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All-new 2014 Lexus IS vs. 3 Series, C-Class and A4

By Jason Allan on April 16, 2013 4:31 PM
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Lexus says it developed the 3rd-generation IS sedan to be the most fun-to-drive car in the segment.

It isn't.

And with that out of the way, we can talk about why we're likely to recommend the 2014 Lexus IS more often than any other entry-lux sedan.

The Basics

Official pricing for the 2014 Lexus IS has yet to be announced, but it will likely continue as the lowest-priced Lexus sedan with a starting price in the same $36,000 neighborhood as the 2013 model.

The IS 250 features a 204-horsepower V6, while the pricier and faster IS 350 features a larger, 306-horsepower V6. Each is available in rear-drive or all-wheel drive, and with an F-Sport upgrade that brings sportier looks and handling, but no more power. The rear-drive IS 250 is the most popular configuration, and the one you'll have the easiest time finding with the right colors and options you want.

Lexus says the IS Convertible and high-performance IS-F will carryover to 2014 in their present forms.

Outside

The 6-figure Lexus LFA supercar notwithstanding, the 3rd-generation IS is the most radically penned Lexus ever. Which means there will be more lovers, more haters, and fewer folks in between. Count us among its fans, with the caveat that bold designs typically don't age as well as more familiar sheet metal. But the 2014 Lexus IS is set to be among the hotter-looking luxury sedans for several years to come.

Inside

The inside story is threefold: updated tech, sportier style and a roomier rear seat. Familiar names like Mark Levinson, Remote Touch and Enform are all on offer in the new IS, as is an industry-first weather and traffic system delivered free-of-charge via HD Radio. So even if you don't spring for the navigation system, you can still get a map-based, bird's-eye view of traffic conditions in your current area, displayed on a standard 7-inch display.

We found the front seats notably comfortable, and anyone who's spent time in the backseat of an outgoing IS will appreciate the new model's 1.6 inches of additional rear legroom.

On the Road

The Lexus IS may indeed be sportier than ever, but it's still short on the kind of driving feel that elevates the BMW 3 Series and every other great driver's car out of Deutschland.

But the fact of the matter is that even the IS 250 is capable of more performance and entertainment than most of its buyers will ever attempt to wring from it. The carryover 204-horsepower base engine may be among the oldest, least powerful, least impressive units in the segment, but it never struggles launching, merging or passing. Combined with responsive steering and good handling, in the real world the IS 250 is as fun as it looks. And if you want more power or even sharper handling, you can upgrade to IS 350 and/or F-Sport equipment.

Out on the highway, the new IS is one of the firmer cars in the category, but those good seats help qualify it as plenty comfortable.

In Your Driveway

Relative to its German competitors, especially, Lexus typically offers more features for the money, a more satisfying ownership/dealership experience, a better history of reliability and similarly excellent resale values. In fact, Lexus is this year's Kelley Blue Book 5-Year Cost to Own Award winner for best luxury brand.

And those are the reasons we're likely to recommend the 2014 Lexus IS more often than any of its competitors. Because in the end, most car buyers find a world-class ownership experience more satisfying than superior driving feel or a more prestigious badge.

But not all car buyers.

Five Alternatives

If you're considering a 2014 Lexus IS, you're likely weighing it against one or more of the entry-lux sedans below. Here are the five cars most commonly cross-shopped with the Lexus IS at KBB.com, and what makes them different.

2013 BMW 3 Series
Our first drive of the new IS included some track time, and Lexus was confident enough to bring a couple competitors along for comparison. The Lexus IS 350 F-Sport proved fast and grippy and responsive, but the nuanced BMW 335i was simply more engaging and enjoyable. If enthusiastic driving nourishes your soul the way cooking or running or skydiving does for others, the inner you is probably in search of a 3 Series.

2013 Lexus ES
The Lexus IS and its larger, softer, front-wheel-drive Lexus ES sibling are cross-shopped a lot at KBB.com simply because they're both sedans, they both start in the mid/high-$30,000 range and they both hang out at the same dealership. But they're completely different cars, and choosing between them is as easy as choosing between a Fender and a Stradivarius.

2014 Infiniti Q50
A key Lexus IS rival has also been redesigned for 2014 -- and renamed, even -- but we've yet to drive the new Infiniti Q50 (formerly known as the G37 sedan). Traditionally, the G has been regarded as a more stylish, more performance-oriented option to the IS, but the redesigned and retuned Lexus is going to shift that dynamic to some degree. The new Q50 looks good, but it's now the more conventionally styled of the two. For many buyers, that's a good thing.

2013 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Conservatively styled and tuned for comfort, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the traditional luxury sedan of the entry-lux segment. While it isn't as exciting to look at or drive as the new Lexus IS, there's no denying the appeal of the 3-pointed star and a car that feels and presents more like one of the big German luxury sedans to which you might ultimately aspire.

2013 Audi A4
The front/all-wheel-drive Audi A4 isn't as pure a performer as the rear-drive-based Lexus IS, instead attracting buyers with a mix of design and technology that gives it a distinctly contemporary feel, perhaps ahead of the game as the role of performance becomes a less important piece of the puzzle.

So, Which One?

As you can see, the entry-lux sedan segment offers plenty of flavors to choose from, each delicious in a different way. We've endorsed every one of them and will continue to do so according to the needs and wants of different buyers, but there's one thing about the new Lexus IS that makes it the easiest car in the class to recommend: It's a Lexus.

 

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