Lexus IS350 F Sport: Does it measure up to the Germans -- or even need to? (CNET On Cars, Episode 29)Lexus' all-new IS350, a suspension that thinks, and your car's roof: some of its most unsung tech.
-Here's the sync and here we go. Lexus all-new IS. If Lexus wants to get him young, this is their best bet, maybe their only bet. Suspensions that think. There are really just four major technology groups-- And keeping the world out when the shiny side is down. Time to check the tech. We see cars differently. Nice. We love them on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is. Ugly is included at no extra cost. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. Welcome to CNET on Cars, the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. I'm Brian Cooley. You know, every year, it seems like about a handful of cars out of all the ones out there make up the majority of the e-mail we get from you asking us to go review one model or the other. And this year, one of those was the Lexus IS, completely new. So, we got our hands on an IS 350 All-Wheel Drive F-Sport. That's just about everything to check 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 is 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. Check out our full review on the IS 350 over at cars.cnet.com for all the details. Now, I bet you think that the roof of your car is basically a way to keep the sunroof out of your lap. It's not very interesting, right? Wrong. There's been a huge technical revolution going on in roof and pillar design. Can save your life. And that's of interest to the smarter driver. Now, two major good things happen when your roof is strong and stays intact. First of all, the roof doesn't intrude and injure passengers or kill them inside the vehicle. But secondly, the belt, the airbags, the windows, and the windshield have a strong base so they can stay in place and do their job keeping you from leaving the car which is a big problem in rollovers. Only about 2 percent of the nation's roughly 9 million annual car accidents are rollovers, but they typically account for an astonishing 33 percent of fatalities. So, say hello to a tougher roof standard. Now, new federal standards for roof rollover strength were passed in 2009. They started phasing in September of 2012 and full phase-in across the entire fleet of new vehicles sold in the U.S. as of 2017 model year cars. Now, before these new standards had kicked in 2012, we go back to 1973 for the last time roof crush specs were set, and back then, the federal standard was only that it had to withstand one and a half times the weight of the vehicle. Today, that's a poor rating. That would not even be a passing grade. Now, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awards those coveted rollover standards based on a test where they come right here with a big machine that tries to deflect this part of the roof, 5 inches total deflection. The question is, "How much weight does it take?" That's where they come up with a ratio based on the car's weight. To get a good rating, which is the best, there has to be a 4:1 ratio. In other words, the roof can support four times the car's weight of an impact. Now, there are some downsides to all these additional roof strength performance, a couple trivial ones, and that is, there's an estimate that it costs maybe $54 more in your car's MSRP to create all this stronger structure and $16 to $62 in additional fuel consumption due to some added weight. Those are small numbers, but there is a bigger concern. And that is this. As these pillars get stronger, they're getting thicker. Add to that, the airbags that are in them, the padding here for federal head-impact standards, and the increasing slope for aerodynamics, and you've got a visibility problem. University of Michigan did a study that found these increasingly thick pillar designs make invisible for a substantial time a pedestrian who could be in your path during a typical left turn at an intersection, let's say. In the EU, such outward visibility is regulated. In the U.S., it's not. The IIHS has roof-crush ratings by car model on its site, and since these new standards are being phased in, it pays to double check. So, bottom-line, when you look at your car next time and see the roof and the pillars and think you're just seeing something that keep the rain out and keep the glass in place, you're looking at some pretty serious engineering that has come a long way in a few years toward saving your life. Coming up, four flavors of high-tech suspension explained when CNET on Cars continues. -I think this is gonna be a good one. In 2009, I think someone in the Aston Martin development's office was on some kind of really potent drug, a little voice popped up and went, "Oh, [unk], how about we put the DBS's V12 in a Vantage. I have one message for whoever that was. Keep taking your drug, son, 'cause this thing is brilliant. -More love of cars at cnet.com/xcar. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. Coming to you from our home at the Marin Clubhouse of Cars Dawydiak, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. You know, one big area of car tech innovation is actually hidden from view. It lives under the haunches and fenders of your vehicle. It's your suspension which is no longer just a collection of dumb rods and springs. Adaptive suspension in four flavors makes for an interesting Car Tech 101. On this Jaguar XJ, for example, I've got drive controls that include a Sport mode, a Dynamic's mode, and those speak to the adaptive suspension which Jag's engineers say allowed them to monitor for almost 900 parameters of the vehicle's relationship with the road and gravity up from about 80 on a typical dead steel spring suspension. Now, whether you're monitoring 80 or 800 parameters of suspension and vehicle relationship with the road, there are really just four major technology groups that get that done. There's active pneumohydraulic. This mouthful uses a combination of pumps and accumulators to move hydraulic fluid and compressed nitrogen gas to the car's four corners as needed in milliseconds to take over the functions of both shock absorption and sway control. It's very exotic and expensive. We've driven it on the McLaren MP4-12C where it keeps the car almost oddly leveling corners but also kept the ride compliant. Then, there's active electromagnetic. This system replaces all that pneumohydraulic plumbing and pumping with linear electric motors at each corner. Its response can be even faster and it doesn't strew plumbing all over the car. The Bose Company of audio fame oddly enough is well known as an innovator in this technology and it actually derives some of the basics from the study of waves and electromagnetics, a lot like speakers. Okay, that's active. Now, onto the adaptive or semi-active technologies. These are so-named because all they do is react to what the road and the car are doing. They don't actually bring their own forces to that relationship. First up is adaptive solenoid or adaptive valve. Now, your typical shock works by passing hydraulic fluid through a series of small valves or orifices which limit the rate that fluid can move back and forth. That limits the movement of the shock, and therefore, the movement up and down of the car. Adaptive valve or solenoid tech gives you electronic control over those shock valves. So, the rate at which fluid moves around inside the shock can be changed on the fly, therefore varying the shocks damping behavior. That brings us to adaptive magnetorheological. It's a mouthful that perhaps the fastest growing adaptive suspension right now. This GM-developed system uses a special kind of shock fluid with particles suspended in it that react to electric current, and simply put, that makes the fluid present itself to the mechanism more or less viscous and that varies the damping effect in very subtle ways that can be changed very rapidly and with great range, just by varying the current you apply to the fluid. Oh, by the way, if you see a wire coming off a shock absorber like this here in the center of the shock tower, that's a dead giveaway. You've got adaptive suspension, in this case magnetorheological technology, and this is the current flowing through here. Now, so far, these adaptive suspension systems have gone in two directions. One is for extremely high-performance cars and the other is for very luxurious, high-comfort vehicle application. We're not seeing this show up in a lot of mainstream cars yet because they don't have an everyday efficiency component. They're never gonna save you any MPG or make the car any less expensive. So, what we're talking about here is a still mid- to upper-class tech if you wanna divide the car market that way, but as this technology comes down in price, as of course it will, expect to see it on more cars in the sub $30,000 class. Up next, top five ways expensive car tech is making it to your car when CNET on Cars returns. -The Porsche Boxster SE is the poor relation to the full fad hardcore 911. Its doors were from a 911 as were its headlamps. It was seen as a bit of a Franken car, a poor relation made up of off cuts for the cheap, which is a shame really. The first-generation Boxster was set to save the company from a buy-out. It was a huge volume seller, thanks to its comparatively low price, keen handling, and plentiful go. However, it's not until now in the third-generation 981 that the Boxster gets its own doors. It looks like Porsche is getting a bit serious about this one. -More love of cars at cnet.com/xcar. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. This is the part of the show where we answer some of your e-mails about questions you like us to look into or reactions to past segments which what we have on our hands this time. This comes in from Bart who says, "Is there such a thing as too much oil changing, too frequent? I run synthetic oil in my diesel car and change it when the dashboard trip computer tells me to. But could it harm the engine if I change it too often?" No, you can't harm the engine by changing your oil too often. You can harm your wallet, though, Bart. Our friends at Edmunds took an exhaustive look at this recently and found that this whole 3,000-mile oil thing is an old myth based on 50 years of habit from much older cars and those little stickers, the oil change places put on your windshield after you go and have your oil done there. Of course, it's in their interest that you change your oil more often. In fact, the head of research at the AAA said there is absolutely no improvement in vehicle longevity or MPG by changing your oil more frequently than the manufacturer says and that's usually way higher than 3,000 miles. Calculation would tell us that $2,000, maybe $3,000 can be wasted by an owner in the first 100,000 miles of owning their car by changing their oil every 3,000 miles versus 5,000, 7,500. Some cars say only every 10,000. Engines and oil have changed and it's about time our oil change habits do as well. Now, something else has changed a lot. It's how fast the really good safety tech comes down from the huge dollar luxury cars down to the cars that we can afford. It used to take years for that stuff to trickle down. Now, it happens, maybe, just a model year or two later and I've got a top five to prove it. Number five, adaptive cruise control. This is the tech that not only maintains your speed, but also the distance between you and the car ahead. It debuted in Japan on the high-end Mitsubishi Diamante in 1995. Didn't come to the U.S. until 2000 on the Lexus LS430. Today, it's fairly common. You'll find it on cars as affordable as the Mazda6, even the Mitsubishi Outlander. And look for big growth here, largely, because the same parts of software that make this system work also enable forward collision avoidance tech. It's kind of a two-front. Number four is the rearview camera. Go back to 1956 to find the first on the Buick Centurion, a show car, but there it was way back then. Then, it just went away. We never saw one again 'till the early 2000's when LCDs began to show up in the dash and that gave the camera image a place to live. Today, almost all cars at least offer them, but they're still too often optional equipment, even on the Bentley Flying Spur. The feds have repeatedly bulked in terms of making these required and so they're still typically optional. Number three is the airbag. The '74 Olds Toronado was perhaps the first production car with what they then called the air cushion restraint system, had a very low take rate, so it kind of gripped and went away. Then, in '81, Mercedes put it front and center on the new S-Class and you know their reputation for safety. By 1989, front airbags for the driver were required, and by 1998, across the front row. Today, you can hardly count the number of airbags in most cars. Ten, 11, 12 is quite common. Number two, ABS, antilock brakes. March of 1969, ABS arrives on the Concorde. Then, in 1970, Ford made it optional on the rear wheels of Continentals. And in 1971, Chrysler made it available on four wheels in the Imperial. The E.U. has required it on all cars since 2007, but get this, the U.S. still doesn't, some mumbo jumbo about how to accurately test its effectiveness. As of 2012, however, I think I stopped seeing any cars sold without it in the U.S. regardless of regulations. Before I get you to number one, here a couple of technologies that won't be that, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring. That's because, so far, insurance industry data shows rather tepid improvement in driver safety with those technologies. They just aren't making a big difference yet. The number one trickle-down safety tech has got to be ESC, electronic stability control. It first shows up in really polished form on the big Mercedes and BMWs of 1987. Then, as of model year 2012, it's now required on all new cars in the U.S. Simply put, stability control is unbelievable. It reduces fatal rollovers by 70 percent and reduces all fatal crashes in cars by 14 percent and double that in SUVs. In many ways, it's kind of like curing for the lousy driver. Hope you enjoyed the show. Thanks for checking it out. A lot of ways to reach me. On Twitter, I'm Brian Cooley, facebook.com/askCNET, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I read all of those personally, by the way. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next time we check the tech.