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Driven: 2014 Lexus IS350 rises to competitor's level

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For 2014 Lexus completely redesigned their Lexis IS sedans, a car which is precisely on target in its competitive field with the Mercedes Benz C-Class, BMW 3-Series and now the Infiniti Q50 in terms of size, content and upscale features.

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The 2014 IS has a daring style that goes beyond what Lexus used to offer. With artistic details and stylistic forays such as the split headlamps and pronounced spindle grille, the IS wont be for everyone, but indeed stands out in its class as both unique and distinctively designed.

Our tester featured 10 spoke 17” wheels and what Lexus calls Deep Sea Mica paint, along with a tan interior color scheme. The cabin was outfitted with the Luxury Package with options which included heated and cooled leather seats, driver aids like lane departure warning, and the Mark Levinson sound system.

One thing of note I always like to point out with Lexus is their infotainment system control puck which I have found to be one of the best in the business. Using it has a tactile feel and the menus in the screen for audio, navigation, and car controls are easy to learn.

The seats are comfortable and firm with good support for spirited driving. They balance well between grip and long term comfort, being well suited for long drives. Out tester had memory seat and mirror setting for the driver which is a major plus.

I really like the interior a good lot however it isn’t perfect. The infotainment screen still appears way to small for the hole it is displayed in. The genuine wood trim has a fake appearance. And noted on this drive is that the cup holders are located a bit too far rearward. The rear seat is a bit snug as well for legs and feet, but head room remains quite well for a car this size.

Under the hood is a 3.5 liter V6 with 306 horsepower, a hotter version of the same 3.5 liter V6 found in many other Toyota and Lexus products. With dual fuel injectors per cylinder, one direct and one port, the engine has a nice deep growl and a good deal of punch.

Mated to a standard 8-speed automatic transmission in the rear-wheel drive model, the powertrain makes a fun to drive ally in the war against the road. The gearbox shifts just right in both aggressive driving as well as comfortable cruising.

The chassis dynamics of the IS in my opinion rises to the same level of sharpness and poise as its competitors from Germany. I might even say it’s a more accurate and better feeling instrument. The electronic power steering is sublimely sharp and offers excellent feel.

The drive mode selector which ranges from ECO, Normal, and Sport does a good job of giving you genuinely different behavior through the steering feel as well as transmission shifting and throttle response. If you step up to the F-Sport package that knob also stiffens up the shock valving with a Sport + mode.

Braking for the IS is also pretty firm and fade averse with sizable 13” front and 12” rear disc brakes. EPA estimates are 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. We achieved 25.6 mpg combined in our week of testing.

The largest takeaway from the experience with the 2014 Lexus IS350 is that the Lexus brand has really I think attained full luxury status. This is to say that this generation of Lexus cars now genuinely has its own crafted feel, smell and detail DNA that have made Mercedes and BMW automobiles unique and special unto themselves. Lexus is no longer a copy or a knockoff of something else.

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