What It Is
A comfortable, quiet compact luxury sedan with snug front seats.
A comfortable, quiet ride.
The driver and front passenger's seat don't offer a ton of space.
If you're a fan of Lexus and are in the market for a compact luxury sedan with aggressive exterior looks, this is for you.
As the 2014 Lexus IS 350 makes its way to dealerships, it's fighting a mighty headwind. For decades, the compact luxury sedan segment has been controlled by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Cadillac recently made a splash with the all-new ATS, but Lexus and its IS have been floating around in the background, pecking around the edges, but never quite taken seriously as a BMW 3 Series competitor. Originally launched back in 1998, the Lexus IS was Toyota's answer to its German (and now American) rivals.
But the IS was a bit player compared to BMW and Mercedes-Benz monthly sales. That is, up until 2006, when the second-generation IS debut. Now, with the 2014 Lexus IS, the luxury brand hopes to take a bigger slice of the pie, with polarizing styling and an emphasis on performance. Can the 2014 Lexus IS keep up with the pack though? We recently spent a week with a 2014 Lexus IS 350 to see what it was made of. Here's what we found.
What We DroveFor $39,465, you can walk out of the dealership with a 2014 Lexus IS 350. However, if you want the same exact version that spent a week with us, you're going to need to fork over $48,410. For that price, you'll get features like a start-stop ignition, a moonroof, 10-way power driver and 8-way power front passenger seats, Bluetooth, and a couple of audio input jacks. Other standard features include a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, rated at 306 horsepower, a buttery-smooth eight-speed automatic transmission, dual chrome exhaust pipes, and 17-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 225/45R17 all-season tires. Optional features included on our 2014 Lexus IS 350 were a power rear sunshade ($210), the Luxury Technology Package ($4,115), Intuitive Driver Assist ($500), and a navigation and Mark Levinson audio system ($3,225).
During government crash testing, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 earned a score of "good" in moderate overlap front testing but a score of "poor" in small overlap front testing. With the poor marks earned in the small overlap test, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 is automatically disqualified from being named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick for 2013. However, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 earned a score of "good" in side impact testing and a score of "acceptable" during the roof strength test. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration didn't test the 2014 Lexus IS 350.
Standard safety features on the 2014 Lexus IS 350 include anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist. Optional safety equipment on our 2014 Lexus IS 350 included a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure, which are part of the Luxury Technology Package, and help to justify the $4,115 price tag.
The CommuteThere's a dial positioned right in front of the cup holders on the elongated center console that dictates how the 2014 Lexus IS 350 will be driven. Three modes--Eco, Normal, and Sport--control things like throttle response and shift points. If you want a hollow yet fuel efficient drive feel then all you need to do is turn the knob to the left one click. With this, Eco mode has been engaged and you can expect to touch 22 mpg combined with ease, but don't think peppy acceleration is coming along with it. If you want to knock the Eco function off, simply push down on the knob and everything goes back to normal without sacrificing fuel economy. Turn the knob to the right and you've engaged sport mode. Here's where the 2014 Lexus IS 350 finally wakes up, shakes the dust off, and really comes into its own.
If you're unlucky enough to sit on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles every morning like the majority of Automotive.com's staff, then Eco mode will do the job just fine. The throttle takes a little extra squeezing to get the vehicle rolling up to speed but fuel economy flourished because of it. Once traffic subsided though, we turned on sport mode and the 2014 Lexus IS 350 became brasher with throttle response being almost immediate. While in sport mode, each gear is held onto for a little bit longer and almost to the point where you want to squeeze the paddle shifter on your own. However, almost every time we decided to change gears on our own, the IS 350's sport mode would upshift at the very last second.
During the daily commute, the 2014 Lexus IS 350's responsive handling made winding through side streets fun when the freeway was jam-packed. As stated above, the IS 350 doesn't truly wake up until you put it in sport mode and then acceleration is quick to the draw. However, as expected, when in sport mode, fuel economy takes a hit.
The Grocery RunYou don't have to be faced with apocalyptic traffic jams to enjoy the 2014 Lexus IS 350's handling. During a run to the grocery store, the latest IS's maneuverability shone brightly as we crept slowly through the parking lot looking for an empty space. Steering feels light, especially at slower speeds, and makes it easy to place the IS in the trickiest of spots.
Then there's the cargo room. While the back seat doesn't yield too much space for goods, you can definitely wedge the milk, eggs, and other goods needed for a blizzard in the northeast while the rest of the bags will have no trouble finding space in the trunk. The back seat folds down almost completely with a 60/40 split. This makes it easier to transport bigger items but the trunk space is more than enough to carry groceries for a family of five home.
The Weekend FunAs to be expected, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 boasts a quiet and comfortable ride no matter what road surface you traverse. The seats are comfortable yet a little flat, and if you're claustrophobic, the elongated center console will make your anxiety flare up. Both the driver and front passenger seat feel smaller than they really are because the center console is wide and stretches all the way from the bottom of the center stack to the beginning of the back seat. The cupholders are awkwardly placed, too, making it hard to reach for a drink while on the road and the overall size of the holders limits what type of cup you bring along for the ride.
The optional navigation system and Mark Levinson audio system made the miles slip away. You have the choice between streaming music from your smartphone through Bluetooth or simply plugging it into one of the audio input jacks found inside the center console. If you have more than one phone, you can use Bluetooth to answer phone calls while plugging your other smartphone into one of the audio ports to play music. This allowed the IS's infotainment system to go right to the proper audio channel without being tricked into launching the Bluetooth function every time we wanted to play a song. The infotainment system's mouse also made scrolling through audio options easy and it worked so flawlessly that other luxury automakers should take note.
SummaryThe 2014 Lexus IS 350 comes barreling into the latest model year with exterior styling that mimics the alien Predator from the movies of the same name, but that's not a bad thing at all. In fact, for a luxury brand that has long been considered conservative, this is a great step forward. Handling and, when in sport mode, acceleration match the aggressive exterior looks while the seats portray the look of a luxurious sedan. If you're not interested in the all-out performance offered by the 2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport, then we recommend going with the IS 350 variant. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine and its 306 horsepower is more than enough to give off the sporty vibe while not having to stop at the pump every few days. It's not the most-performance-oriented drivetrain available in the Lexus IS lineup, let alone the segment, for that matter, and some staffers even went as far as to call it sterile, but it gets the job done just fine.
When stacked up against the competition, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 gives segment stalwarts like the BMW 3 Series and Cadillac ATS a run for their money. However, it won't be taking any lunch money from the aforementioned models because, as mentioned above, it feels a tad more sterile. Even without the F-Sport badging though, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 still boasts a fun drive while delivering on respectable fuel figures. There are a few drawbacks, like the tight front seat space, but overall, you can't go wrong with the 2014 Lexus IS 350.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $48,410
EPA City: 19 mpg
EPA Highway: 28 mpg
EPA Combined: 22 mpg
Cargo Space: 15 "grocery bags" Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row (if applicable): Not Applicable
Estimated Combined Range: 382.8 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: No Rating
Notebook Quotes"The IS 350 was more enjoyable to look at than to drive. I was expecting a little more excitement behind the wheel." -Robert Guio, Photographer
"The ride is superb, it's quiet and isolated, the engine is punchy even though it lacks the insanity of BMW's turbo 6, and the car is relatively well-priced for a V-6 in this class. I even like the way it looks, and the back seat is far more comfortable than it was in the outgoing model." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor
"This thing looks awesome. I think it's the best implementation of the new 'spindle' grille treatment yet. The design is sharp-edged, cool looking, smart, sophisticated, aggressive, in-your-face and classy all at the same time. The only problem is that the design is writing checks the performance can't cash." - Keith Buglewicz, News Director