Earlier this month, Lexus gave me the opportunity to borrow its sporty new IS 350 AWD for a week.
I didn’t know what to expect when I was offered the F-Sport package for the car. My only recent experience with a Lexus had been a relative’s comfortable (though perhaps a little boring) RX 350 crossover.
I didn’t know if Lexus had the capability to make a sedan that could maintain that level of comfort while simultaneously getting my blood pumping.
After driving through the hills of Berkeley, by the beaches of Santa Cruz, and past the boring flats of Silicon Valley, all I can say is that this ~$50,000 car is a great option for anyone who wants a vehicle that can get him to work comfortably every day, but also come to life when he puts his foot down.
From almost any angle, the new Lexus IS 350 is a beauty. I was a little worried that the 'matador red' paint job would make me a ticket magnet.
The front seats have plenty of room. The dash is a bit intimidating at first -- there seem to be buttons, knobs, and touchscreens on every surface.
There's an 8-speed automatic transmission, but it's tuned to be aggressive when you want that, and fuel-efficient when you're just puttering around town.
The steering wheel has a great feel to it, like a luxurious fighter jet. However, I never found myself using the paddle shifters, as I tend to place my hands too high or low to use them comfortably.
The in-dash display is bright and pretty, but the heavily animated tachometer was so distracting that I actually didn't notice my speed displayed was right in the middle.
Both the look and feel of the gas pedal and brakes were perfect. The brakes are responsive, and I instinctively knew how hard to put my foot down to get the acceleration I wanted.
Speaking of putting your foot down, the exhaust is tuned to give a satisfying roar when the driver hits the appropriate RPMs. Even a few seconds at 4,500 RPM would put a huge smile on my face.
The back seat is tiny-looking, but more comfortable than I expected it to be. However, I'm six feet tall and my head touched the ceiling when I sat in the middle seat.
Honestly, the only thing that really bugged me about the car was the infotainment system. It felt like something from a luxury car in 2010, not 2014. Also, it froze twice while I was streaming music from my phone while using the built-in GPS -- which would have been scary if I hadn't been somewhere I could pull over.
Actually, I lied. I also think the new grill looks ridiculous, with its weird wavy pattern and pinched shape.
But those problems didn't really detract from my overall experience with the car. Wherever I went, even when I was stuck in traffic, I had a good time.
A lot of that had to do with the ways Lexus took away the usual stresses that come with, well, driving a car.
Despite being in a sedan, I was never worried about blind spots -- there's good visibility looking around, and the mirrors have indicators that let the driver know if there's anything he might not be able to see.
And despite the 306 horsepower under the hood, I was able to make long drives from Berkeley to Santa Cruz and San Mateo without nervously watching the gas gauge: putting the car into 'Eco' mode makes it practically sip on gasoline.
Despite my minor nitpicking, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 is still the best overall car I've driven in recent memory.
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