It IS What It IS: 2014 Lexus IS350 AWD Is Ate Up with Motor, Yet Plays It Cool

Sections: Car Safety, Chassis, Powertrain

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2014 Lexus IS350 AWD Photo Shoot 011

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

We finally got behind the wheel of the new-for-2014 Lexus IS350. It was my first time driving any IS, and my first impression was that it’s ate up with motor.

Bear in mind the IS350’s 3.5-liter 24-valve dual-overhead cam V6 is the same one found in the larger GS350, which impressed me in F-SPORT trim earlier this year. In either application, the engine makes 306 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 277 ft-lbs of torque at 4,800 RPM. Take the IS350’s smaller size and weight into account, then add the all-wheel drive grip of our test car, and you can see how this little Lexus sport sedan can get fun in a hurry.

Okay, so the size and weight really aren’t all that different. The Lexus spec page for the IS350 AWD lists the car at 183.7 inches long, 71.3 inches wide, and 56.3 inches tall, with a 110.2-inch wheelbase. The spec sheet for the GS350 says the car is seven inches longer (190.7), 1.1 inches wider (72.4), and 1.6 inches taller (57.9), with a wheelbase that is only two inches longer. Not huge differences, by any measure. The cars’ curb weights: 3,737 lbs for our IS350 AWD and 3,795 lbs for the rear-wheel drive GS350 F-SPORT we tested earlier this year.

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There’s not much room in that engine bay because the 2014 Lexus IS350 is ate up with motor. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Had we been comparing the IS350 F-SPORT to the GS350 F-SPORT, we would see slightly more difference in curb weight. The IS350 in rear-wheel drive F-SPORT trim tips the scales at 3,593 lbs, 202 lbs lighter than the similarly trimmed GS.

So the all-wheel drive system in our IS350 would appear to be responsible, largely, for the car’s near-parity in curb weights with its bigger sister, at least when that bigger sister is equipped with rear-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive (the latter is available on the GS, too). Perhaps it’s also responsible for making the car feel slightly quicker than the GS350 F-SPORT we tested earlier this year, despite the near-parity in weight.

Officially, according to Lexus specs on the performance of the IS and the GS, both cars accelerate from 0 to 60 MPH in 5.7 seconds and have the same turning circle when the GS is equipped with the Lexus Dynamic Handling option, at 35.4 feet. But flick the IS350 AWD into a turn, and its grip is tenacious, allowing for impressive cornering speeds. I never could get the car loose on the backroads like I could the GS350 F-SPORT. Turning only the rear wheels, the GS I tested would break traction for the faintest of moments if I got on the throttle too hard or too fast coming out of sharp bends. No matter how hard I tried, within the same limits of sanity on the same public roads and streets, I couldn’t get the all-wheel drive IS350 to do that.

Credit for that goes not only to the front wheels helping pull me through the bends, but also to an excellent stability control system. Like the GS, the IS has Toyota’s Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management suite of chassis control measures. Lexus says it acquires data from a host of sensors strategically placed throughout the car, including such info as wheel rotation, brake pressure, and movement of the car’s body.

“Thus informed, VDIM will apply various stability and safety systems – such as Anti-Lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Traction Control (TRC), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), and Electric Power Steering (EPS) – to varying degrees. This achieves an optimum that could not be found if each application worked independently,” the Lexus glossary says.

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(Lyndon Johnson photo)

VDIM’s smoothness is attributed to how it comes in earlier than most similar — and separately controlled — systems. Where other systems tend to come on suddenly at the very threshold of a vehicle’s limits, VDIM activates its various stability control measures earlier, ensuring a smoother, less-noticeable intervention. Its electronic brake distribution helps keep the car stable when the maximum braking is summoned — a system I wish the Nissan Juke NISMO I tested had used to better effect, as I was able to get its rear end squirrelly under hard braking more than once.

Much like the GS350 F-SPORT, the IS350 seemed to want to be driven at extralegal speeds. I had to keep a close eye on the speedometer on my commute, where the posted limit is 45 MPH and I frequently found myself running in the 60-to-70 MPH range. The car is as quiet and well-composed as all the other Lexus models we’ve tested at those speeds, even on curvy, not-so-smooth highways. Good thing its brakes are also as touchy-feely as every other Lexus we’ve tested (excepting perhaps the RX350 F-SPORT), for they made it a cinch to slow down the IS350 whenever I glanced down and discovered I was making like Judas Priest and Breaking the Law.

Thankfully, that tendency and the car’s ability to laugh at those suggested cornering speeds found on road signs warning of sharp curves ahead weren’t the only entertaining things about driving an IS350 AWD for a week. It had a nice infotainment system with a different control interface than previous Lexus models we’ve tested, and I think I liked it slightly better for that. More about that in a later installment.

Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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