2014 Lexus IS Long-Term Update 5: IS 350 F Sport
F Marks The Spot
We've now moved into the third portion of our unique three-model long-term test of the Lexus IS line, and we've saved the best for last. Batting cleanup (albeit third instead of fourth, as there is no fourth model) is the IS 350 F Sport.
Before we get into the numbers, I'll explain what the F Sport package is and isn't. This is not the new IS F. It's got the same 306-hp V-6 as the standard IS 350, making the same 277 lb-ft of torque. As this one is rear-wheel drive, it's paired with an eight-speed automatic rather than the all-wheel-drive car's six-speed auto. What the F Sport package does, performance-wise, is add a Sport S+ mode to the drive mode selector (in addition to regular old Sport), adaptive damping, and exclusive 18-inch wheels on Bridgestone Turanza summer touring tires. Cosmetically, the F Sport package does a lot more, adding a new front bumper, LED headlights, leather steering wheel, leather shift knob, heated leather seats, aluminum pedals, black headliner, and a very cool reconfigurable digital instrument cluster lifted from the LFA supercar. Not listed on the window sticker is a valve in the air intake that lets a nice growl of induction noise into the cabin when you're hard on the gas.
That's what F Sport is. Here's what it does: Our long-term F Sport needed 5.6 seconds to hit 60 mph and 14.0 seconds flat to run the quarter-mile, trapping at 99.8 mph. You'll note, though, that this is slower than the IS 350 AWD it replaced in the long-term fleet. That car, with its all-wheel-drive grip, got a much better launch and hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds on the way to a 13.9-second quarter mile at 99.4 mph. The rear-wheel-drive F Sport had some trouble putting the power down, something I think better tires would've helped, perhaps Potenzas instead of Turanzas.
Better tires might've put a little more daylight between the 350 AWD and the F Sport on the handling track as well. The F Sport recorded an average lateral acceleration of 0.86 g on the skidpad to the 350 AWD's 0.85. The F Sport was a bigger standout on our figure eight, where it put down a time of 26.1 seconds at 0.72 average g to the 350 AWD's 26.4 seconds at 0.69 average g. The F Sport also braked better, stopping from 60 mph in 111 feet to the 118-pound-heavier 350 AWD's 117 feet.
In objective terms, then, the $3620 F Sport package doesn't buy a ton of performance. The good news is that it feels like you're getting a lot more than the numbers say, and unless you drive around with a data logger all the time, that's what matters more. The throttle tuning is more aggressive in Comfort and Sport modes, and even more so in Sport S+. This makes the car feel quicker than it is as you don't have to push it as hard to access the performance. There's less body roll and the ride is firmer, all lending a sportier feel. The induction growl noted earlier also lends that impression, though I wish there were more to it. The valve doesn't open up until you're halfway up the tachometer and hard on the gas. Otherwise, you don't hear anything but moderate transmission whine. I wish it would open earlier, or stay open when you put it in Sport or Sport S+. Some exhaust note wouldn't hurt, either.
While the F Sport doesn't put down blistering numbers at the track, it's a very capable machine on a canyon road. I've been saying all along that the new IS has a fantastic chassis, and this one's the top of the heap. The car feels rock solid on the road and isn't upset at all by mid-corner bumps. The chassis is very neutral and those summer touring tires hang on plenty well at sane speeds without so much as a squeal. I know from the track testing that this rear-wheel-drive car can hang the tail out, but can also understeer when pushed too hard at corner exit, but neither trait presents itself when driving hard on the road. The steering still doesn't have much feel, but the variable ratio rack is quick and loads up naturally. It's easy to have a lot of confidence in this car's handling.
It's even easier to be confident in its braking. The brake pedal is firm and its travel linear, with a natural progression in braking the farther you get into it. Moreover, the brakes are impressively fade-resistant. Coming down a steep mountain pass, I worked the brakes hard at every corner for mile after mile and never felt them fade. They take the punishment without flinching, daring you to give them more.
If I could have one improvement, though, it would be more aggressive shift programming. Even in Sport S+, the transmission isn't what I would call aggressive with downshifts under braking. It will drop a gear or two, but that's not much in an eight-speed gearbox. The computer, probably for fuel economy reasons, likes to keep the car in higher gears and let the torque do the work. I would prefer it drop an extra gear or two and get the revs up high, where this engine's real power is. For my canyon driving, I went with the paddles, which responded almost instantly to my commands.
One thing I wouldn't touch is the LFA-derived digital instrument cluster. Standard, the bronze plastic bezel overlaying the screen sits in the center, framing the digital tachometer and flanked by other digital gauges, such as the fuel gauge and the water temperature gauge. Press a button on the steering wheel, though, and the bezel slides (somewhat noisily) to the right, the graphics of the tachometer sliding perfectly along the screen with it. This reveals a new screen on the left side of the display where you can run through menus including driving data, navigation instructions, radio/media information, and vehicle settings. The outer edge of the digital tachometer also shifts from a black background with white numbers to a white background with black numbers when you switch from Eco or Comfort modes to Sport or Sport S+. I'd love it if this black-and-white motif with spots of vibrant color (like the tachometer redline) were carried over to the navigation and entertainment screen. The blue-on-blue motif over there looks positively dull in comparison.
More on our long-term 2014 Lexus IS:
|Service life||4675 mi|
|Average fuel economy||22.1 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||0.88 lb/mi|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ||19/28/22 mpg|
|Energy consumption||152 kW-hr/100mi|
|2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$48,389|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.5L/306-hp/277-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3704 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||183.7 x 71.3 x 56.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.0 sec @ 99.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||111 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.1 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/28/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||177/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.87 lb/mile|