A few years ago, the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, proclaimed, “our cars are boring”. That began a transformation for Toyota and Lexus to begin building cars that were more exciting without sacrificing their reputation for quality cars.
I bring you one of those this week, the Lexus IS350 F Sport, a car I would call less than midsized, but larger than a small car. It competes with the likes of BMW 3-Series, Cadillac ATS, Audi S4, and Mercedes C-Class.
Let’s start under the hood, where you’ll find a 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine that is bolted to a 6-speed automatic transmission that together produce 306-horses and 277 pound- feet of torque. My review vehicle is all-wheel drive, but is available in a rear-wheel drive version that comes with an 8-speed automatic. A manual transmission is not offered.
The IS350 is a great car, even in its base model with a 4-cylinder, but the F Sport package takes it to a very different level. The F Sport package adds $3180 to the cost of the car, and it includes a sporty bumper and grill, LED headlamps, 18” 5-spoke wheels, special seats that are heated, a terrific configurable instrument cluster, leather F Sport steering wheel, and a black headliner. You also get adaptive variable suspension, and S+ Drive Mode Select. For the money, you get a lot of cool stuff.
Speaking of Drive Mode Select, it lets drivers choose between Eco, Normal and Sport, while the IS350 also offers a Sport S+ mode. Both Sport and Sport S+ noticeably tighten the steering and suspension for improved handling. The Adaptive Variable Suspension firms in Sport mode and the Sport S+ program that can be activated with a second clockwise twist of the Drive Selector to make the car even more aggressive. Rear-wheel-driven IS350 F-Sport models also have the option to add Variable Gear Ratio Steering, which adjusts the amount of steering effort depending on the vehicle’s speed.
Inside the car, you get typical Lexus luxury. The F Sport seats are snug and hold you tightly when you are experiencing the exceptional handling in Sport Mode. Everything runs from a love-it-or-hate-it center-console-mounted Remote Touch Controller. This overly sensitive joystick fits perfectly at the driver’s or passenger’s fingertips; where it can be used to move a cursor around the display above. The Remote Touch uses absolute positioning — which means that the upper corner of the stick’s movement corresponds with the upper corner of the screen — and features haptic force feedback. When the onscreen cursor moves over a virtual button, the Remote Touch’s joystick snaps to the position where it can be pressed like a button to make selections. I have used it in many Lexus models and I am comfortable with it, but some people never grow to like it.
Standard features on my tester include power moon roof, push button start, power seats, Bluetooth, rearview camera, and a host of safety features and other niceties you would expect on any luxury car.
My Ultra White review car has blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and self-dimming outside mirrors for $600. Adaptive cruise control and pre-collision warning will cost you $500, and a power rear window shade runs $210.
$3225 will get you the Navigation/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package that gives you a 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System, Lexus Enform App Suite, destination assist, and more.
Back seat room is going to be pretty tight for people 6’ tall and above, but the IS350 is very comfortable for the two front seat passengers. You’ll love the instrument cluster that is the slickest I have ever seen. One push of a button and the large, round speedometer dial slides to the right to open up a host of information.
Here are the things you have to love about this car; you can tell engineers put a lot of passion into this car, in Sport Mode and S+ Mode this car handles as good as any car you can buy. The exterior lines, the wheels, the mesh grill and LED lights contribute to the car having a striking appearance. Best of all, this car is just plain fun to drive.
Here is the down side; it’s the horsepower for the price. As great as the driving dynamics are, for fifty-grand, I would want 375 or more horses. I think it is fair to compare the IS350 to the Audi S4, which is less money and has a 333-horse supercharged engine with the Quatto all-wheel system.
For those who want some fun, and a car that transforms from a sports sedan to a luxury sedan with the turn of the dial, certainly the IS350 F Sport is worth a test drive and your serious consideration.
What I liked most: Handling in S+ Mode, interior and exterior looks.
What I would change: Throw a supercharger on here for more horsepower.
MSRP: Base price $41,700 as equipped $50,370.
Fuel Economy: 19 City/26 highway/21 combined.
Odometer reading when tested: 10,075 miles.
Weight: 3593 Pounds.
Length-Width-Height: 183.5” long/71.3” wide/56.3” High
Fuel Tank Capacity: 17.4 gallons.
Towing Capacity: N/A
2014 IS350 in a few words: You get two cars in one, a luxury car and a sports car.
Warranty: 4-year/50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper, 6 year/70,000 mile powertrain warranty with roadside assistance, first and second scheduled maintenance is complimentary.
Manufacturers website: http://www.lexus.com/models/IS
Dealers: We have great Lexus dealers in Dallas Fort Worth, Houston, Sacramento, Lubbock, and Portland.
Car Pro Rating: 4 out of 5 stars