Rating: 8.0
Bottom Line:
The 2014 Lexus IS delivers a fun drive thanks to, and in some cases in spite of, changes made from the last model. There’s a truly great 2014 IS to be made, but Lexus hasn’t yet made it.
Pros:
  • Great through the twisty roads
  • Roomier interior an overall improvement
  • Radio system with free real-time weather/traffic info
Cons:
  • Appearance alternately attractive and confusing
  • Carryover engine still returns unimpressive mpg
  • F-Sport trim selectively applied through lineup

View Pictures:  2014 Lexus IS

The all-new, third-generation Lexus IS once again faces the challenge of making a name for itself in a sports sedan segment dominated by big names such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Results are a mixed bag: The 2014 Lexus IS is both very good and yet in a few areas it falls just a little short, with the available F-Sport trim acting as a tease as to what the new IS could be.

Model lineup
The 2014 Lexus IS comes in sedan form as either the IS 250 or IS 350. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard on all 2014 IS variants, with optional 18-inch wheels available. The F-Sport trim is available on all IS iterations. In addition to 18-inch wheels and a unique front fascia and grille treatment, the F-Sport adds a tuned suspension, high-friction brake pads and an instrumentation display inspired by the one in the Lexus LFA supercar.

Under the hood
The 2014 Lexus IS is available with a 2.5-liter V6 engine in the IS 250, producing 204 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm. The IS 350 gets powered by a 3.5-liter V6 good for 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm. Both the IS 250 and IS 350 are available as rear- or all-wheel drive. The IS comes with a 6-speed, paddle-shifted automatic transmission, save for the rear-wheel-drive IS 350, which is the only variant to feature an 8-speed automatic.

Inner space
With a 2.5-inch increase in its wheelbase and an additional 3.5 inches in length, the new IS feels roomier and more comfortable than ever. Trunk space is increased and, as a Lexus first, the 2014 IS features 60/40 split-folding rear seats (that's right, no Lexus sedan has ever had folding rear seats). The LFA-style display is incredibly cool and should be a standard rather than an F-Sport-only feature. The NuLuxe faux-leather trim (don't call it pleather) is standard, with leather trim available with the luxury package. The new standard HD radio is noteworthy; as long as the IS is within range of an HD signal, there will be access to a new, subscription-free weather and traffic information service.

On the road
With the 2014 IS, Lexus aims to achieve what it calls "aggressive elegance," but that isn't the only contradiction that comes into play here. On curvy roads the new IS is much improved over the outgoing model, with surprisingly great feel from its electronic steering; on the track though, some of the old IS enthusiastic turn-in has been lost. The IS 350 rear-driver is the only 2014 IS to inherit the 8-speed gearbox from the IS-F. Lexus' G-force Artificial Intelligence system in the 8-speed, which is meant to select the optimal downshift gear in response to G-forces, simply doesn't do enough to supplant a true manual transmission. (In fact, we had a tough time feeling its intended effects at all.) The 8-speed automatic should be made available throughout the IS lineup, if nothing else than to help improve the gas mileage of its carryover V6 engines. And what exactly is F-Sport supposed to be in this application? We say either take "F" seriously, or don't apply the badges at all.

Right for you?
The 2014 Lexus IS may not be the best-of-breed yet, but the improvement is undeniable. Does it drive like a BMW 335i? No, it does not. But it costs less and we'd be willing to bet you'll be in the dealer less, too. This IS isn't the world-beating track monster that other cars in its class might be, but it provides a great real-world driving experience. Factor in the eye-of-the-beholder charm of its design with its well-executed interior and the 2014 IS makes for a worthy addition to the sports sedan ranks.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.