The 2014 IS 250 and IS 350 sedans go on sale this summer. As before, either car comes with rear- or all-wheel drive, with sportier F-Sport packages optional for either car. At a press preview in Austin, Texas, I drove various rear-drive configurations of the IS 250 and IS 350.
The IS' headlights steal attention from Lexus' spindle grille, which now graces almost every car in the brand's lineup. The headlights sort of melt into the front bumper, with a swoosh of LED daytime running lights strung a few inches ahead. Get the F-Sport Package and the melting spreads. The grille swaps straight crossbars for a hulking mesh abyss, and the whole of it swims in a droopier front bumper. I prefer the styling on the standard IS; Dorothy threw water on this one.
Standard dual tailpipes are a nice touch — some competitors have single pipes with their base engines — and an interesting cutline sweeps from the rocker panel through the rear taillights. Overall length is up 3.4 inches, and wheelbase increases 2.7 inches. Despite the extra size, overall curb weight stays about the same. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard, with 18s optional.
The cabin features overlapping layers and splashes of upscale stitched vinyl here and there — a welcome improvement over the Toyota Camry-grade molded faux stitching in the Lexus ES. Materials are decent, with consistent graining toward the center console and optional real wood trim. Even the F-Sport's fake carbon fiber has a convincing 3-D pattern. The shoe drops on materials below knee level, but the IS has eye candy where you see it.
Atop the dash, a standard 7-inch display governs the CD stereo, which includes HD radio, USB/iPod integration plus Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. Lexus' available Enform system integrates various apps — Bing, Facebook Places, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora and Yelp — from compatible smartphones. Skip the optional Mark Levinson stereo, however; it sounds no better than the last IS' lackluster Levinson system.
Lexus' NuLuxe vinyl upholstery is standard, with leather seating optional. Most sport sedans have gone that way for years, though the Audi A4 and Acura TL beat the norm with standard leather. Lexus fakes it well. Minus the faint smell of cowhide, the NuLuxe looks and feels like its pricier counterpart. Eight-way power seats are standard, with a longer adjustment range this year. They should suit drivers of all sizes; my 6-foot 6-inch co-driver even said he had enough room.