The 2014 Lexus IS has a great personality (pictures)

It's a good thing that the third-generation IS sport sedan offers a premium cabin and such good performance, because we're not totally in love with its curbside looks.

Antuan Goodwin
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2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport

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.
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Standard grille and styling

Standard IS models have a less aggressive lower air dam treatment and a different grille that features horizontal bars. However, the general shape of the spindle grille remains intact.
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Disparate elements

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.
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Forward lighting

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.
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Negative space

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.
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Sport sedan styling

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.
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A second look

Dark paint colors, such as this deep silver, somewhat minimize the weirdness of the headlight area, but also hide many of the sculptural elements that make the rest of the vehicle so attractive.
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The third-generation IS is a few inches longer than the outgoing model, but the design adds more visual length to the car, making it appear to be a much larger sedan than before.
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F-Sport suspension

The F-Sport features more aggressive wheels, stickier tires, and a more aggressive Adaptive Variable Suspension setup that has a slightly lower static ride height and firmer dampening.
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F-Sport brake upgrades

Behind the F-Sport's wheels, the performance variant's brakes have been upgraded with grippier pads that should be more resistant to fade.
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Rear- or all-wheel drive

The standard drivetrain configuration for the IS is front-engine, rear-wheel drive, but an all-wheel-drive system is also available.
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Rear end

The rear end of the new IS is remarkably subdued when compared with the front end. It's simple, but not boring.
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Wraparound taillights

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.
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Front end, again

Let's take one more look at the busy front end in contrast to the simple, effective rear end. Frat-boy types and bros would refer to the new IS as a "butterface."
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Two engine choices

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.
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Driver aid tech

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.
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Push-button start

Climb into the IS' comfortable seats (or supportive sport buckets in the F-Sport) and press the push-button starter to bring the sedan to life.
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Interior design

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).
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Steering wheel

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.
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Mode selector

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.
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Digital instrument cluster

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.
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Standard gauges

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.
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Eyebrow LCD

Like the rest of its new models, Lexus places the IS' infotainment display high on the dashboard, where it is shielded from most glare by a sort of "eyebrow" overhang.
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Split screen

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.
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Remote touch

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.
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Enform app suite

Depending on the options equipped, the infotainment system may have navigation, hands-free calling, audio source selection, and Lexus' Enform app suite.
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Weather and traffic

The new IS also moves to a free weather and traffic service that uses an HD Radio receiver instead of the more conventional subscription-based SiriusXM system.
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Audio options

The vehicles I tested were equipped with an eight-speaker premium stereo system that sounded pretty good. Also available is a 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson surround-sound system.
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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.

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