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2014 Lexus IS Ready to Take on the Germans?

Almost There – IS350 F-Sport Nears 335i Performance Feel The all new 3rd Generation Lexus IS is a near luxury sport sedan to be launched during June 2013 as a 2014 model year entry (the 2013 IS C hardtop convertible based on the 2nd Gen IS continues for another year selling along side the 4-door sedan) .  The major question is whether it is ready to take on the Germans in its class.  To answer that question, Lexus served up three IS350 F-Sports, a BMW 335i and Mercedes C350 and a nice little track outside Austin, Texas – Driveway Austin Motorsports.  You could drive each car for two laps per outing as many times as you wanted or time allowed.  The conclusion is that the BMW retains the Ultimate Driving Machine crown, the IS350 F-Sport is very, very civilized and competitive, and the C350 approaches land barge category.  The 335i is very sporty, very precise and tuned for performance.  The IS achieves its competitive position only when you opt for the IS350 with the F-Sport package giving the car upgraded suspension and steering.  The more mundane IS models – IS250 and IS350 – are softer and more tuned to the casual driver.  But, the F-Sport is a gas to drive. Unfortunately, an Audi A4 was not available for the track exercise.  It would have provided an interesting comparison.

So, with the excitement of the track experience out of the way, we were able to drive the IS on the great Texas Hill Country roads around the area.

Larger – Now in Mid-Size Car Sweet-Spot The 3rd Generation IS is an an all new car – new platform and all.  The IS is a larger car than before.  Length is up by 3.4-inches.  Wheelbase is up by 2.7-inches yielding better rear seat legroom.  The width is up slightly by 0.4-inches and height is up slightly by 0.2-inches.  While the car is larger, it has much more presence than its predecessors and arguably more distinctiveness than the BMW, Mercedes or Audi entries.  Once upon a time, AutoPacific studied the basic package attributes of the perfect mid-size car.  We came up with a 110-inch wheelbase and 184-inch overall length with a width of 72-inches.  The IS is practically ideal with a wheelbase of 110.2-inches, overall length of 183.7-inches, overall width of 71.3-inches.  Maybe they got hold of our study.

In 2012, Lexus sold about 27,000 IS models in the USA.  With the new car, they are raising volume expectations to 3,000 units per month beginning with the 2014 calendar year.  Given its larger size, more distinctive styling and excellent performance Lexus should be able to place that many IS units per month in 2014.

Head Turner Styling adopts the Lexus spindle grille treatment in its most aggressive execution to date.  The bodysides have much more sculpturing than before with an upswept character line from the rocker panel through the rear wheel opening up to the cut line for the taillamps.  The rear end styling is also much more aggressive with highly styled taillamps.  The 3rd Gen IS will not be accused of being milquetoast from any angle.  And, sporting the new Lexus DNA styling cues, the IS promises to turn heads of auto enthusiasts around the country.  Gone is the anodyne styling of its predecessors that never moved the needle from a styling standpoint.

IS Interior the Latest and Greatest The IS interior is somewhat reminiscent of a BMW interior.  There is a standard 7-inch high mounted center display over a horizontal feature line that includes the air conditioning vents and a Lexus analog clock.  The instrument cluster for the IS250 and IS350 includes the basic gauges in two round bezels – speedometer, tachometer, temperature and fuel.  Between the bezels a 4.2-inch color multi-function display with various information functions is mounted.  In the F-Sport model, the instrument cluster is programmable and similar to that found in the LF-A supercar.

While not as daunting as BMW’s original iDrive system (what could be?), there are two controller alternatives for the IS console.  The first comes with a car without the navigation system and is a simpler controller for audio, climate and phone.  When you pop  for the navigation system a haptic controller allows you to select the basic functions of navigation, audio, climate and phone.  Standard on the car is the latest in voice recognition technology that allows voice commands that are more similar to casual conversation.

Enhanced HD Radio Standard – Go for the Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio System In a significant move, instead of XM radio standard, the IS has HD Radio with weather and traffic information standard.  This will be rolled out for future Lexus models.  When an owner selects the Lexus Enform App Suite, fuel prices, stocks and sports information is included.  Following our philosophy of checking all the boxes, getting the optional Navigation/Mark Levinson audio system makes sense.  This includes a weather forecast, weather radar map and traffic information display.

Powertrains The powertrain lineup includes the IS250 with a 2.5L DOHC V6 with 204HP and 184 lb-ft of torque, the IS350 with a 3.5L V6 at 306HP and with 277 lb-ft of torque.  The stated 0-60mph times are 7.9 seconds for the IS250 and 5.6 seconds for the IS350.  The IS250 gets a 6-speed automatic transmission in both rear wheel drive and all wheel drive versions.  The IS350 gets an 8-speed direct shift automatic standard.  The IS350 AWD and F-Sport AWD models get the 6-speed auto.

F-Sport The F-Sport is somewhat a trim level on steroids.  While the visual differences between the F-Sport and the basic IS250 and IS350 include more aggressive front end design, unique wheels, upgraded sport seats and LFA-style instrument cluster, the main news is in the sports suspension tuning.

Expected Tech Features Available The new IS does not scrimp on advanced technology features.  Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Alert, Pre-Collision System and an “Intuitive” Parking Assist System are available.

What Were They Thinking? Lexus has lowered the drivers hip point by about an inch to “create a sporty driving position similar to the cockpit of a sports car, where the driver’s hips sink comfortably into the seat”.  As advocates of higher, more command seating style, seating positions, this move goes in the opposite direction than we would have preferred.

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