It’s “mission accomplished” for the Lexus engineers who were charged with making the brand’s smallest four-door more fun to drive. The first fully reworked IS in eight years has a bolder look, a stiffer chassis, a better steering system, and “enough grip, grunt, and gravitas” to “quite possibly outshine its German adversaries.” Step into the “beautiful environment” of the new interior and “you feel as if you’ve donned a slim-fit suit”—and perhaps won’t care that you can no longer get an IS with a stick shift.
The most polarizing aspect of the 2014 will be the new exterior. If you’ve seen photos of the “slashed body-side” enlarged grille, you’ve “probably come down firmly” in either the Love It or Hate It camp. But in person, the change is less shocking—important for a car whose fun-to-drive score will matter less than “looks, comfort, content, price, and perceived prestige.” In those categories, the reliable IS will continue to rate high.
The base-model IS 250 “isn’t exactly a screamer,” but its tweaked V-6 remains “easily the smoothest base engine” among luxury compacts. Driving enthusiasts will opt instead for the IS 350, whose 3.5-liter V-6 can be paired to a “nicely tuned” new eight-speed transmission. Add the F Sport performance package and you really have something—perhaps “the most overtly sporting car” in its class.