Serene Until You Push It | 2014 Lexus IS 350

April 2014 View more


Photos courtesy of ©Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Jekyll and Hyde type transformations are typically the stuff of horror stories. The quiet and good-natured character turns into a raging menace as destruction, disaster and disappointment ensue.

In the case of the 2014 Lexus IS 350, the Jekyll and Hide comparison is remarkably apt, but only to a point. A smooth and serene sedan gets pushed around and suddenly turns into a sharp-handling, corner-carving sports car. In this case, however, the transformation leads to the driver’s delight, not dismay.

Completely redesigned for the 2014 model year, the new IS 350 offers both visual excitement with the dramatic sweeping line that curves up from the rear doors toward the taillights and mechanical magnificence. With rear-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic, and a V6 that earns its entry into the 300-horsepower club, the IS 350 starts with the makings of a thoroughly modern sports car. The switch on the console that lets drivers disengage the stability control sends a strongly worded message: This is a driver’s car.

2014_Lexus_IS_350_024But this is also a Lexus, so a driver’s first drive—the type that many buyers will experience under the watchful eye of their dealership’s sales associate—shows only the car’s peaceful Dr. Jekyll side. Quiet at idle, silky over even moderately rough pavement, and with imperceptible shift points as its acceleration spools out, the IS 350 proves itself a suitable sedan for the type of comfort-first buyers that Lexus has long accommodated.

When the IS 350 gets pushed, Mr. Hyde seizes the wheel and takes the car to a new place. The engine unleashes more power, and along a wider power band, than you might at first expect. The brakes grab, confidently and predictably. The suspension remains virtually unflappable over bumps, into ruts, around curves of compromised concrete. And the steering always seems to feel just right. You could do worse, in other words, choosing a sedan for your weekend getaway.
Inside, the IS 350’s fantastically comfortable front seats and crisp cabin reflect well on the time Lexus spent in the design studio planning this model. The console’s beauty is an eye-of-the-beholder issue with flat black plastic and a gentle slope, it splits the difference between BMW’s typical stark array of controls and the somewhat more stylish display you would find in a Cadillac.

Perhaps the IS 350’s best interior feature is the horizontal iPhone 5-sized niche in the top of the center console. With a grippy rubber base and just enough of an indent to keep your phone in place while you drive, it beautifully melds form and function.

2014LexusIS006Roughly the same size as competitors like the BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, and Audi A4, and endowed with a wonderfully tight turning radius, the IS 350 is easy to maneuver in even the tightest garages. The optional back-up camera and parking sensors add a degree of confidence. While the IS 350 has four doors, however, this is a car that definitely focuses on the driver. Front-seat legroom is greater, and rear-seat leg-room is commensurately smaller, than in those competitive models. Woe to the adult-sized passengers who must spend extended time in the backseat.

The 2014 Lexus IS 350 carries a base price of $39,495. By comparison, the IS 250 model, with a 2.5-liter V6, lops 100 horsepower and about $3,500 off the price of entry, starts at $36,100. All-wheel drive is available with either engine for about $2,500, and the F Sport package, an enticing riot of fast-looking exterior tweaks, adds about $4,000.