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2014 Lexus IS: Better performance and style

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Lexus IS

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Lexus has given the IS sedan a bit of a refresh for the 2014 model year, with changes including a spindle grille on the exterior and a more spacious interior.

On the outside, the IS has a sinewy shape that has not been hindered by the three-inch wheelbase gain it has taken on. The spindle grille, popular on other recent Lexus models, also adds some flair.

On the inside, the most welcome change will be felt by rear seat passengers, who gain some leg room. Up front, the dash has been reordered to a more vertical shape.

The IS comes as a rear- or all-wheel-drive vehicle, with the test model being the latter. That proved to be quite timely, as Georgia was hit with a rare snow storm in the week in which we had the IS. But the all-wheel-drive system, which features a snow button for just such occasions, functioned beautifully.

Georgia public officials' response to the storm? Not so beautiful. But that's a whole other story.

The IS is powered by either a 2.5-liter V-6 engine in the IS 250 or a 3.5-liter V-6 in the IS 350. The former makes 204 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque, and the 350 makes 306 ponies and 277 pounds-feet.

The 350 with rear-wheel-drive has an eight-speed automatic transmission, just like the performance model IS F, but all other IS models take a six-speed automatic.

Lexus has included a Drive Mode Select system featuring normal, Eco and Sport modes, with the IS 350 also offering Sport+, letting drivers shift their emphasis between better fuel economy or sportier driving. Lexus also says its G-force Artificial Intelligence, or G-AI system, adapts the downshifts of the transmission according to G force, holding steady in gear as you take a tight corner.

This is part of a strategy to make the IS more competitive with other luxury sedans when it comes to driving dynamics. That strategy includes an enhanced double-wishbone front suspension and a rear suspension with a multilink format that is found on the larger GS sedan. If you opt for the F Sport model of the IS, there are even more tuning treats on the suspension and steering to bolster performance.

This edition of the IS handles better than it ever has, and while it still might fall a bit short of its German rivals in this area, it is superior to those rivals in other ways, such as predicted reliability, to make it clearly a winning choice.

The IS starts at just under $40,000 and ranges close to $50,000.

For a stylish, sporty luxury sedan, the IS is a great pick.

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