I didn’t get to drive the 2014 Lexus IS 250 on the Nürburgring, where some of its development took place. Nope. That would have been cool though. I did, however, get to twist the IS 250’s driving mode dial to Sport, find some Rocky Mountain twisties and give the adaptive suspension and eight-speed automatic transmission a go. Oh, and I also got to swim through the IS 250’s transmission thanks to its responsive paddle shifters and automatic rev-matching on downshifts, the car remained silky smooth and grounded even as sun, turned to rain, turned to snow.
Lexus has put a real emphasis on sport, creating an enjoyable driving experience by moving away from the Champagne colored boats it once sold. You can feel the change from the tires up, through the chassis, in the 2.5-liter V6.
Exterior improvements to the IS 250 catch your attention immediately. The spindle grille is the most obvious signature Lexus feature. It’s bold, and overall I find it handsome. Although a friend told me it looks like the predator, and I can’t get that image out of my head. I do have to say that I much prefer the F Sport’s full-frame version of this grille which is filled with cascading black mesh, over the horizontal slats of the non F. Separate from the headlamp clusters a set of Nike-swoosh like LED running lights look awesome and menacing. Hands-down though, my favorite line on the car is the one that runs from the side skirts, slices through the rear wheel and terminates in the sweeping taillights. Just flat out sexy. Again, the F Sport just looks better in the profile, the base rims look a bit anemic.
I have few qualms about the interior of this car. The layout is comfortable and convenient. Window controls, the center console, the Lexus clicky mouse thing and HVAC controls are all easy to reach and intuitive. The two-tone trim adds a lot of depth to the interior look to the mostly black interior. The steering wheel and seat provide a great cockpit for both rocketing the car through turns as well as staying comfortable during the daily commute. It’s a careful balance of sport and comfort, but Lexus nailed it.
The fancy-pants new electrostatic switches for controlling cabin temperature are insanely confusing at first. Two vertical pieces of exposed metal? What’s that do? Followed by frantic touching, lots of beeping and a cabin headed on it’s way toward 85 degrees and 60 degrees simultaneously. These things are a touch-sensitive triumph and after a few seconds with them I didn’t want to see them go. Though, I never really looked at them at all after my initial contact because they were so intuitive and easy to use on the go.
The IS has finally been outfitted with a 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks. In addition to that new utility, a more compact multi-link rear suspension has yielded greater trunk room. An additional 1.6-inch increase in rear legroom means a full-size human can ride along in the back seat. I wouldn’t recommend it for long hauls though.
The IS, like most of its brethren, now pours on the technology with apps and other goodies, including an industry-first: subscription-free traffic and weather information with the HD Radio service on all audio systems. Via a center mounted dial you can select from three driving modes; Eco (boring), Normal, and Sport. There’s also a handy traction control button and in the AWD version a Snow mode. The instrument panel is highly configurable, easy to navigate and happily displays navigation, media or phone menus.
The IS sticks with two holdover engines. That’s not really a bad thing though, they’re smooth, economical and return decent performance. The 2.5-liter V-6 gets 30 mpg on the highway which is a win, and the 3.5-liter V-6 will get the car from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds a bigger win.
As to whether a manual transmission is offered, the answer is no. Apparently, no one actually buys a standard anymore, so Lexus won’t build one. Sad.
Thanks to the many improvements to this third-generation IS it’s a car perfectly capable of cruising around town or over mountains roads in perfect comity. You’ve got luxury appointments, technology galore, a comfortable ride and a set of paddle shifters for when you want to take the long way home.