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Lexus IS350 2014 Review

EXPERT RATING
6
The Lexus IS sedan is the Japanese maker's rival to the biggest sellers among the three German luxury brands, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

The Lexus IS sedan is the Japanese maker's rival to the biggest sellers among the three German luxury brands, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. When the first IS sedan was released by Toyota's premium brand 14 years ago, one of its advantages was a long list of standard equipment, which were often extra cost options on the European marques.

But times have changed. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have come down in price and their cars are now generously equipped, putting the squeeze on Lexus and other would-be challengers. For example, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan is the third best-selling medium-size car in Australia behind the Toyota Camry and Mazda6, and comfortably outsells the equivalent BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Lexus IS.

Now up to its third generation IS sedan, Lexus needed to find some magic to try draw people away from the newly affordable German luxury cars, which each come with more than 100 years of brand cache. Lexus' response was to come up with a most unusual design. The trouble is, it's polarising.

VALUE

The new Lexus IS sedan range starts at $55,900 for the IS250, but you can get an Audi A4 or a BMW 3 Series for less than this -- and a Mercedes-Benz C-Class for not much more. The car we're testing however is the dynamic flagship of the IS sedan range, the IS350 F-Sport, which starts at $73,000 -- the Sport Luxury tops the range at $84,000.

For that sort of money you're within striking range of super-efficient twin-turbo power from the German brands; in the Lexus you get a relatively low-tech and thirsty 3.5-litre V6 that's been around since Noah's Ark.

TECHNOLOGY

In an attempt to disguise the lack of progress under the bonnet (the V6 engine has the same power and torque as the old model), Lexus has added an eight-speed automatic transmission. This helps with brisker acceleration off the line (0 to 100km/h in a claimed 5.9 seconds, not far off a V8) and provides better fuel economy at freeway speeds, but in daily driving it's still relatively thirsty.

Feeling the need to add a gadget or two, the new IS350 F-Sport has four driving modes: Normal, Eco, Sport and Sport Plus. They create no more power, merely adjusting the sensitivity of the throttle, suspension and, believe it or not, the air-conditioning.

Lexus also has its version of a central toggle to adjust cabin controls, similar to those found in Audi, BMW and Mercedes. This is where luxury brands feel the need to over-complicate things when a simple button would do nicely. Tuning a radio station, for example, now takes several mouse clicks (and you're eyes off the road) instead of hitting one button to seek and another to store. And they call this progress.

This is the third iteration of the Lexus "haptic" system, and it still trails the Germans (the best examples of the concept are in the Audi and the Mercedes, the BMW i-Drive and Lexus systems are still enormously frustrating).

DESIGN

They say design is a personal taste, but I'm yet to meet anyone who flat out loves the look of the oddly shaped Lexus IS. This is what happens when car makers over-react to criticism that they're too boring.

Lexus started out with a relatively normal sedan shape, and then went crazy with the front and the rear end styling, as if that would somehow wipe years off the average age of its buyer base.

What Lexus has ended up with is what appears to be an offcut from The Fast and the Furious. I can't believe that Lexus is so desperate to be cool that it allowed panel gaps around the headlights that you can fit fingers through. This used to be a brand that prided itself on build quality.

With its over-sized grille and headlights shaped like squinty, the Lexus IS sedan appears to have overdosed on Prozac. Then there is the swoopy back end, with its contrived lines running dramatically into the rear door. One wonders if there was a mix-up with a drawing left behind during a visit to Lexus on a primary school excursion.

It's all a bit of a pity, really, because the interior is stunning. It's modern, well laid out, and the quality of the materials is superb. The digital dash display looks like it's from a sportscar, not an executive sedan. It's awesome. Next time, whoever did the inside of this Lexus IS sedan needs to get promoted to do the outside.

SAFETY

As with most cars in this class, the Lexus IS has all the electronic gadgets covered, with lane departure warning, blind spot alert, radar cruise control and lots of other stuff that will have you looking for the "off" switch. The Lexus also gets a pedestrian friendly pop-up bonnet (which softens the blow if a human is struck).

Inside, the Lexus IS has 10 airbags, including knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, and side airbags for the back seats (as well as the curtain airbags). No star rating is listed because luxury cars tend not to get tested by ANCAP. But with more airbags than a jumping castle it's safe to say a five-star rating would be likely.

The tyre warning light was on from the moment we collected the IS350 F-Sport and stayed on until we returned it seven days later, but there was sufficient air in all four tyres. Thankfully it was a faulty switch, not a tyre about to explode without warning.

DRIVING

It says something about the progress of the automobile that an executive sedan from Japan can now out-manouvre a BMW. That's the case with the Lexus IS350 F-Sport. It drives better than a BMW 3 Series, partly because Lexus has matured and partly because BMW has dropped the ball with the latest 3 Series. Don't worry, BMW will fix it at some point.

For now, though, the IS350 F-Sport is one of the standouts to drive in the class, at least until the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class arrives next year. Despite riding on 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres the IS350 F-Sport is comfortable over bumps and yet can carve its way through corners. In the same situation, the runflat tyres on BMW's 3 Series will either rattle your teeth or have you questioning the laws of physics.

The Lexus' engine, albeit rather crude and old tech, gets on with the job and works smoothly with the eight-speed auto. But Lexus needs to join the real world and deliver a world-class engine to go with the chassis, not serve up last night's dinner reheated.

And Lexus needs to fast-track a facelift for this car. Customers are going to tire of parking blocks away from their destination, lest they be spotted behind the wheel. The window tinters are going to do a roaring trade.

VERDICT

The Lexus IS350 F-Sport is good, but it could be so much better with a modern engine. It could also be a lot easier on the eye. The exterior designers owe the chassis engineers an apology as it will sell on the way it drives, not on the way it looks.

Lexus IS350 F-Sport 
Price: from $73,000
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Power: 233kW/378Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, RWD
0 to 100km/h: 5.9 seconds
Consumption: 9.7L/100km (premium fuel required)
Emissions: 225g/km
Weight: 1685kg
L/W/H/WB: 4665/1810/1430/2800 (mm)
Turning circle: 10.4 metres
Warranty: Four years/100,000km
Service intervals: 12months/15,000km
Spare tyre: Space saver

Pricing Guides

$31,990
Based on 60 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$26,000
Highest Price
$39,800

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
IS250c F-Sport 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $42,900 – 49,830 2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250c F-Sport Pricing and Specs
IS250c Prestige 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $35,970 – 42,790 2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250c Prestige Pricing and Specs
IS250c Sports 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $41,800 – 49,170 2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250c Sports Pricing and Specs
IS250c Sports Luxury 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $49,720 – 57,090 2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250c Sports Luxury Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6
Pricing Guide

$31,878

Lowest price, based on 11 car listings in the last 6 months

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