A Review of the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD: The Original Sporty Lexus Keeps Getting Better
While the early years of the Lexus brand were all about luxury, the introduction of the IS sedan brought about a sportier side of the Japanese automaker and the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD is a remarkable example of automotive evolution. With each revision over the past decade and a half, this compact luxury sedan has gotten progressively edgier, sportier and more luxurious – with the new IS350 F Sport being a beautiful culmination of those efforts. On the outside, the 2014 IS350 is more aggressive than ever; on the inside, the company has combined the feel of a sports car with the amenities of a proper luxury car and the drivetrain, suspension and chassis improvements have made this the most engaging Lexus sedan that I have driven that wasn’t from the premium “F” lineup.
My 2014 Lexus IS30 AWD test car carried a base price of $41,700 while the F Sport package added $3,180, the premium navigation system with a Mark Levinson sound system added $3,225, the blind spot monitoring system added $600, the Dynamic Radar cruise control added $500 and the cargo net added $64. When you add up all of those numbers with the $895 destination fee, my test car had a sticker price of $50,164 so while this isn’t exactly a budget sedan; the 2014 IS350 F Sport AWD offers an incredible amount of content for that price. When you look at what you are getting and compare the price to other vehicles with the same level of comfort and performance –the price of this Lexus sedan is actually quite reasonable.
Since the Lexus IS lineup was introduced in the US for 1998, it has had a sportier, edgier exterior design than the other models under the brand halo so while the 2014 IS350 sports the same basic design language as the rest of the brand including the sexy spindle grille, the new IS sedan is easily the most aggressive of the current Lexus sedans. The F Sport package takes that aggressive look a step further, adding a unique front fascia and grille that is unique from the non-F Sport models and the result is a car that clearly looks the part of a modern luxosport sedan.
While there are plenty of cars in the compact luxury sedan segment with an aggressive exterior, there are few cars that offer the level of sporty design in a non-premium model like the BMW M3 or the Audi S4. There will likely be a new Lexus IS F sedan at some point in the future and at that point, there will be an even more aggressive looking Lexus compact sedan but for the time being, the IS350 F Sport is unquestionably the sportiest looking car in the segment.
This aggressive styling is centered around the angry yet handsome face of the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport. Unique to the F Sport package is a lower front fascia that has sharp sculpting lines that lead into massive brake cooking ducts – both of which flank the huge F Sport spindle grille. This grille features a unique gloss black mesh filling that is unlike the non-F Sport IS sedans, but the addition of a splash of chrome around the top of the grille opening reminds you that this is a sporty luxury car. Joining that unique front fascia is the striking headlight design that is truly unlike anything else in the segment, with angular LED daytime running lights mounted below the free floating HID projection headlight assemblies. Lexus could have more easily had one large headlight lens that incorporated the headlight and the LED daytime running lights but instead, they went with this split design and the result is a thing of beauty. This car looks mad, with the quickly sloping hood line and the high, swooping fenders giving the IS350 F Sport a poised-to-pounce look.
From the side, the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport has a very sleek profile, with a long hood area, a gently sloping windshield, a long roof line, a long rear window and a very short trunk lid area creating a very slippery silhouette. While the sides of the car are fairly curvy, the sharply angled side skirts curve upwards in front of the rear wheels and you can see that body line continued behind the wheels…almost flowing up into the edge of the wrap around taillights. The rear door glass also has this upwards angle, which works with the lower lines to give this car a fast moving look even when it is sitting still. Some cool looking split spoke wheels and subtle F badging are the only features that allow the IS350 F Sport to stand out from the rest of the lineup – but the basic styling of the new IS is strong enough that the F Sport model doesn’t need a whole lot of dressing up to fit the part of a performance model.
Out back, the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport is almost as sporty as the face, with trunk lid creating a scowling appearance with the top of the new taillights. Speaking of which, the taillights have gone the direction of other new Lexus models with super sharp angles carved out in bright red in an otherwise darkish lens. Along the bottom, a broad matte black trim piece contrasts nicely against the dual chrome exhaust tips while the upward curving trailing edge of the trunk lid adds a subtle spoiler design.
The 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport is a culmination of everything that the Japanese luxury car building has done over the past few years. With the debut of other new models, we have seen the introduction of styling cues such as the headlights, the taillights and the spindle grille – cues which were all brought together to make the new IS350 F Sport one of the best looking sedans in the compact luxury segment. It’s a little bit sporty – a little bit luxury – and a whole lot of gorgeous.
When you look at the outside of any modern luxury sport compact sedan, you can develop certain expectations as to what the interior should look like and feel like. In many cases, the interior remains very much your average luxury cabin with super plush seats and all of the latest interior gadgets so while they meet all of the luxury requirements – they often fall short in sport. The IS350 F Sport doesn’t fall short in anything and the cabin might just be the most impressive aspect of this new sedan.
The front seats of the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport are predictably leather wrapped in black with white contrasting stitching, offering an impressive level of cushiony comfort while the medium depth base bolsters and the deep back bolsters will keep the driver and front passenger firmly in place during stints of hard cornering. These seats are obviously sport inspired, but Lexus has accomplished the sporty look and the supportive bolsters without making the sides too hard and without making the seats too narrow. Whether you are built like a 105 pound supermodel or a 280lb NFL linebacker, the front seats of the IS350 F Sport are wide enough to let you sit comfortably for a long drive. The back seats are in a bench design so the bolsters arent quite as deep, but they are still deep enough to give rear riders that sporty feel – which is very rare. The back seat will technically seat three, but I wouldn’t try to put more than two people back there simply due to the elevated middle seat design. Best of all, the cabin is roomy enough that the front and back seats will all comfortably accommodate 4 people over 6 feet tall. Many cars in this segment will allow leg and knee space for a 6”1” person in the back seats if the driver or front passenger are moved up a bit, but I found that the back seats can comfortably seat a 6 foot tall passenger behind a comfortably seated 6 foot tall driver. There is also plenty of hip, elbow, shoulder and head room at all four main seating positions so in terms of spaciousness and comforts, there aren’t many cars in the segment that can rival the IS350.
The cabin of the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport is a rolling work of high tech art and all of those goodies are laid out in a driver-centric design that puts everything within the reach of the driver while he or she is seated comfortably in the driver’s seat. Like the rest of the Lexus lineup, the IS350 has a large touch screen mounted high on the dash but to prevent the driver from having to lean forward to touch the screen while driving, the IS350 also has a computer mouse-like control interface located on the center shift console immediately next to the shifter. When the driver is resting his or her arm on the center armrest, their hand naturally sits in a perfect location to use the mouse control the move the cursor on the screen so anything that you can see on the screen, you can point and click with the interface just as if you were clicking something on your computer at home. This system puts full control of the entire infotainment system at the click of a button so whether you are adjusting the climate control, changing the radio station or making a selection on the navigation system – you can do so with this handy interface. Also, since the controls are located on the center console, the passenger can also easily access this system. Joining the control interface is the drive mode knob and the sport shifter…all of which work together to create what I find to be one of the most user friendly and best looking layouts in the industry. Of course, there are plenty of traditional buttons and knobs that will adjust the various parameters of the infotainment system as well as a broad collection of controls on the steering wheel.
While the steering wheel controls allow the driver to make adjustments to the sound system without removing their hands from the wheel of the IS350 F Sport, these buttons also offer control of the stunning driver information display. This allows the driver to flip through the various options in the gauge cluster, but it also allows the driver to activate the coolest feature of the interior. Borrowed from the LFA supercar, the IS350 F Sport features a thin film transistor (TFT) cluster design with a large tachometer that slides from the middle to the right. When the driver wants the RPM, speed and gear selection to be the featured information, the large circular gauge slides to the middle with other gauges around the outside while the push of a button slides that large tach to the side – exposing a large screen that will display sound system information, navigation details or vehicle settings. This setup doesn’t really improve the drive quality, but there is no question that this is one of the coolest gauge cluster setups in the industry today.
Finally, my IS350 F Sport test car was fitted with the Mark Levinson premium sound system and thanks to 15 speakers and 835 watts of power – this system POUNDS out the tunes whether you are listening to hip hop, heavy metal, classic rock or even country. The Levinson sound systems are among the best in the industry today so while it comes with a hefty upcharge – this is a sound system that is worth every penny. The IS also comes with a sunroof that is not incredible, but there is nothing to complain about…it’s just not as fancy as some of the full glass roof treatments on the market today.
As much fun as the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport is to drive and as sharp as it looks from the outside, the interior of the new IS350 is what makes this a world class luxury car – that just so happens to feature a collection of sport-minded cues that allow it to feel just as much like a sports can as it does a luxury sedan. This is a sport sedan cabin with all of the amenities of a modern luxury car and that combination makes for one incredible interior that is sure to impress everyone who has the pleasure of spending time in the new IS350 F Sport.
The 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD is powered by a 3.5L V6 that sends 306 horsepower and 277lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via a six speed automatic transmission. This combination is expected to return fuel economy figures of 19 around town, 26 on the highway and 21 combined – numbers which I found to be very accurate during my time spent behind the wheel. I found that around town, I was getting slightly less than prescribed figures (presumably because I couldn’t help but to drive the IS350 hard) while my highway mileage was slightly better than the EPA numbers. Overall, I averaged 20.6 miles per gallon so I was technically below the EPA average, but that is over the course of 8 days where the car was driven in a fairly spirited manner. I would expect that someone with a lighter right foot would have no issue hitting an average of 21mpg…better if the person does a great deal of highway driving.
While the fuel economy figures for the 2014 Lexus IS350 are solid, the odds are good that if you are considering the IS350 F Sport with all wheel drive, fuel economy is less important than how the car drives. Fortunately, this is one of the best driving Lexus models that I have ever driven in pretty much any venue. In addition to spending a week going through my normal life with the IS350 F Sport, I also got to spend some track time on a tight autocross course to see how well this roomy luxury sedan handled in the most trying conditions possible. In the world of motorsports, autocross really puts the suspension, brakes and chassis of a car to the test and the IS350 F Sport came through those tests with flying colors. The AWD system affords you the luxury of accelerating away from a stop or out of any corner with as much throttle as possible without any concern of wheel spin – although you do get a touch of understeer compared to the rear drive models. In short, this is a luxury sport sedan that you can throw hard into tight corners and the IS350 F Sport will respond with a smile.
On paper, the Lexus IS350 F Sport’s V6 engine might seem a little light on power - with “just” 306 horsepower and 277lb-ft of torque – but this is one of those cars that feels much quicker and much more powerful than you would expect. To get an idea of just how much faster, consider the fact that the IS350 F Sport is capable of running through the quarter mile in the high 13 second to low 14 second range. Those times are similar to some larger V8 powered sedans on the market today and thanks to the addition of all wheel drive – that straight line performance is easy to achieve without any real concern about launching problems.
Part of the IS350 F Sport package is the adjustable drive mode system which adds a unique Sport+ option. Like the Sport mode, Sport+ adjusts the suspension, steering, throttle input and shift behavior of the IS350, but Sport+ takes things a step further than normal Sport mode. Sport+ yields the sharpest handling through the most aggressive steering and suspension tuning while the increased throttle response and adjusted transmission shift pattern allows the F Sport to get in and out of corners more quickly. Sport+ mode offers the stiffest ride and the most neck-breaking throttle response, but it isn’t violent enough that you could comfortably spend all day every day in Sport+. In fact Sport+ mode is still comfortable enough that you could drive your grandma to bingo night without her complaining that it is too bumpy while still having enough cornering ability to get her blood pumping on the way there. Finally, regardless of the drive mode chosen, the cabin of the IS350 F Sport is whisper quiet in any driving situation so whether you are blasting down the highway or slinking along a rough country road –there is hardly any road noise or wind noise making it into the luxurious cockpit.
One other element of driving fun that I really loved with the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport is the paddle shift system. These paddles offer remarkable control of both upshifts and downshifts so when you get to hammer the turns in your IS350, you can quickly adjust the gears by means of the paddles on the steering wheel with impressive precision. Some paddle shifted automatic transmissions allow you to shift, but they don’t always shift when you instruct them to do so – this transmission shifts when you tell it to shift so long as you aren’t putting the engine into a dangerously low or high RPM range. Also, this transmission system has a rev matching setup that allows you to get into lower gears as you enter a turn and come rocketing out in your ideal gear.
My one criticism of the 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD is the AWD, and it is more of a personal preference than a real criticism. I am not someone who thinks that every car needs all wheel drive and having had the opportunity to drive the IS350 F Sport with rear wheel drive in the past, I personally would pick the rear drive models over the all wheel drive setup. I can totally understand why someone who is buying the IS350 F Sport as their year-round daily driver would want AWD – especially if they live in an area that gets a great deal of snow – but for my money I would pick the RWD models simply because I prefer the feel of a rear wheel drive sport sedan. That being said, there is nothing wrong with the all wheel drive system as the car handles beautifully with AWD but the rear wheel drive setup does yield slightly better performance…partially due to the lack of the weight of the AWD components and partially due to the fact that the RWD IS350 F Sport comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission. If the IS350 F Sport was only offered with AWD, I would have no problem loving driving it every single day – but this is one of those vehicles that I think is just plain more fun with rear wheel drive.
Lexus has done a remarkable job over the past few years of adding more sporty personality into their entire lineup, but none of their higher volume vehicles show this luxury-sport shift as well as the 2014 IS350 F Sport. On paper, the output of the IS350 isn’t going to strike fear into the heart of many muscle car owners, but this car is surprisingly quick and nimble in any driving situation. While you may not rule the drag strip – you will be able to put most cars on the road in your rearview mirror whether you are tearing down a long straight stretch or carving through sharp turns. Best of all, the IS350 F Sport offers this high fun to drive factor without negatively impacting the ride quality that all luxury owners expect. Thanks to the adjustable drive modes, the IS350 F Sport can go from being a smooth riding yet solid handling luxury sedan to a true sport sedan that will hammer the turns as hard as many pure performance cars sold in America. This perfect combination of ride quality and handling capacities make the IS350 F Sport a dream to drive for those who love being behind the wheel. When you add into the fact that the 2014 IS350 F Sport is so great to drive with the roomy, super plush cabin that is packed with all of the latest and greatest high tech interior goodies on the market today – it is really hard not to love this new Lexus sedan.
If you are in the market for a true sport luxury sedan that gives as much consideration to “sport” as it does “luxury” – the 2014 Lexus IS35 F Sport is absolutely a car that you must drive before making your next purchase. It corners like a sports car while still offering an impeccably smooth ride in a whisper quiet cabin that offers room for four adults so this is a car that can comfortably get the family from point A to point B while allowing mom or dad to get their blood pumping on a twisty country road after the kids have been dropped off. Also, for the single guy or girl who wants a luxury car that is stylish, loaded to the hilt and designed to provide a truly exhilarating driving experience – the Lexus IS350 F Sport is easily one of the best options on the market today.