2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport first track drive review: Size matters, and no, it doesn’t

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

They say that size matters. Lexus thinks so, at least for the Lexus IS. The new next-generation Lexus IS has grown; its wheelbase is almost three inches longer, and that’s a bunch, and it’s 3.4 inches longer overall.

The main benefactor is rear legroom, and considering the tight confines of the previous generation, it was needed, if indeed rear seat passengers are a significant consideration. In earlier generations, the rear seat was for occasional use, and if the four-door Lexus IS wasn’t a coupe, well, we knew where its priorities were: sport first, sedan second.

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

The 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport interior is all serious…and all black. (click to enlarge)

So that’s why Lexus took us to Rockingham Speedway for a chance to flog the assorted versions of the new IS around an infield road course. Best laid plans and all that, the day we were scheduled to drive the cars, it rained and rained hard, though finally clearing and the track drying sufficiently for us to put the hammer down, even if with fair trepidation in the twisty bits. It’s best to not to be That Guy.

The particular road course layout—The Rock has several options—we drove included a fast exit from the pits with a hook to the left, assorted curves, an infield straight, and a blast on the inclined back straight of the legendary track, not necessarily in that order. The cars ranged from an IS 250 with all-wheel drive to an IS 350 F. Guess which one we liked best.

As its name suggests, the Lexus IS 250 is powered by a 2.5-iter engine that’s rated at 204 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Standard in the IS 250 is a six-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission with rev matching in Sport mode.

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport front seats

The 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport front sport buckets have sufficient lateral support for track driving. (click to enlarge)

The Lexus IS pumped up is the 350, the IS 350 powered by, not surprising again from the model’s name, a 3.5-liter engine. A carry-over from the last generation, the 3.5-liter V-6 has the Toyota group’s D4-S technology that combines direct injection with port injection. Output is rated at 304 horsepower and torque, peaking at 4700 rpm, of 277 lb-ft.

Lexus says it’s good enough for the IS 350 will do 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds and turn the quarter in a mere 13.8 seconds.

New for the 2014 IS 350 is the eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic as used in the V-8-powered Lexus IS F. The transmission has paddle shifters which can be used to shift the transmission manually, or left to shift by itself with the S mode set, activates what Lexus calls, G-force Artificial Intelligence system, or G- AI. It interprets assorted g forces and other elements to determine the proper ratio for the matter at hand.

Both IS 250 and IS 350 are available with all-wheel drive. The extra-grip system automatically varies torque balance front to rear from 50:50 to 30:70. When the track was still quite wet, we went out in an all-wheel drive equipped IS 250 and were impressed by the sport sedan’s stability in the wet and its unwillingness to pull when skating through puddles deep enough that the tires surely said good bye to you, pavement, I’m hydroplaning.

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport primary instrument cluster

The instrument cluster in the 22014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport is a representation of the real thing, displayed on a TFT LCD screen. (click to enlarge)

The aforementioned Sport mode is part of a new Drive Mode Select system. The IS 250 and IS 350 have three modes, Eco, Normal and Sport, while the performance-oriented F Sport (available on both IS 250 and IS 350), has Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. All-wheel drive models can handle the slippery stuff better with a Snow mode.

The F Sport package is available on both IS 250 and IS 350, and is immediately recognizable.. Both standard and F Sport have the most aggressive version of the Lexus “hourglass” grille design, but where standard IS models have a smooth bar transecting the grill, the F Sport models are honeycomb top to bottom. However, most of even the F Sports grille, despite the honeycomb, is blocked off for aerodynamics. Yes, the giant grille is mostly for looks.