You’d be forgiven for mistaking Lexus’ press conference for a haute couture fashion show. Had you stepped into Cobo Hall’s Riverside Ballroom at 9:30 this morning, you’d have been privy to throbbing, ear-wrenching music; blinding stroboscopic lights; and a video that interposed oddly-dressed individuals (one wore chandelier eyelashes, while another was a spot-on replica of Transformer-era Lou Reed) with inspirational mantras typed in super-large font. Throngs of paparazzi lining the stage only helped complete the effect.
Alas, this isn’t Milan; it’s the motor city. We were gathered not to view garments but Lexus’ latest entry-luxury model: the 2014 IS sedan. We brought you the first images of the 2014 IS 350 F Sport last week, but for many – including myself – this was our first chance to view the new sport sedan in person.
Lexus vice president Mark Templin says IS buyers are some of the youngest in the segment, and as such, the automaker is laboring to inject more the dynamic design language seen in its concept cars into production vehicles. Clearly, the IS abides by those rules – as should be blatantly obvious, the 2014 IS is virtually identical to the LF-cc concept shown at last year’s Paris motor show. We wondered how that car’s design would be toned down for production, and the answer is barely. The spindle grille dominates the front fascia; the L-shaped LED DRLs are separate from the projector headlamps, the rocker panel curves upwards into a character line that intersects with the rear wheel arch, and the long tail lamps curve around the back corners of the car. Rear diffusers on F Sport models are a bit more flamboyant, as are their curvaceous rocker panels.
Lexus is keen to play up the LFA influence within the 2014 IS’ cockpit, but the cabin is better described as a mixture of GS and LFA cues – the latter perhaps best illustrated with the digital “chronometer” gauge cluster and the shape/ rake of the center stack. Speaking of which, Lexus seems to have learned from its rivals and avoided adopting a center stack riddled with clunky touch-sensitive controls. Only the temperature sliders are touch-sensitive; all other climate and audio controls on the stack are triggered through physical buttons. Materials in the two pre-production cars we sat in seemed quite upscale; there’s even a fair amount of legroom in the rear seat, although at 5’10”, I did wish for a bit more headroom.
The past two generations of IS have always been sold around the world, often under the Toyota name, but Lexus now says the IS range is key to expanding its own brand presence outside of North America. Need proof? After a white IS 350 F Sport sedan rolled on stage, a IS 300 h Hybrid – painted in a gorgeous shade of red – followed. The hybrid model pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle I-4 with Toyota/Lexus’ typical hybrid system, but don’t look for it in North America any time soon. This will only be sold in Europe and Asia, and Lexus expects the hybrid to consist of nearly 80% of all IS sales in Europe.
Templin implored the crowd to “wait until you drive it,” but in a way, we already have. Click here to read our first drive of an early 2014 IS 350 F Sport prototype.