Lexus IS 250 F Sport is prettier than it is powerful
For Halloween this year, I'm going as a 2014 Lexus IS 250 F Sport AWD. The new sedan looks fast and powerful, but the sporty costume makes promises its drivetrain can't keep.
The all-wheel drive IS 250 F Sport that I tested had rakish styling and responsive handling, but its 2.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission trailed the power or fuel economy of competitors such as 2.0-liter turbocharged versions of the Audi A4, Cadillac ATS and BMW 328i.
Prices for the 2014 Lexus IS start at $35,950 for a rear-drive model with a 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V-6 engine. All-wheel-drive models with the 2.5L engine start at $38,485. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on all IS sedans. A 306-horsepower 3.5L V-6 powers the IS 350. Prices start at $39,465 for rear-drive and $41,700 for AWD. Lexus also sells a pair of two-door IS convertibles, the $42,610 IS 250 C and $46,890 IS 350. They use the platform that underpinned the smaller previous-generation IS sedan.
I tested an IS 250 AWD sedan with the attractive optional F Sport appearance package and features that included a sun roof, power seats, 10 air bags, navigation, voice recognition, and Internet functions for navigation, music, dining and more. It stickered at $43,245.
The IS sedan grew larger and more accommodating for 2014. Its wheelbase lengthened by 2.7 inches. Overall length grew 3.4. The results are a roomy front seat, functional rear seat and a 13.8 cubic-foot trunk that's among the largest in its segment.
The IS 250 AWD is priced in the mid-range of such comparable all-wheel drive sport sedans as the Audi A4, BMW 328i, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q 50, Mercedes C300 and Volvo S60.
The 250's power trails those competitors substantially. The IS 250 AWD that I drove on a long trip from Detroit to Minneapolis struggled to hold its own in the fast and heavy traffic around Chicago and the rolling countryside approaching the Mississippi. Its EPA fuel economy rating – 20 mpg in the city, 27 highway and 23 combined – trails the A4, ATS and 328i, all of which use smaller but more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The Lexus' fuel economy beat the six-cylinder Q 50, C300 and S60 by 1-2 mpg. The EPA estimates the 300-horsepower Volvo, however, will cost the same to fuel, thanks to its taste for less expensive regular gasoline.
The IS 250's handling is responsive. The car felt secure and balanced in fast curves and the brakes performed admirably. The steering provides good feedback and a secure on-center feel.
The optional F Sport seats proved comfortable and supportive on my long drive. Lexus uses a video game-style joystick to control some features, including navigation. It's OK, but takes the driver's eyes and attention off the road longer than I like.
Lexus' Enform Internet apps, which include music, dining and more, worked well with my iPhone 4S. The voice-recognition system works very well.
The 2014 IS has a handsome shape that's accentuated by the F Sport appearance package. In addition to interior upgrades, the F Sport provides LED headlights, 18-inch five-spoke wheels and a bold version of Lexus' attractive spindle-shaped grille.
The F Sport package looks like a million bucks – making it a steal at $2,675 – but I think Lexus erred in offering it on a car with mediocre performance. Lexus wants to establish its F badge – first seen on the seriously fast IS-F a couple of years ago – as a peer to BMW's M Sport and Mercedes' AMG performance brands. Slapping the badge and trim on the IS 250 undermines F Sport's credibility as legitimate performance gear.
It's a fine costume, though. A bit more trick than treat, but Halloween is coming.
2014 LEXUS IS 250 F SPORT AWD:
–Type of vehicle: All-wheel drive five-passenger sporty sedan
–Rating: Two out of four stars
–Engine: 2.5-liter DOHC VVT direct-injection 24-valve V-6
–Power: 204 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 185 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm
–Transmission: 6-speed automatic
–Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
–Length: 183.7 inches
–Width: 71.3 inches
–Height: 56.3 inches
–Curb weight: 3,649 pounds
–Reasons to buy: Looks, handling; trunk room.
–Shortcomings: Power; fuel economy.
–Base price: $35,950
–Price as tested: $43,245
All prices exclude destination charge.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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