I spent back-to-back weeks with two luxury compact sport sedans from Lexus, starting with the IS350, followed by its feisty little brother, the IS250. Both are available with rear-wheel drive, but my test models came with all-wheel-drive.
I knew that the brands had been redesigned for 2014, but I didn't appreciate those minor changes until I got my first glimpses. Both cars are beautiful to look at, although I'll give more of a nod to the 250; its lines are of the eye-catching variety, with a swept-back look that's appealing to (ahem) seasoned guys like me.
But make no mistake: Lexus has always - and probably WILL always - put the emphasis on the luxury end of the "luxury sport sedan" equation. Yes, the cars have some oomph, but they don't beat out some of their comparable rivals in the sports-handling department. For comparison sake, I would recommend looking at the vaunted BMW 3-series (the reigning champ in most enthusiasts' minds), as well as the Audi A4 and the Mercedes C-Class.Don't get me wrong, the IS250 and IS350 are terrific cars, with plenty of thrills to offer.
For this year's redesign, the engineers worked a bit on the ride (which is improved) and the interior space (which has expanded). Powered by 2.5-liter V6, the 250 will leave the starting blocks with a little over 200 horses, while the bigger sib 350 sports a 3.5-liter V6 with 306 horsepower. Both cars offer smooth and powerful acceleration and fine handling. Personally (and perhaps it was because of the overall feel in the cockpit), I enjoyed the ride of the IS250 a little more.
Both cars not only look good at the curb, but have upgraded their interiors. Materials quality is excellent (c'mon, we're talking Lexus), but the layout has been altered, too. Although I'm never a fan of the mouse, it seemed a bit more squirrely in these two; I found the cursor slipping too easily past my intended destination. I swear, car manufacturers are killing us with these distraction tools. Back to buttons, please! (He says to the wall.)
The climate controls for the IS sport sedans do have an interesting touch-sensitive control panel. You'll find a vertical temperature control that you merely tap with your finger to adjust, and that worked fine. Again, perhaps more high-tech than really is necessary, but apparently we will never go back to the early days of knobs. (I know that I sound like an old grouch, but I think I honestly speak for the majority of consumers when it comes to audio/climate controls. Just sayin'.)
The increased room for rear passengers isn't massive, but it's a bit better than in previous models. The design of the front seats accents that rear space, too.
Lexus provides nice standard features in both cars, from power tilt/slide moonroofs to push-button start/stop, along with 60/40 split reclining back seats. Also standard are the usual power-seat adjustments, auto-dimming rear-view mirrors, and a plethora of audio choices. Move up to options and you'll be able to add the much-loved backup camera, intuitive parking assist, and things like all-weather packages and luxury/technology packages.
The IS250 brings home about 23 mpg in combined city/highway driving; the larger IS350 drinks a little more, averaging about 21. Starting MSRP are about $38k on the 250, and just under $42k on the 350. As tested, with multiple options, the IS250 stickered at about $47k, the bigger brother at around $50k.
It's an impressive class of cars, when you factor in the BMW, Audi, Infiniti, and Mercedes. But Lexus holds its own with its foray into the compact sport sedan market. And with AWD options, they make a great fit in Colorado.