their focus on the fact that the new IS was to be a fun sports sedan. It’s adapted the wonderful technology out of the GS F-Sport including the electric Variable Gear Ratio Steering and the stiff anti-roll bars. The Drive Mode Select allows you to alter the throttle response, steering, shift points, and the suspension between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus. Unlike in other cars where the drive modes are too similar, the Lexus system actually wakes up the car. I drove around normally in “Eco” most of the time and achieved a comfortable 8.3L/100km in combined driving; exactly what I would want for my daily driver. During some closed-course testing, some spirited driving meant the Lexus couldn’t do much better than 11L/100km.
Throwing the car into Sport+ mode turns the IS350 into an absolute animal. The 3.5L V6 puts out 306-horsepower and sounds brilliant. If I let the transmission do its thing in Sport+, it shifts firmly and quickly at 6600 rpm. It’s not dual-clutch good like the Audi S-tronic system I’ve come to love and adore, but for a conventional 8-speed box, it’s pretty phenomenal. The suspension is flawless too; the chassis of this car is just so balanced that it’s a blast to throw into any corner. Highway onramps are second nature to the IS350. One gripe I do have is that the systems are so invasive that it’s extremely difficult (read: impossible for novices) to get the IS sideways, even in the wet.
My test car was equipped with the F-Sport Package, which adds an aero package, bigger brakes, 18” wheels, the Drive Mode Select system, and my personal favourite touch; the LFA instrument cluster. Though gimmicky and not unlike a video game, the IS’ instrument cluster actually slides horizontally at the push of a button to produce a series of information screens behind it. The needle colour, gauges, and the features within it are all customizable. It’s quite possibly my favourite new feature on any car this year.
I’m personally glad that Lexus decided to keep the basic shape of the IS from the previous generation. It’s as if they took a car that’s already stunning to look at, and then threw thousands of hours into research and development to make it look a thousand times nicer. The taillight design and the swooping lines are just plain sexy. It does have these annoyingly protrusive headlight washers that ruin the overall silhouette of the car. I guess that’s easier than a motor to retract them into the bumper, which in turn could break and cost the owner a few bucks out of warranty. Simplicity is key for Lexus; it’s clear everything was done for a reason.
The test car I spent an amazing week with was priced at a modest $45,000. Not bad, but I’d prefer to spend the extra couple thousand and get the F-Sport Premium Package, which would give me navigation and a sunroof. I know there are handling purists that will argue that a car loses some of its structural rigidity with the addition of a sunroof, but this is a Lexus IS. It’s an all-around sports sedan as much as it is a performance car. I’ll take my sunroof, thank you very much.
It’s definitely evident that Lexus has given this car their all. They’ve spent years of research developing it to match its rivals. The BMW 3-series has long since been the benchmark in this class, and to top that car is not an easy feat. The Cadillac ATS has a brilliant chassis and a great setup, but the absurd user interface of CUE holds it back. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class (except, of course, the monster C63 AMG) focuses on being classy and comfortable rather than sportiness. For the first time ever, I’m happy to see that Lexus has come up with a worthy rival. While enthusiasts bash the Lexus brand for not producing fun vehicles, I’ve personally never seen this as a bad thing. They have focused on (and achieved) serenity, smoothness, comfort, and class. The 2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport has shattered and surpassed all of my expectations. In my eyes, it’s the best thing Lexus currently makes, and it’s something truly great. It’s serene, smooth, comfortable, classy, and on top of it all, it’s a real sports sedan.
2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport Gallery