By Zach Vlasuk
Lexus has long been known for its conservative approach towards automotive design. In recent years, however, the Japanese automaker has rejuvenated its product portfolio with some bold style. The new-for-2014 Lexus IS sedan represents the ultimate expression of Lexus design, and, at long last, poses a credible threat to European rivals like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. Engine choices are largely carried over from the previous IS 250 and IS 350 models, which means middle-of-the-road fuel economy. Still, a higher degree of refinement combined with an exemplary reliability record make the 2014 Lexus IS a solid choice for an entry-level luxury sedan. Meanwhile, a retractable-hardtop convertible and the high-performance IS F – both essentially carried over from 2013 – add diversity to the lineup. That's why we named the IS one of the 10 Best Luxury Cars Under $40,000 for 2014.
Opting for the most visually appealing vehicle in a particular segment can sometimes mean settling for less when it comes to long-term reliability and value. Not so with the 2014 Lexus IS, as it blends eye-catching style and luxurious interior treatments with one of the most enjoyable ownership experiences in the industry.
Though we applaud Lexus for pushing the limits of exterior design with the 2014 IS, some might find the front-end styling to be a bit over-the-top. If engaging driving dynamics are of the utmost importance, the BMW 3 Series or the new Cadillac ATS deserve a spot on your shortlist.
The 2014 Lexus IS sedan highlights a compelling new design, improved handling and more interior space. Also, Lexus' revamped infotainment platform makes its debut in the 2014 IS and no manual transmission is available. The IS C hardtop convertible carries over unchanged from 2013, while the high-performance IS F receives only minor updates.
Driving Impressions In a straight line, the 2014 IS 250 and IS 350 sedans are no quicker than the cars they replace. But when the road begins to twist, the IS's extensively...... revised suspension and chassis yield significant improvements in steering feel, body control and grip. Despite its newfound athleticism, the new IS is, after all, a Lexus. Supple damping combined with a well-insulated cabin turn America's crumbling infrastructure into an afterthought. Moreover, the front seats are superbly shaped. F Sport versions boast an array of sport-oriented hardware, though a marginal increase in real-world performance makes the $3,000-plus upgrade a tough sell. Outward visibility is good, and the tight turning radius makes quick work of U-turns and low-speed parking maneuvers. In terms of power, the carryover 2.5-liter and 3.5-liter V6 engines offer plenty of thrust for passing and merging. Those seeking serious performance can still get it in the IS F, the V8-powered wild child in the IS lineup, while the IS C convertible adds open-air cruising to the equation.
Befitting its status as a technological powerhouse, the 2014 IS becomes the first Lexus model to offer the brand's thoroughly revised 8th-generation infotainment system. Goodies like a reconfigurable home screen, 3D building icons, and Lexus' Enform mobile application suite are sure to scratch your digital itch.
TWIN PROJECTOR LED HEADLIGHTS
Compared to xenon headlight assemblies, LED systems last longer and occupy less space due to their compact size. Other noteworthy advantages include lower energy consumption and a color temperature that more closely resembles daylight, providing greater contrast during nighttime driving.
Complementing its substantial exterior makeover, the 2014 Lexus IS sedan also receives a refreshed cabin. The overall look coincides with Lexus' sophisticated new interior design language, which first appeared in the latest GS sedan. The conventional and capacitive touch switches are easy to operate, as is the mouse-like joystick that governs the infotainment system. Rear legroom is up 1.6 inches over the outgoing model, a small yet crucial increase that makes it far more livable than before. Front and rear headroom is likewise generous. Inspired by the Lexus LFA supercar, F Sport models feature a futuristic digital instrument cluster with a sliding mechanical bezel. Like the IS C, IS F models carry over mostly unchanged lest for some updates to upholstery and accents.Exterior
Like it or not, the daring new styling of the 2014 IS stands out more than any previous model. Borrowing key styling cues from the Lexus LF-CC concept, the 2014 IS demonstrates the most aggressive form of the brand's design philosophy – besides the LFA supercar, of course. The front end is dominated by the now-signature spindle grill, and particularly so in F Sport guise. The stretched wheelbase and wider stance allow for greater high-speed stability, while wind-cheating underbody panels and vortex generators on the outside mirrors and taillights serve to improve aerodynamics. The IS C stands out with its folding hardtop roof that transforms the car from a coupe to a convertible.
As a value-based proposition, the 2014 Lexus IS comes suitably furnished in standard spec. Feature highlights include xenon headlights, an 8-speaker audio system with a 7-inch LCD display, keyless access and start, LED running lights, NuLuxe faux-leather upholstery and a 60/40-split rear seat (optional or unavailable on most competitive offerings). And, unlike the BMW 328i and Infiniti G37 (now known as the Q50 for 2014), the 2014 IS includes a moonroof at no additional cost. Standard safety equipment consists of 10 airbags, an advanced suite of electronic stability controls, and Safety Connect telematics services with automatic collision notification, roadside assistance, and stolen vehicle location.
Thanks to a number of useful improvements, Lexus' optional navigation system finally earns a spot on our list of recommended add-ons. Similarly, the 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is a must-have for discerning audiophiles. Crafty car shoppers who seek fundamental vehicle enhancements like LED headlights and heated/ventilated front seats should opt for the Premium package rather than the more expensive Luxury Package. To that end, the standard NuLuxe upholstery exudes a similar, if not deeper, feel of refinement than the traditional leather seating found in the Luxury Package. Convertible models offer a windscreen fitted over the rear passenger seats to reduce buffeting.
Motivation for the 2014 IS 250, IS 350 and IS C convertible comes from the same all-aluminum V6 engines that entered production nearly eight years ago. While most luxury automakers embrace modern turbocharging technology, the IS, along with every Lexus model, forges ahead with an aging fleet of normally aspirated powerplants. The slow-selling manual gearbox is scrapped for 2014, as Lexus execs insist that their automatics – 6-speed in the IS 250 and all-wheel-drive (AWD) models or 8-speed in the rear-drive IS 350 – deliver superior precision and performance. The 2014 Lexus IS F also carries over its engine, a ferocious 5.0-liter V8 that propels this performance sedan from 0-60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Like the rear-drive IS 350, the IS F has an 8-speed automatic transmission. All 2014 Lexus IS models use premium unleaded gasoline.
204 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
185 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/30 mpg (rear-wheel drive), 20/27 mpg (AWD)
306 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
277 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28 (rear-wheel drive), 19/27 (IS C), 19/26 (AWD)
416 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm
371 lb-ft of torque @ 5,200
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/23
A base 2014 Lexus IS has a starting Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just under $37,000, a near-$900 price increase over the 2013 model. A price hike is about as popular as a root canal, but the 2014 IS offers a longer list of standard equipment. The 306-horsepower IS 350 begins just north of the $40,000 mark. Adding all-wheel drive will set you back roughly $2,500. With all option boxes checked, the 2014 IS tops out right around $51,000. The IS C hardtop convertible starts around $43,600, while the IS F starts just under $63,000. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Infiniti Q50 share a similar starting price with the Lexus IS, while the Audi A4, BMW 320i and Cadillac ATS start in the $34,000 range. Before you buy, take a look at KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for the 2014 IS. As is the case with most Lexus vehicles, KBB.com predicts the 2014 IS will hold some of the strongest residual values in the segment.