2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport review: It grows, but remains the same

2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

When we first drove the 2014 Lexus IS, we noticed the size increase even without a tape measure. It’s surprising how much such a little added wheelbase—what’s four inches among friends—results in a much larger car.

In fact, calling the Lexus IS a compact luxury car is somewhat misleading. Not that it isn’t a luxury car. It certainly is, and even more so than its predecessor. But the compact status is under review. We’ll let the 110-inch wheelbase and the added room in the back seat speak for themselves. The Lexus IS is guilty of segment creep, getting larger to make it more palatable to a larger group of customers.

The new Lexus IS is offered in IS 250 and IS 350 formats, as we’ve noted before, and for 2015 varies from 2014 in LED foglights and making the fifth and sixth gear ratios in the six-speed transmission for the all-wheel drive version the same as the rear-wheel drive version. For the IS 350, with the 3.5-liter V-6 instead of the 2.5-liter, there’s a new color. The 2015 Lexus IS can now have Atomic Silver, which happens to be the shade used on out test 2015 Lexus IS 350 RWD F Sport.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport interior

A lot goes on stylistically in the 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport. (click ot enlarge)

The week we spent with the model with local and highway driving revealed a different set of experiences than our track drive (although for our Texan take on IS versus GS, see Dave Bolt’s comparison review).

The biggest difference between the 2013 and 2014 Lexus IS is that 2014 IS a different car, more so than the first drive on a race track would reveal. There’s more elbow room, and the back seat is usable by adults for more than short desperation jaunts. Now it’s less of a sport compact for adults who wouldn’t be seen in a hot-rodded Honda, and more of a grand tourer, and that in the European sense, particularly the 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport test vehicle.

The IS makes up for the change with dramatic—some would say outrageous—styling, though you either like the Lexus “thimble” grille or you don’t. For the grille, the F Sport grille is more aggressive than that of the non-F Sport. The mesh pattern, however, is mostly sham, blocked off for aerodynamics. If the grille were totally open the IS would be pushing a parachute through the air: where design meets aerodynamics.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport passenger side interior

The front seats of the 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport are well bolstered. (click to enlarge)

Incidentally, that big sexy grille, for those who like it to begin with, is ruined by those states—especially in Lexus’ major markets on the west coast and Northeast—that require front license plates. It’s like wearing a mugshot number as huge piece of neck art. So much for the designers best plans.

The lower part of the huge grille is flanked by two scoops on either side. The inner slots appear to be functional, but who knows where they lead. The outer dark look-like-scoops are dummies. The not only lead to nowhere, they start there as well. They’re functionally cosmetic. Suggestion to Lexus: Make BMW-like air curtains out of them to smooth airflow over the wheels.

The reminder of the Lexus IS styling is relatively sedate, although with that grille, how could it be otherwise? A distinct element, however, is the character line that curves up from the rocker panel and across the rear wheel well to a cutline between the rear fender and bumper cover, making a design element out of what’s usually an ugly necessity. Well done, Lexus.

If the exterior designers went overboard with the front of the outside, the interior guys and gals met them 50/50 with the dash. It has more features than your local multiplex cinema. Fortunately, most of them are good and they blend well together, but consider: A short dash top reaches across the topping another layer that ends with a rounded edge, into which dash vents are incorporated. Between these two the designers have carved a rectangular recess for the multi-information display. Audio buttons and CD slot are on a flat panels on the center stack. The instrument panel has a hood all its own. Check the pictures.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F Spor

The navigation display in the 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport displaying an upcoming maneuver. (click to enlarge)

Then there’s the center console with shift lever and then two rectangular shapes. The one on the right, which extends further forward, has a cushion-topped joystick which moves a cursor on the MID. It will be familiar to Lexus owners, but for novices, a haptic element makes it feel like the cursor is being pulled into a pit at each on-screen icon. Some people do like it. Obviously Lexus folks did when they invented it. Other people don’t, claiming it shouldn’t be used in traffic or on a bumpy road, but neither should a touch screen or a conventional dashboard button.

The dashboard designers must be really proud of their creation with the most inventive instrument panel since the 1960-62 Chrysler Astrodome. The i.p. in our test2015 Lexus has a large tachometer in the center with a virtual needle on a color LCD screen that has a digital speedometer. There’s no dial for the speedo. What gear and other data displayed in the center. That’s flanked by vertical virtual engine temperature and fuel level gauges on either side.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport (click to enlarge)

Change the drive mode to Sport—the F Sport has variable suspension damping, throttle response and steering effort—and the entire tachometer, the physical screen on which the LCD needle and calibrations is displayed, slides to the right to expose additional LCD screen to show additional data, such as fuel consumption. It’s a nifty parlor trick, but making the entire gauge package a video representation could have done the same thing without the possibility of the mechanism not working properly. Which about the third or fourth owner likely won’t.