2014 Lexus IS 250 AWD F Sport

"Ooh, this looks fun!" my otherwise car-ignorant friend said as we walked up to the 2014 Lexus IS 250 F Sport. And yeah, it does look fun. In fact, despite my initial strong negative reaction to the design, I've really warmed up to this new IS, especially with the flashier F Sport package found on this test car (unique front fascia, 18-inch dark alloy wheels and appropriate badging). Even though that rear end still looks a bit Droopy Dog to me (stop frowning, Lexus), the IS is sharp, though I'm not entirely sure that such a bold design will age well.

"Looks can be deceiving," I told my friend, and we hit the road... slowly. You see, despite looking like a fresh, modern sport sedan, the IS 250 still uses what is, quite frankly, a dog of an engine. And that, combined with dynamics that are just so-so at best, makes for a sedan that's all show and no go. Say hello to Jennifer Slowpez.

Driving Notes
  • Lexus employs a 2.5-liter V6 here in the IS 250, good for 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. That means this all-wheel-drive version will sprint to 60 miles per hour in a leisurely 8.3 seconds.
  • To put that in perspective, the BMW 320i xDrive, which uses a 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four good for 180 hp and 184 lb-ft of twist, will run to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds – 1.2 seconds quicker than the Lexus you see here. And while the IS 250 AWD only returns fuel economy numbers of 20/27 miles per gallon (city/highway), the all-wheel-drive Bimmer is rated at 23/35 mpg.
  • Lexus is reportedly working on a small turbo-four engine, and it can't come soon enough, especially if the IS 250 wants to remain competitive in its segment. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi all offer modern, turbocharged engines here, and driving the Is 250 only shows how sorely this lump of a V6 needs to be swapped out.
  • When Senior Editor Seyth Miersma drove the more powerful IS 350 earlier this year, it didn't exactly wow him with its driver feedback, but he was far from unimpressed. The same sort of thing can be said here with the IS 250 F Sport – it's a solid car to drive, just super slow. The steering is just okay – nicely weighted, sure, but lacking a lot of the feedback you'd expect from a top-tier small sport sedan. What's more, the IS is first and foremost a Lexus, meaning the ride quality focuses on being more supple than sporty. And while the IS may be a relatively decent steer, it doesn't quite pull off the sport/luxury thing as nicely as the aforementioned BMW 3 Series or a Cadillac ATS.
  • Other parts of the IS 250 driving experience are also pretty milquetoast. The 2.5-liter V6 comes on with a sound that's more woosh than roar, especially at higher revs (which is where you need to play, considering the fact that the 204 hp and 185 lb-ft aren't delivered until 6,400 and 4,800 rpm, respectively). To its credit, brake feel is solid and linear.
  • Lexus fits its IS 250 with a six-speed automatic transmission, with steering-mounted paddle shifters that are best left alone. This gearbox is fine, and will hold gears up into the high end of the rev range (especially in Sport mode), but shifts aren't exactly quick. A more modern eight-speed unit (as on the IS 350) would be great here. One thing at a time.
  • Getting back to its appearance, that modern, edgy exterior design carries over to the interior, to what is easily my favorite Lexus cockpit in recent memory. The mix of red leather seats and black leather upholstery on the doors and dash does a lot to convey that "sport" message, as do the aluminum accents, high-tech-looking steering wheel, and the reconfigurable gauge cluster. Even the angled center stack is sort of cool, with its easy-to-use controls, though once again, Lexus' computer mouse-like controller for the infotainment system is sort of finicky to use. A proper touchscreen system would be a win here, but it wouldn't allow Lexus to house the large display screen so deep in the dash.
  • Interior refinement is, as you would expect, great – standard Lexus fare, really. The cabin remains quiet, even at highway speeds, and while some passengers complained about front seats that you sort of sink into, they're incredibly comfortable and supportive. There's a decent amount of room for rear seat passengers, though some taller adults did ding the Lexus for a lack of head- and toe-room, which is par for the class.
  • Pricing for the IS 250 is competitive, but not exactly a bargain. This AWD model starts at $38,485, and loaded up with all the F Sport trimmings, my test car rang in at $44,140, including $895 for destination. The 320i xDrive starts at $34,750, and a fully loaded example will set you back $46,275. That represents a price premium of $2,135, and it's one I can easily see paying up for. If you don't need all the trimmings, the 320 xDrive seems like a better deal to me, with a more modern powertrain and a substantial increase in fuel economy. Of course, I'll need some back-to-back time with the IS 350 to see if we I say the same thing about preferring it over a 328i or 335i – I suspect that race may be a lot closer.