After a six-year run, the second-generation Lexus IS has finally been retired, ushering in a brand-new model. Lexus has not always been, shall we say, a tour de force of style in the automotive world, so when the ’14 IS first showed its face to the public at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, the design was much bolder and more aggressive than expected.
The exterior of the F Sport–equipped cars is not exactly subtle. The biggest things you’ll notice straightaway are the headlights with separated LED driving lights. It’s a bit odd at first, but the design grows on you. The whole front end is very nicely packaged, but unfortunately, it kind of falls off into nothingness along the whole side of the car, save the slightly contoured side skirts. Some sort of line, or shape, would surely help spice up the style, at least in our opinion.
The rear picks up where the front left off with a nicely done lower apron and polished exhaust tips. The aggressive downward pointing taillights are another interesting feature you will come to either love or hate.
The subtle corner markers at the rear add a bit of flair and are actually a required DOT feature that usually negatively impacts the design of North American market cars, but not in this case. Finally, the upsized 18-inch F Sport wheels look particularly at home in gunmetal gray, especially on this white car.
Although the body of the IS is completely new, the two available powerplants are from the previous-generation IS. Our test mule had the 205hp 2.5L DOHC V6, admittedly an underwhelming motor from a performance standpoint. However, it should be noted that the 2.5L, as you would expect, gets very good fuel economy and costs around $4,000 less than its V6 counterpart. F Sport models are also equipped with a now fairly common intake noise enhancer, which basically amplifies and redirects the sound of the air intake to heighten the appeal of acceleration.
For the record, it sounds cool, so we’re not going to bash on it. All non-350 F Sport IS cars are equipped with a 6-speed automatic, which will rev match for downshifts, while adding an illusion of speed and sportiness in Sport mode. Although the car is far from fast in a straight line, the corners are where it stands out.
The suspension up front is largely the same as the outgoing IS, with a larger antiroll bar, and the rear suspension is taken from the new GS, which is a fantastic car. The IS handles very well overall. The car is stable and feels easy to control. The F Sport’s tuned suspension, wide wheels, and decent tires all equate to a confidence-inspiring drive, a car with more grip than you’d expect. The traction control system of the IS is nicely sorted out as well, allowing you to act like a drift wannabe for a few seconds, but not past the point where you can kill yourself. The IS is also offered in all-wheel drive with either powerplant, making it a very worthy all-weather automobile.
The interior cabin of the F Sport model is top notch, although the LFA-inspired gauge cluster is very neat—but it’s a bit much for our tastes. You can change up the displays, move them all around, and do all sorts of other strange things with the screen, but that begs the question of how much this feature ends up increasing the price.
The rest of the cabin design and layout is very well thought out and has a cockpit-like feel to it with very premium materials all around. The placement of certain controls, including those for the complicated stereo system, are a bit contrived, leaving us with some frustration while trying to control the car’s electronic functions. Somehow the concept of less is more simply doesn’t work anymore.
The biggest selling points inside are the seats. We put a good 400 miles or so on this car, across varied terrain and both around town and on the highway. At no time did they feel uncomfortable, even with the excellent supportive nature.
All said and done, the IS 250 F Sport fits well into its target as a sporty sedan with razor-sharp looks and a premium-grade interior. It’s a huge step in the right direction over the previous generation that was a bit sedate and numb. Does it match the driving excitement of the benchmark BMW 3 series? Not quite yet in our opinion, but it’s damn near close, and for that, Lexus has to be commended.
Specs & Details
2014 Lexus IS250 FSport
Engine 2.5L DOHC naturally aspirated V6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Price starting at $35,975 for base model IS, $39,415 for F Sport