Full 2014 Lexus IS 350 Review
What's New for 2014
For 2014, the Lexus IS 350 is redesigned. Highlights include assertive new styling, a larger, gorgeously crafted interior and a longer equipment list.
The Lexus IS 350 is the compact sport sedan entry from a brand known for its ultra-refined luxury sedans and high reliability ratings. It does battle with some very popular European-brand sedans that have elevated consumers' expectations in the entry-level luxury sedan class. From our standpoint, strong acceleration, solid fuel economy, sporty handling and luxurious accommodations are all baseline requirements for a six-cylinder compact luxury sedan in 2014. Last year's IS 350 was certainly quick, but its interior was cramped and, apart from its speed, it wasn't especially memorable to drive. The redesigned 2014 Lexus IS 350 features notable upgrades, including a new interior with richer materials, a bigger backseat and a longer equipment list.
The 2014 IS 350's overhaul starts with provocative new sheet metal (the new IS wears the brand's audacious double-spindle grille design better than the larger sedans) and a stiff new structure similar in design to the larger, more expensive midsize GS 350's. Those more robust underpinnings made it easier for Lexus engineers to tune the IS for a comfortable ride. In addition, the 2014 model's longer wheelbase has allowed the company to carve out more room for passengers. Equally striking is the investment Lexus made in the interior furnishings. The quality of the materials and the overall attention to detail is as impressive as anything you'll see in this class. We're not as enthusiastic about the newly available Remote Touch mouse-style infotainment interface, however, as it's distracting to operate while on the move.
There's little doubt that the 2014 Lexus IS 350's increased size and feature content makes it a better luxury car, but as in past years, we find it less successful as a sport sedan. Despite the undeniably stout performance from its carryover 3.5-liter V6, superb steering that equals or betters its vaunted German rivals and the available F Sport package that brings more aggressive styling and a sport-tuned suspension, the IS 350 still lands on the luxury end of the sport sedan spectrum. Our biggest criticism has to do with the handling: Even with the F Sport treatment, the IS simply isn't very engaging to drive around turns. Its automatic transmission's slow shift response in manual mode doesn't help either.
Of course, if you're just looking for an elegant entry-luxury sedan to drive to work, you might not care that the 2014 Lexus IS 350 isn't as thrilling on a back road as the best-selling 2014 BMW 3 Series, which we consider the leader of this class, or the similarly athletic Audi A4. This is a segment rich with choices, though, and we advise consumers to try all these sedans, along with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS and Infiniti Q50, before making a decision.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Lexus IS 350 is a compact luxury sedan available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Standard equipment for the 2014 IS 350 includes 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lights and brake lights, heated side mirrors, moonroof, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats (heated for the IS 350 AWD), leatherette premium vinyl upholstery and a 60/40 folding rear seat with armrest.
A new Safety Connect telematics system comes with the standard eight-speaker sound system, delivering weather and traffic information (when in metro areas) free of charge via the audio system's HD radio. Also standard for all IS 350 models are a 7-inch color display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice recognition for most infotainment operations, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and iPod/USB connections.
The first of the 2014 IS 350's three option groups is a Premium package that includes LED headlights and heated and ventilated front seats. The Luxury package adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, auto-dimming side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, perforated leather upholstery, wood trim, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and driver-seat memory.
Atop the option-group food chain is the F Sport package. Available for the first time for both rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions of the IS 350, F Sport brings LED headlamps; a full-mesh treatment for the grille and revised front bumper; 18-inch wheels (with either summer or all-season tires); sport-tuned suspension; upgraded brake pads; multi-adjustable sport seats, perforated leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob; a special sport-oriented adaptive instrument cluster; and aluminum trim for the pedals and door scuff plates. On rear-drive models, the package also includes an adaptive suspension and a more aggressive Sport S+ setting for the drive mode selector. Variable-ratio steering can be added as a stand-alone option on rear-drive IS 350s equipped with both the F Sport package and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel (via the Luxury package).
The Navigation package incorporates the Remote Touch mouse-type controller for the entire infotainment suite, plus a navigation system. This package also provides a rearview camera, real-time traffic information, automatic phonebook download for Bluetooth phones and Enform enhanced telematics with smartphone app integration (including Bing, Yelp, Pandora and iHeartRadio). An upgraded 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system can be bundled with the navigation system.
Additional stand-alone options for the 2014 IS 350 include a rearview camera (for models without the navigation system), 18-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control (bundled with a pre-collision system), a lane departure warning system, and front and rear parking sensors.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2014 Lexus IS 350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 generating 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard for rear-wheel-drive models, and a six-speed automatic is used for all-wheel-drive cars. Either transmission gets steering-wheel paddle shifters to enable manual shifting when desired.
Lexus estimates the IS 350 will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, a good number for this segment. The all-wheel-drive model is almost as quick.
Lexus estimates the rear-wheel-drive IS 350 will deliver 19 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. The all-wheel-drive IS 350 gets the same 19 mpg rating in the city, but drops to 26 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg overall.
The 2014 Lexus IS 350's standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags and dual rear-seat side airbags. Safety Connect, the brand's onboard automatic safety and security service, incorporates collision notification, stolen-vehicle locator and roadside assistance from a cellular connection with a response center.
Optional safety upgrades include a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts, and a lane-departure warning system. The optional adaptive cruise control brings a pre-collision warning system that can initiate automatic braking and prepare other safety equipment to help mitigate crash severity.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2014 Lexus IS 350's redesigned interior increases the car's luxury quotient and addresses a major fault in the previous-generation IS 350: a small, hard-to-access backseat. The additional 1.6 inches of rear-seat legroom is immediately noticeable, and adults will have an easier time getting in and out. The rear seat also folds in a 60/40 split, a convenience the previous IS 350 never offered. Trunk capacity is 13.8 cubic feet, which is above average for this class.
Interior fit and finish was never a problem for the old IS, but the 2014 model brings upgrades to the brand's already high standard. The upper dashboard armrests, steering wheel, and even the sides of the center console (where knees tend to rub) are swathed in dense, high-quality padding. The front seats are brilliantly supportive yet supple, but those with larger frames might feel slightly snug.
The new dashboard and center console design is attractive and contemporary, and enhances the interior's feeling of spaciousness. The audio and climate controls are set at an angle to minimize sun glare, and the high-quality buttons and knobs are easy to use.
The 2014 IS 350's one interior foible is the Remote Touch control interface. Inspired by a computer mouse, this controller is the primary method for making audio and navigation selections in models with the optional Navigation package. Although the 7-inch display is sharp, cursor control with the Remote Touch controller is wobbly, particularly when you're on the move. Making matters worse is the lack of a hard "back" button and the fact that all the icons are the same color. Fortunately, the IS 350 has standard voice recognition for many infotainment functions and the navigation system expands on that. Bottom line, voice control is a vital redundancy here.
The 2014 Lexus IS 350's 3.5-liter V6 is unchanged from last year, save for the addition of an intake sound generator that gives the engine a particularly satisfying note when you're accelerating hard. This is a potent engine with a smooth power delivery, and most buyers will be quite happy with the IS 350's straight-line performance. The new eight-speed automatic transmission is highly effective and practically invisible in normal driving, but its downshift rev-matching feature in manual mode really enhances spirited driving. However, the transmission sometimes refuses to execute downshift requests in manual mode, even when you're nowhere close to the engine's redline, and this can be frustrating.
One particular delight is the IS 350's well-tuned steering. It actually surpasses the BMW 3 Series steering in its feedback and tactility. However, ride quality was the overriding priority in this redesign, and although the Lexus is steady and secure going around turns, it isn't as athletic or as fun to drive as the BMW. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because when you're just commuting to the office, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 is a convincing and enjoyable luxury sedan. The available F Sport package is a reasonable option for those who want a bit more performance potential without sacrificing everyday comfort.