Love it or hate it, Lexus' signature "spindle grille" and L-Finesse styling have come to the IS sport sedan. This F-Sport model features the most aggressive implementation of the grille, which is flanked on the lower bumper by auxiliary intakes and aerodynamic treatments.
I've largely been a fan of Lexus' L-Finesse styling language, which we've seen transform the LS from a boring box into an athletic and sporty sedan. However, something about the IS' exterior styling just doesn't sit right with me. There seem to be too many elements (each handsome in its own right) that are competing for my attention. The result is a bit busy and discordant.
This styling discord is most apparent in the IS' forward lighting cluster. Here, scalloped HID headlamps (or LED projectors on the F-Sport model) hover clumsily over the seemingly arbitrarily placed L-shaped LED daytime-running-light bar.
The result is that the headlights end up looking too small for the car and an awkward chunk of irregular negative space is created between the two elements that seems out of place on a vehicle otherwise dominated by bold, geometric lines.
I may be nitpicking the headlights, but the rest of the IS is dominated by bold lines that flow, arch, and stretch from the rear of the sedan, emphasizing Lexus' sporty intent. This F-Sport model goes a step further than the standard design with its lower side sills, front bumper, hunkered-down stance, and dark wheels.
The LED taillights wrap around the corners of the sedan and flow almost seamlessly into a character line that sweeps through the wheel well and into the side sills. The rear quarter is definitely one of the IS' best angles.
Behind that massive grille, drivers will find one of two direct-injected, V-6 engine options. The 2.5-liter IS 250 is good for a maximum 204 horsepower. Opt for IS 350 and its larger 3.5-liter engine puts 306 horsepower beneath your pedal foot.
Optional on the IS are a number of safety features including adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning systems, which use a radar array hidden behind the front "L" badge. Also available are an active high-beam system and a lane departure warning system, both of which make use of a forward-facing camera hidden at the top of the windshield. Blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera, and a rear cross-traffic alert system also make appearances in the new IS' feature list.
The sport sedan's cabin is pretty standard Lexus fare, which is to say that it's handsome, comfortable, and composed of high-quality materials. The IS borrows fairly heavily from the LFA supercar for its general dashboard configuration, steering-wheel design, and particular styling elements (such as the shape of the HVAC vents).
The steering wheel falls nicely into the hand with a nice, thick rim. Paddle shifters hang out behind the wheel, and thumb controls for the infotainment and instrumentation systems are easy to reach, yet difficult to accidentally trigger when shuffling the wheel about.
Drivers are given the choice between four drive modes, all of which are accessible from this console-mounted knob. Normal is the baseline. ECO somewhat dulls the throttle response -- artificially lightening your lead foot -- and adjusts the climate control systems for more efficient operation. Sport mode sharpens the throttle response and adjusts the electronic power steering for better feel and responsiveness. The rear-drive, IS 350 F-Sport features a more aggressive Sport+ setting, as well.
IS F-Sport models feature this digital instrument cluster that is inspired by the LFA's gauges. The large, LCD tachometer is contained in a physical bezel and flanked by fuel level and temperature bars. Press a button and the motorized bezel slides aside to reveal a larger space on the left for displaying auxiliary data, such as the current audio source, navigation data, and fuel economy info. See the gauges in motion here.
Non-F-Sport models feature more conventional instrumentation with a bi-gauge configuration with a small LCD tucked into the center. It's a handsome-enough cluster, but looks low-tech compared with the glitzy F-Sport setup.
The system makes use of the split-screen configuration that we've seen on the LS and GS sedans to display more information. However, at 7 inches, the IS' screen is much smaller than those models', so the display feels a bit more cramped.
The display is not touch-sensitive, so users interact with the infotainment system by moving an onscreen cursor with the Remote Touch controller. This trackball-joystick hybrid features haptic feedback and is certainly clever, but can also be slightly clumsy and difficult to use. Lexus allows users to customize the force-feedback "snapping" to onscreen elements, which goes a long way toward improving eyes-free operation. Models without navigation eschew Remote Touch in favor of a more conventional control knob.
With a starting MSRP of $35,950 for the 2014 IS 250, the third-generation car is less expensive than the outgoing model. The more powerful IS 350 starts at $39,465 before adding options and destination charges. Fully loaded with all of the F-Sport performance, cabin tech goodies, and safety features, the IS 350 F-Sport just tickles the $50K mark.