So you're intrigued by the fully redesigned 2014 Lexus IS sport sedan, but you're wondering if it's really that much better than the old one. Hey, you're not alone. We were wondering the same thing when we hopped on a plane to San Francisco for a press preview of the new IS. Although the old model was a little long in the tooth, its engaging performance and crisply restrained styling made it a favorite among our staff. Now that we've driven the new one, let's run down the list and see how it stacks up.
Luxury sedans usually don't change that much on the outside when they're redesigned, but the 2014 IS is a striking departure from the norm. Compared to its understated predecessor, the new IS is the life of the party. First and foremost, it features Lexus's new corporate grille -- an edgy hourglass-shaped affair that announces the IS's presence with authority. We especially like it with the F Sport model's mesh grille overlay. This car will definitely get your attention when it comes up behind you on the highway.
The headlights are also eye-catching, from their standard Xenon high-intensity beams to their rakish LED accent strips. What's more, the high-performance F Sport package includes a unique headlight design with a single bulb instead of the base dual-bulb configuration. In back, the distinctive rocker panels sweep up through the rear wheel wells to a pair of angular, wraparound taillights.
Whatever you think of the IS's new stylistic direction, you can't accuse it of being a wallflower.
As for the old IS, well, we've still got a soft spot for its clean, dignified lines. The classic wedge-like profile will never look dated, and the proportions are spot-on -- with short overhangs and a taut, muscular stance. Some outgoing models immediately seem forgettable when the redesigned version shows up (we're looking at you, Chevrolet Impala), but we think the old Lexus IS will continue to make a visual impact going forward.
If you're looking for big news under the hood, you're going to be disappointed. Despite that glistening new sheet metal, the 2014 IS comes with essentially the same two engines that Lexus introduced for the previous IS back in 2006. The good news is that they're satisfying engines -- particularly the IS 350's 3.5-liter V6, which cranks out 306 horsepower with the aid of direct injection. The IS 250's 2.5-liter V6 is technically underpowered relative to the competition, managing just 204 hp. In real-world driving, however, the IS 250 can get out of its own way.
There is one notable performance upgrade, however: The rear-wheel-drive IS 350 now employs the same 8-speed automatic as the hyperfast IS F super-sedan. This transmission shifts with incredible speed and refinement, making passing and merging maneuvers a joy. There are also paddle shifters on the wheel that serve up passable rev-matched downshifts on demand.
Other than that, though, the old IS gives you the same powertrain options as the new one. Plus, if you want a manual transmission in your luxury sedan, the old IS 250 offers one; the new IS does not.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates were not yet available as of this writing, but given that both engines are carried over from last year, we don't expect the new 2014 IS to improve much on the outgoing model's fuel economy. The 2013 IS 350 was rated at 19 miles per gallon city/28 mpg hwy, while the 2013 IS 250 improved to 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy. With available all-wheel drive, those numbers drop by a few mpg.
We'd keep an eye on the rear-wheel-drive IS 350's fuel economy, though, as the extra speeds in its transmission could be beneficial.
If there's one category in which the new IS blows the old one away, it's interior design and functionality. Quite simply, the 2014 IS's cabin is a revelation, from its improved materials quality and sleek dashboard to its phenomenally comfortable and supportive front seats, which come standard on all models. Settling into the 2014 IS after a spin in the previous model, it's clear Lexus thoroughly modernized its compact sport sedan. The environment is at once more inviting, more intimate and decidedly more upscale.
Modernization can be a double-edged sword, however, and we sometimes found ourselves pining for the old IS's relative simplicity. In that car, you get a familiar layout of knobs and buttons on the dashboard. While the touchscreen navigation system isn't state-of-the-art anymore, it's not hard to use either. In the 2014 IS, conversely, you get a touch-sensitive control panel with small buttons that can be hard to use at speed. Furthermore, the new IS's Remote Touch interface, which replaces the old touchscreen, is like using a computer with a mouse -- a great idea if you're sitting at a desk, but perhaps not if you're hurtling down the road at 70 miles per hour.
Still, we suspect we'd acclimate to the new car's layout in time. Meanwhile, we'd definitely be glad we sprang for its superior luxury and comfort. Of course, there's also a slew of new high-tech features that the old car never offered, including extensive mobile-app compatibility, 3-D navigation maps, an advanced lane-departure warning system and a driving-mode knob that adjusts throttle response and such from Eco to Sport.
The new 2014 IS is also the clear winner in this category, rectifying one of the few real shortcomings of the previous model. Until now, riding in the back of a Lexus IS was akin to being stuffed into the back of a sport coupe: Legroom was minimal, and headroom wasn't exactly ample either. But in the redesigned 2014 IS, the back seat has been stretched significantly -- so much so, in fact, that a passenger who was 6-feet, 4-inches tall rode comfortably on an extended drive through the Bay Area. That never would have happened in a previous-generation IS.
The Bottom Line
To be honest, we were initially lukewarm on the new 2014 Lexus IS due to its carryover engines, but that was before we saw it in the flesh and put it through its paces. Lexus's compact sport sedan boasts major improvements for 2014, and we heartily recommend it as a top pick in this competitive segment. Don't sleep on the outgoing car, though. There will likely be some great deals on leftover new models and certified pre-owned ones as Lexus phases in the 2014 IS.