Once in a while an automotive event really moves the “way cool” needle. The “Lexus Education Event” currently taking place at race tracks around the country is one such opportunity, giving drivers a schooling in all things 2014 Lexus IS. Yes, after eight years the compact IS sedan is being replaced, with the third generation model hitting Lexus showrooms later this summer.
2014 Lexus IS Unleashed
This writer graciously accepted Lexus’ invitation to stay with them overnight at The Carolina in Pinehurst, NC, and to travel to the Rockingham Speedway (The Rock) the following morning for track time. Living in the Tarheel State made this trip a snap, an 80 minute journey down Route 1 to NC’s golf mecca. Disclaimer: hotel and food were provided by Lexus with transportation expenses covered by yours truly.
At the track, Lexus had every possible iteration of the new IS on hand plus a 2013 model. Place these models side by side and you will quickly note a few things right off: the Lexus spindle grille is now a fixture of the third generation sedan. Also, numerous bodily changes and adornments including updated headlamps, chiseled lines, a stronger beltline, new wheels and lighting treatments are apparent. The latest Lexus IS also comes in slightly wider and longer than its predecessor.
Inside, the driver’s seat has been lowered slightly to enhance the drive. Bolstered seating, lumbar support and available heating and ventilation provide comfort. Lexus outfits the driver’s seat with an eight-way power control including a four-way adjustable head rest.
Your V-6 Awaits
Two engine choices, both V-6s, ensure that your level of performance is reached with this sedan. The engines and the transmission are carryovers, although the IS350 RWD is now paired with an eight-speed automatic. All other models get the six-speed automatic including the F Sport. The F Sport package is now available with both rear- and all-wheel-drive versions of the IS250 and IS350. It represents mostly an appearance upgrade although the suspension system has been tweaked to provide sportier handling. Adaptive variable suspension and variable gear ratio steering are options peculiar to the F Sport.
For those of us who dared to take to the track alone, the chance to get behind the wheel was an opportunity not to be missed. As a Lexus representative noted, in an ideal world we would have tested the 2013 model first and then the new sedans. With just one second-generation sedan present, that opportunity came on a catch-as-catch-can basis. It wasn’t until I lapped The Rock in three different iterations of the 2014 sedan that the 2013 model became available. Noticeably, it didn’t handle turns as well and fish-tailed twice, a problem not experienced with any version of the IS250 and IS350 models, rear- or all-wheel-drive.
A slick track meant that the driving was cautious at first, but the rain cleared away by the time the company of two dozen journalists got its start. Ponding at various bends and straightaways was quickly identified and avoided as much as possible. Still, the slickness didn’t shake the new sedan, imbuing confidence in the most inspired driver to push the Lexus IS to its limits.
Handling and Steering
Where the 2014 Lexus IS sedan truly shined was as it navigated the slalom. Only slight pitching was felt and not once did it seem as if the wheels would pull out from underneath it. While the IS250 offered good power, the robust engine powering the IS350 was worthy of The Rock and remains this writer’s favorite. All-wheel-drive presented an improved handling touch, but enthusiasts may simply prefer rear-wheel drive and the eight-speed gearbox. That transmission is standard on the IS350 RWD, with the first two forward gears set for launch and acceleration performance. Stick it in manual mode and the gears shift smoothly with full lockup performed in the second through eighth gears.
Some eight to ten car changes and lap time later, our track time ended. After lunch it was a two-hour countryside drive with this writer getting behind the wheel of both IS250 and IS350 models, the latter with the eight-speed transmission. But the best indication of how well the new Lexus IS sedan performs was confirmed on the track, offering a clear signal to the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4 that this segment’s competition has only grown stronger.