2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport First Drive on Edmunds.com

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (1)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2014 Lexus IS 350 Sedan

(3.5L V6 8-speed Automatic)

Better, Yes. More Fun, No

We tried to straight-line the quick right/left/right downhill Turn 3 at the tree-lined Driveway Austin test track in the reworked 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport.

It got light over the blind crest, the left-side tires not coming down on the apex rumble strips, but to the left of them, off the track, on a concrete patch. We waited for a sickening plastic crunch of cracked bodywork. But it never came. The 2014 IS didn't care, the adaptive suspension soaking it all up with perfect smoothness.

So we buried our right foot back into the carpeting, the 3.5-liter V6 honking away as we juked through the turns before stomping onto the brake pedal for the upcoming hairpin. The sport sedan wiggled back and forth in protest, but the powerful, fade-free brakes reined it all in.

As we unwound the steering and dialed the power back in for corner exit, the F Sport's front tires howled in protest. Dropping the throttle did little, as the front end wanted to push and the rear wanted to stay planted.

And that's when it hit us. Despite its similarities, this is a much different IS 350 than we're used to, and not always in a good way.

Kobayashi Says
There's a reason why the 2014 Lexus IS 350 feels so different. Naoki Kobayashi, Lexus IS assistant chief engineer, told us that a main goal with the new IS "was about achieving a more fun-to-drive car," while somehow also giving the car an even better ride. He talked of sharper steering and improved handling.

While we don't doubt that was a goal, the new car is longer, heavier and more softly sprung than the outgoing model. Do the math, and it's not surprising that the new IS feels less willing to change directions, especially in an at-the-limit setting like a racetrack. To us, the old F Sport was more lively, more immediate, with more direct steering and a tail that was a little more playful.

Will this matter? No. Probably 99.5 percent of Lexus IS owners, including F Sport buyers, will never take their car on the track. For them, this larger and more luxurious IS will be a better car 100 percent of the time.

Hard Body
Lexus engineers pulled out all their tricks to beef up the IS's new body. Extra spot welds, laser screw welds and 80 feet of adhesive body bonding were added, along with new crossmembers and bracings. The chassis is some 10-20 percent stiffer, according to Kobayashi, and 22 pounds lighter due to a higher content of high-tensile steel and aluminum. The stronger body structure also meant Lexus could give the IS 60/40 split/fold rear seats for the first time, long a sore spot with buyers.

Still, curb weights are heavier across the board due to ever-more luxury and tech items, along with NVH-reducing sound-deadening materials. The IS 250's 3,461-pound curb weight is up by 26 pounds, the IS 350 up by 66 pounds to 3,593.

The wheelbase was stretched 2.7 inches to 110.2 inches to add rear seat room (another IS sore point) with the side benefit of a smoother, more stable ride. Overall length is up by 3.6 inches to 183.7, while the width and height are up less than an inch each.

A new multilink rear suspension design borrowed from the larger GS separates the spring/damper assembly, putting the springs off the shocks. The greater distance between the suspension towers gives more trunk space at 13.8 cubic feet.

Adaptive Suspension
Both the standard 2014 Lexus IS 350 and IS 350 F Sport have softer springs but slightly larger antiroll bars than the outgoing car. But the big news is the IS 350 F Sport's standard adaptive variable dampers. Although the driver can only change the dampers between two settings from the cabin, Kobayashi says the dampers constantly switch among nine settings for rebound and preload.

Leave the Drive Mode Select knob in Normal and the dampers are softer than the previous F Sport. Switch it to Sport+ (Sport doesn't affect the suspension, only throttle and steering) and the top two to three settings are stiffer than the old F Sport, according to Kobayashi.

Although we weren't overwhelmed with the F Sport's agility on the track, we did like its compliance on curvy, central Texas roads. On this undulating ribbon of tarmac, at about seven- or eight-tenths pace, the F Sport proved an excellent dance partner, showing decent grip, good steering weight from the electric assist and always, always a superbly planted chassis.

It soaked up bumps with ease, and even in Sport+ it was never jiggly. If anything, Kobayashi erred on the too soft side with the Sport+ setting. Quite unlike the GS 350 F Sport, which deftly switches from mild-mannered luxury sedan to ultra-stiff and ultra-capable sport sedan with the turn of a knob.

New Transmission, Same Engines
If you heard that the IS gets an eight-speed automatic for 2014, you're right. Sort of. Only the IS 350 rear-drive versions get the monster-motored IS F's quick-shifting eight-cogger. All IS 250 and IS 350 all-wheel-drivers continue with the old six-speed. But all versions come with paddle shifters, and all perform enthusiastic throttle blips on downshifts.

Unfortunately the IS 350 F Sport's auto doesn't hold gears to the rev limiter in Manual mode. But then, neither does BMW's. We also found it resistant to manual downshifting at times, instead beeping at us in that Toyota mother hen way of saying, "Nope, we just don't feel you're ready for a lower gear yet." Even though there should've been plenty of revs available.

Both of the IS engines are carryovers from the current model. The IS 250's 2.5-liter V6 continues to put out a measly 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. It's smoother and quieter than any turbo-4, but way down in power in comparison to the competition.

That fact doesn't deter Lexus. Company officials told us, "The 2.5-liter is our most popular powertrain on the IS and delivers great performance and fuel economy (an estimated 21 city/30 highway/24 mpg combined)." Lexus claims the IS 250 hits 60 mph in 7.7 seconds.

The IS 350's V6 also makes the exact same 306 hp and 277 lb-ft as before. It remains an ultra-smooth way of launching to 60 mph in a claimed 5.6 seconds, which is mighty quick. The EPA has yet to release mileage figures, but Lexus says the new eight-speed auto should garner a 1-mpg improvement (28 mpg) on the highway.

Best in Class
The IS's redesigned cabin is possibly its most striking feature. The quality of the materials, workmanship and use of varied textures are first-rate. The controls operate with fluidity, the seats have the supplest leather you'll ever find and soft-touch materials abound. There's even padded leather on the center tunnel where the driver's right knee rests. Nice.

F Sport models get a large, LFA-like central tachometer, which can be adjusted to make room for other readouts. The driver seat was lowered 0.75 in. for all IS models, and F Sports get a body-hugging set of thoroughly comfortable front seats along with a thick-rimmed steering wheel.

One bewildering feature is the twin cupholders cut into the front passenger's center armrest. It's a horrible place to put your left elbow.

Rear-seat passengers will like the new interior, too. There's an extra 1.6 inches of legroom back there and 0.7 inch more shoulder room. Rear headroom is up by 0.2 inch, but most adults will still find their heads brushing the roof.

More Luxurious, Less Frisky
Lexus seems intent on dialing the 2014 IS 350 back until it feels right to the biggest audience possible, and if that means softening it up a bit, that's the trade-off it's willing to make. It's evident behind the wheel of this IS, although we doubt most buyers will notice as much as we did.

What will get noticed is the improved ride, quieter and more luxurious interior and extra rear seat space, all of which are huge factors for most buyers in this segment. It may not be the purest driver's car in its class, but it's still more than capable on a twisty road as long as you're not trying to keep up with a BMW 3 Series.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.



  • trmckin trmckin Posts:

    More mature? I guess it does look like it has bags under it's eyes. Sorry Lexus... I'm usually a fan of all things Lexus but this thing is ugly.

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    I would much rather have the conventional 2 dial gauges than the weird single dial thingy in the F-sport. I have to wonder about the difference in brake size between the 250 and the 350. Is the 250 really so much lighter that is can do with brakes ~15% smaller in diameter? Or perhaps the question is does the 350 really need brakes that are 15% larger?

  • throwback throwback Posts:

    I love the new interiors Lexus is putting in their cars, but then I was a fan of the LF-A. As for the exterior styling, the Predator (the movie) look is less appealing to me. That said, I would not be surprised to see the BMW 3 series take a sales dip, especially in North America. With the ATS, IS, A4 and Mercedes C class, the 3 series has more competition than ever.

  • throwback throwback Posts:

    "The 2.5-liter is our most popular powertrain on the IS and delivers great performance and fuel economy .." That's because AWD is only available on the IS250. I'm in the early stages of looking for a new (used) car as my daily driver. It is virtually impossible to find a IS250 RWD in the mid-atlantic states. I am considering a IS350 as I have no need for AWD. I have found snow tires and common sense gets me where I need to go.

  • dfelix70 dfelix70 Posts:

    Unfortunately, not even a car I would consider. The styling is completely incoherent and just, odd. It's like Mia Farrow wearing thigh-high boots. It just doesn't work and is trying to hard to be something it's not. And that interior does not inspire at all. It looks like there should be a cassette player in that dash playing the soundtrack to St. Elmo's Fire. And the review of its driving dynamics does not help it. How could a company make the GS such a driver's car and make the IS a more luxurious car? If Edmunds feels the IS can't keep up with a 3 Series, then it's that much further behind the ATS in driving dynamics. Sorry, Lexus. Fail.

  • carfreak13 carfreak13 Posts:

    I just saw this car at the Denver auto show, the rear looks fine but the front is a hideous mess!

  • autoboy1 autoboy1 Posts:

    This is a car I would have considered but it's so very ugly and I'm not normally that concerned about that. 8/10s is all I ever drive so the dynamic traits at the limit don't matter that much to me. But this thing looks like it fell of of the ugly tree and broke it's nose on the way down and now there's jagged bone sticking out right under her eye.

  • wizard8873 wizard8873 Posts:

    And here I was hoping that the interior would be improved. It just looks like it's been quickly put together so that it confines to the style set by the GS and has all of the necessary equipment. Looking at that interior does not make me think I'm looking at the interior of a luxury car.

  • rollk rollk Posts:

    How is this not a complete redesign? It looks nothing like the previous model, inside and out.

  • jederino jederino Posts:

    The interior is my favorite element of the new IS. It looks athletic and upscale. Exterior boggles the mind. Did they take cues from the Subaru Legacy?

  • travai travai Posts:

    Oooh. I don't know what to think of this. It's a little subversive and surprising. Refreshingly strange, or just ungainly? Can't decide yet. I like the rear styling; the way the rocker panel sweeps up into the taillights. Those little chrome chevrons under the headlights are undeniably odd though. Nice interior.

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    That face!! They JUST got away with it on the GS, but it blows chunks on this car. This thing has been beaten with the ugly stick, set on fire and had the flames beaten out using a frying pan. I'm not getting the sweep line from the sills to the tail-lights, either.

  • aidano2 aidano2 Posts:

    Yuck. Looks like it had a cheap aftermarket body kit fitted!

  • financeman2 financeman2 Posts:

    What were they thinking when they did the redesign....Lexus took a reasonably attractive car, did some great updates to the chassis and interior, and fumbled the ball in a big way on the exterior. It looks so cluttered and busy; one of the worst updates I've seen in a long time. Infiniti must be extremely happy to see this new iteration of the IS...their new Q50 appears to be a huge magnitude more attractive (IMO)

  • A face only a mother would love. Which is one ugly mother (expletive)...lol. Even the new Caddys look better. The Predator design language does not work, Toyota. And what's with the cheap body kit? This is as bad as the Acura Beak....Oy vey!

  • frank908 frank908 Posts:

    Maybe I'm not reading the article correctly, but it says that the F-sport has a variable rate suspension that mainly works on its own, but there is a driver selectable suspension mode in normal softens up the suspension, but in sport mode only affects the throttle and steering? So then the only option for the driver is "soft" mode, the rest is sport all the time by default? And it's still too soft apparently. Guaranteed, in one year, they make it a fully driver selectable suspension the GS and stiffen it up in the process. I thought the days of not buying first-year new models because of the bugs that need to worked out were over. Even Cadillac got it correct with ATS suspenisonright out of the box.

  • tim_boo tim_boo Posts:

    The interior lokks great to especially the instrument cluster, but does the front of the car look like a pug...oh wait pugs are cute.

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The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2014 Lexus IS 350 in VA is:

$156.83 per month*

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