2014 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT Review – Impressive Performance

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Last week, I got my hands on a 2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport to review. While I had recently driven the IS 250, the performance differences between the 250 and the 350 F-SPORT are remarkable. Here is my “truck guy” review.

204 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT Review - Exterior

This sedan is ready to be driven fast, really FAST!

The Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT has been getting lots of acclaim lately from some notable outlets like Car and Driver and MotorTrend. It is easy to see why those publications, that spend a lot of time on the track, would LOVE this car. While I didn’t get track time with it, the performance on a simple street is impressive enough. Driving it on a track? No doubt it would put a smile on your face.

For the record, I received a 2014 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT AWD with a 3.5L V-6, 6-speed transmission with four driving modes: ECO, Normal, Sport and Sport +. It also comes with an Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) with electronically adjustable shock absorbers. It is rated at 19/26/21, city/highway/combined. And the sticker price is $49,600.

204 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT Review - Logo

This little emblem means a LOT when it comes to Lexus IS sedans.

Before I get to my review, you might be wondering what the differences between the 250 and 350 are. On the exterior, there really aren’t any with both cars being the same length with identical design features. The inside is also mostly the same. The difference then? Under the hood and in the suspension. The 350 has a 3.5L V-6 while the 250 has the 2.5L V-6. Also, the AVS suspension is only for the 350 F-SPORT. In short, the 350 is faster (5.6 0-60 vs. 7.7 0-60) and handles better. This is why most “track” outlets love the 350 and dismiss the 250.

Exterior/Interior

With the thought that the 250 and 350 are identical, let’s quickly get through the exterior/interior review. The exterior on these cars reminds me of other luxury cars (see: BMW) and  definitely has a sleek look. The only comment I have  overall, is how the front license plate requirement in Colorado kills the design on the grille. In fact, that was the first thing I noticed – the obnoxious license plate.

The F-SPORT has upgraded 18′ F SPORT split 5-spoke wheels that are nice and help identify it as a fast, luxurious car.

204 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT Review - Interior

What else can you say about a Lexus interior? Superior fit and finish, premium quality leather, well laid out, etc… Notice the metal pedals, a feature of F-SPORT models.

The interior is as amazing as you would expect from a Lexus. While, I really like 90% of it, I really only have two knocks on it and they are important knocks.

One is the sport seats in the 350 F-SPORT caused me pain to sit in for an extended period. They are the shaped racer seats and if your hips allow it, they are great. Mine sat right on the edges and the hard plastic/metal that forms the seats caused me pain.

Second, is the entry/exit of the vehicle. The 250 had a powered seat memory function where the seat and wheel would move forward/reverse when the car started and turned off. This 350 didn’t have it, so I was forced to reverse the seats each time I got out in order to set it up for me to get back in. Lexus offers the powered seat memory feature in a Luxury/Technology package for $3,675. For guys like me, it is a must.

204 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT Review - Seats

This photo shows the curvature of the seat. If you fit within it, no problems. If your hips are wider, there is hard plastic or metal under the raised sections which will cause discomfort.

Driving Impressions

While the interior/exterior may be similar to the 250, the driving experience is vastly different. I had thought the 250 was plenty of car and now, I can see how much better the 350 is. The large engine, more speeds in the tranny and AVS suspension can put you back in your seat while providing plenty of control. That back in your seat feeling is, of course, really evident in the Sport driving mode. I had a lot of fun running the same length of road in Normal, ECO and Sport. There are several cars that, I feel, provide little differences. Not the case in the 350 F-SPORT. It is very evident what mode you are in.

204 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT Review - Speedometer Modes

Here are the tachometer differences when selecting different driving modes. Notice the Sport puts a white bar around the speedometer and it really feels more like an aircraft than a car. It is a pretty cool feature.

A cool feature with the Sport mode is the change in the tachometer. As the picture above shows, it is clear which mode you are in.

With power to go really fast, how about the cornering. Exceptional, as you would expect. You can dive deeper in the corners than in the 250. It is clear that the AVS suspension works hard to give you a great performance driving experience. I never felt out of control and with the impressive power output, the car felt more solid as it went faster.

204 Lexus IS 350 F-SPORT Review - Driving Modes

In a twist of “weather” fate, there wasn’t much snow to test out the snow feature during my week of driving.

What is that “plus” for next to the Sport mode? Lexus says that the “rear-wheel drive IS 350 F SPORT’s Sport S+ mode also tightens the suspension and increases the steering response in VGRS-equipped models. In both modes, the transmission’s shift points are automatically altered coming into and out of corners for sharper acceleration.” Note: this feature must also be in the AWD model.

With the exceptional 0-60 speed, it is easy to drive this car a bit on the fast side. I less than a half mile, I was able to quickly “break the law” shall we say.

The road noise is somewhat noticeable and while it does ride fairly well, I wasn’t overly impressed with how it handled bumps. I believe the AVS has much more to do with track performance than managing pot holes. Personally, I wasn’t blown away with how it rode like other Lexus models.

Ultimately, this is a car for a guy who likes going really fast while enjoying a luxurious interior. As an everyday driver, I’m not sure it would be the best choice. Yet, that isn’t the point of this car is it. It is really for those moments when you want to push it and drive around with a big smile on your face.

What do you think? Any interest in the 350 F-SPORT?

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  1. mk says:

    is it really that much faster than the 3.5L V6 5 speed in the former RAV4? I bet it is the same engine basically but adding 3 more speeds is all. I have a 3.5L V6 hyundai santa fe sport and that SUV is just as quick and smoother shifting 6 speed tranny vs. the rav4 and is pretty darn quick as well, very deceptive speed for sure.

    Rear wheel drive in snow would suck I bet vs. any FWD vehicle as well. I for sure wouldn’t be impressed at 2x the price of my santa fe.

    I’m 110% with you though on the seats on the sides riding too high and too skinny and too firm and cuts into your legs and is very uncomfy. My neighbor bought a new 2014 mazda cx-5 smaller suv and the seats are just like that which suck. Made for someone under say 170lbs. is all and after 2-3 miles of sitting in them, my butt and legs were in severe pain. For that ONE reason, I’d never buy the mazda cx-5 suv.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      MK,

      It is really that much faster. I think it has to do with the tuning of the F-SPORT model and the larger engine. Essentially, it is the same size vehicle with a larger engine and better tuning.

      Good to hear I am not the only one who isn’t liking those seats. Yuck! I don’t get why they are made that way, but they are not for me.

      -Tim

  2. Mike T says:

    I’ve always been a fan of high-revving engines that make power up at the top of the rev range, and that’s the case with this 3.5-liter V6 with peak power coming at 6,400 rpm. When combined with the six-speed automatic gearbox, the drivetrain is smooth.

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