Cooley On Cars
On the road: Lexus IS350 F SportIf Lexus wants to target a younger demographic, the new Lexus IS350 F Sport might be its best bet, and maybe its only one. CNET's Brian Cooley takes it out for a spin and checks the tech.
If Lexus wants to get him young, this is their best bet, maybe their only bet. Let's drive the new 2014 IS, a 350, all-wheel drive, in F-Sport trim, and check the tech. All right, in spite of the new IS's pretty darn easy, big, deep spindle grille Lexus style, and look down at the rear quarter and see this incredible swoop that comes up off the sill and meets the outside brow of the taillights. That's very different. It is a little bit longer. Check out that front seat leg room. I can actually put the driver's seat so far back, I can even drive the car which, for me, is saying something. Now, ordering an IS is like ordering hash browns at the Waffle House, a thousand combinations-- 250 or 350; all-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive; F-Sport available on any combination of the above. So, what's an F-Sport? It's basically better brakes, cooler wheels, adaptive suspension, and variable steering, no engine changes. Okay, inside this new IS cabin, it's a real handsome thing. They've gotten rid of some of the needless curved organic stuff and gotten a more angular look that I think fits a sporty car. The materials have been brought up as well-- nice faux-aluminum, nice whatever this machine-turned finish is, and all the pleather is really good quality too. Now, in the concept version of this car, they promised us to two 12-inch LCDs,-- well, you know, concept cars-- we ended up with considerably less. There's a 7-inch main LCD right there. Navigation doesn't look a whole lot different than it has before, slightly childish in this very kind of cool interior. They've revised a lot of the cursor work on this car. And notice when you go on top of a button, it gets as big doughy glowing thing as well. So, that's a nice simple improvement. Here at the top menu, you also see we have the Lexus' app suite, a lot of things live inside there that we have seen before, no major changes. And on Lexus cars, the connection to the internet is also through your phone. It's not built in the way BMW, Audi, and soon General Motors are all gonna do it. Some of those apps show up as media sources as well as they should in one place, thank you. Here's our iPod right here and bluetooth streaming as well. Let's take a look at how metadata forms from our iPod, for example. This is one of the better uses of the real estate to spell things instead of rotate scrolling them which I hate in a car. Now, these guys are known for Mark Levinson audio that is optional as well. And notice, you've got sound profiles per source, which I think might be new in this car. So, I'm setting up my iPod SoundCurve now, that this separate from my FM radio, for example. Notice, in all of this, I would absolutely kill-- I mean, kill for a back button that isn't on the screen only and you need a button right here onto my thumb which brings us to this haptic feedback touch thing. They call it Remote Touch, I think. It's like an upsidedown puck debut to the RX a few years ago. And it's just not precise or positive enough. I think it needs to go. I'd kill for a knob with a click right now. 235 Second Street, San Francisco, California. -235 Second Street, San Francisco, California. Is this correct? -Yes. -Yes. -Okay. The key two tests were passed. I can enter the address in one long phrase, not bucket by bucket by bucket and it got it on the first try. It was kind of slow, though, doing its processing, but that doesn't distract you from driving as much as those other failings would have. Now, this laid-back console, I think, is genius. It's the only one I can think of in the car biz that's exactly at the angle of your fingertips when you pivot your elbow. No one else does that. It's so simple. Unfortunately, too much of it is squandered on climate control. These are your temperature thingies. They're a sensor strip. I don't need that. That's really just tech filigree. What I really want is that the damn knob, which still works better than anything else. Here's a huge gripe. What do you use more than anything except the gas pedal and steering wheel when you drive? The volume knob. This one, you can never get to. It looks easy, right? Well, think about it. To go this way, bang, your hand hits the gear shifter wherever it is. Ouch. If you try and go this way, it's this kind of tortured little twist of your wrist. If you go this way, you can't quite reach it around the gearshift. There's no easy way to get to that thing. That's a huge screw-up. I'm pleased how they've done the seat heaters, though. Remember, little things add up on a car when you live with it for years, lots of these electronics which is reset every time you restart the car. What's also clever is when you get back in the car when it's cold, it automatically goes to three which will throw you for a minute, but what it's doing, it's fast heating and then it gradually stops itself down to the one that I had before. Well thought out. Very Lexus. Now, drive controls. One choice only, automatic gearbox, not a dual clutch. We'll talk about how many gears when we get to the engine bag, but it's right here with a shiftable gate here to go up and down shift. Also, you can go in the paddles of course-- they're wheel mounted-- and blessedly simple personality control over here. You go counterclockwise to put it in Eco mode which you might do once in a while, push the thing to go back to Normal, turn it once to go to Sport which is gonna sharpen up transmission and accelerator behavior, turn it again for Sport Plus which will add sharper suspension and steering behavior. Now, the real crowd pleaser. Let's go to the instrument panel which they borrowed some of the technology up from the LFA supercar and I hate to break their hearts, but it should have stayed there. Here's the trick. You push the menu button here on the wheel, and wee, there we go. That gauge in the middle, which is a video gauge, moves to the right on little motor then exposing a whole bunch of additional menus you've got to the left of it. When don't I wanna see all those menus on the left? When do I wanna see less in my interface? It's not often and I don't want my wallet within a mile of that dealership when the little motor that does this breaks and they got to, I assume, dig all these out to get to it. No, thanks. Now, up here in the bow, we've got a 3.5 liter V6 because this is a 350. To get a 250, you can fill in the blanks. This V6 is sitting longitudinally, drives the rear-wheel standard, drives the front wheels and the rear, all wheel-drive, in our optional configuration here. Your transmission is interesting. If you get rear-wheel drive, you get an 8-speed automatic. If you get all-wheel drive, you get a 6-speed automatic. That's what we're gonna be driving today. You've got multi-port as well as direct injection on the intake side here. The logic goes that multi-port is better for cruising or idle performance, but direct injection is better when you're on the throttle. So, I'm seeing a combination here which adds some complexity, but seems to pay off. MPG 19 city, 26 highway, 28 highway if you get rear-wheel drive, 306 horsepower, 277-foot pounds of torque gets this 3,700-pound car up to 60 in 5.7. It's a tenth slower than the rear-wheel drive. You don't give up much. Okay, underway, the biggest complaint I have about this car that I share with a lot of others is a kind of sleepy soft gearbox. The shifts are kind of slow and this guy gets caught in its top two gears way too often, way too much. They've got a great engine note in this car as well, if you can hear that, and you can even set the tach to go red when you hit a preset RPM limit. That's a lot of nice theater, but it helps to inject a certain DNA you don't think of in a Lexus. The ride is tuned towards softness, not the same precision I would expect out of, let's say, a 335 IS, but it's got a certain lack of precision at the really sharp edge. Here's the bottom line for a buyer's tip. This car, among athletic sports sedans, I think is the most comfortable riding, not sloppy but comfortable, and that sets it apart, I think, from a lot of the German and even American and Asian competition that tend to punish you from underneath. This car, you will feel refreshed in after a long drive if not quite as accelerated from after a short twisty drive. Okay, let's price this guy, a '14 IS350 is going out at about $40,300, 2,200 bucks or so more for all-wheel drive Note that there are some sacrifices there. You lose variable steering. You get a 14-inch bigger turning circle and you get a 6-speed, not an 8-speed. I'd go rear. Now, the big package that takes you totally CNET style is 7,700 bucks to throw everything on this car including a few tech I didn't even show you on here. This brings the car up to $50,300, CNET style. It's a fair amount of change, but this car is a nice blend of performance to the degree that you can actually use it and comfort to the degree that you will always appreciate it.