Vehicles such as the LFA supercar (a car so intricate Lexus had to invent and patent a new way to build it) and GS sedan, which shakes off any preconceived notions about Lexus driving styles when you show it some corners, are reminders that Lexus can still build great cars.
There are no guarantees at this point if the 2014 Lexus IS, fresh off the floor at the Detroit auto show, will be a great car. But it takes all of thirty seconds to figure out that the IS cribs some serious ideas and hardware from Lexus’ premiere products in hopes of going from good to great.
The 2014 IS is powered by the same basic engines as before: a 2.5-liter V-6 engine for IS250 models, and a 3.5-liter V-6 for IS350 models. Lexus hasn’t yet released any power output numbers on the engines, but the current-generation 2.5-liter V-6 makes 204 hp and the 3.5-liter V-6 makes 306 hp. That power is sent through an automatic transmission to either the rear or all four wheels.
Lexus will lavish an extra bit of technology, however, on IS350 RWD models. Those cars send their power through Lexus’ eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission, previously only available on the IS F (it also does duty in the RX and GS). Lexus says that the IS350 RWD’s eight-speed benefits from something called G-force Artificial Intelligence, basically an accelerometer that uses cornering, braking, and acceleration force readings to choose the correct gear, reducing hunting during enthusiastic driving in automatic/sport mode. As always, the eight-speed auto will offer a manual-shift mode with downshift throttle blipping and a full lock-up torque converter.
But the borrowing doesn’t stop there. The front grille — like all new Lexuses — is of the “spindle grille” variety, an oversized, hourglass-shaped mesh insert lined with chrome trim and festooned with the large Lexus L logo. But unlike other Lexuses with flatter interpretations of the spindle grille (like the RX), the grille curves outward, and the L badge is slightly inset. Flanking the grille are two opposing L-shaped sets of LED running lights and a completely separate headlight housings that ape the LF-LC, Lexus’ showstopper Detroit 2012 concept. The rear taillights have opposing L-shaped LEDs inside, like the GS, but the headlight housing stretches far into the rear quarter panel, an interesting and unusual touch.
On the inside, the interior looks like a trimmed-down vision of the LFA’s, with the GPS screen stacked on top of the protruding HVAC vents, which sit atop a center stack steeply angled into the cabin. Behind the steering wheel (on F Sport models) is a gauge cluster reminiscent of the LFA, comprised of a large digital display and a metal ring that sits front and center or moves to the right to accommodate on-screen menus for audio, trip computers, and other settings/information.
Lexus engineers were clearly proud of their accomplishments with the GS sedan, because there’s plenty of GS DNA sprinkled throughout the car. Taillights aside, the IS benefits from a new electric power steering rack based on the GS sedan, which promises smoother, more accurate, more communicative steering. While the last generation IS’ double-wishbone front suspension carries over to the new car with some modifications, the rear multi-link suspension setup is new to the IS and pulled from — you guessed it — the GS. The result, wrote Michael Jordan after driving an IS350 development mule, is that the IS350 is “the kind of car that you could steer with your fingertips. There’s enough body roll to let you know what the F Sport is doing, yet the car is always poised on top of its tires. A quick flick of the steering wheel also instantly gives you more bite from the front tires, so you get a second chance down there at the apex if you need it.”
Like the GS and RX, the IS will have an available F Sport package when it bows later this year, optional on all engines and drive layouts. The F Sport package includes some of the aforementioned visual tweaks (a bolder spindle grille and changes to front and rear lower fascias), as well as different interior trim pieces and the LFA-esque gauge cluster, and 18-inch wheels that crib their look from the LFA. But it also includes special tuning for the electric power steering (variable-ratio steering is available), as well as the suspension, which receives benefit from model-exclusive tuning and changes to the on-board variable suspension/drive setting selector (which operates in Eco, Normal, Sport modes on 250 models; 350 models add a Sport+ option).
Elsewhere around the car, improvements continue at a steady space. The 2014 IS rides a platform with a three inch longer wheelbase than the previous model, which pays dividends in both rear-seat room and trunk space. To keep driver and passengers safe, the IS has available automatic high beams, lane departure alert, and a blind-spot monitor with back-up cross-traffic alert.
The IS will reach Lexus showrooms some time this summer; pricing hasn’t yet been announced.