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Sporty Sedan

The all-new 2014 Lexus IS races back to relevance.

By the Numbers
Sticker  •  $39,465 (base MSRP)
Under the Hood  •  3.5-liter V6
Curb Weight  •  3,593 lbs.
Horsepower  •  306 hp
Torque  •  277 lb-ft.
0-to-60  •  5.6 seconds
Etc.  •  1.6 inches
(Increase in rear legroom
over previous model)

Dept. of the Interior
Adjust the cabin climate with a
fingertip swipe across sleek
electrostatic touch-based
temperature controls.

Darn cup holders!

That was a common refrain during my week with the 2014 Lexus IS 350. My beef wasn’t with said drink receptacles’ lack of depth or breadth, but rather their placement: smack in the middle of the center console armrest – perfect for constant collisions with my wandering right elbow.

However, “darn cup holders” is perhaps the worst thing I can say about the all-new Lexus IS, which proved to be a very competent and even enjoyable sports sedan. That shouldn’t come as a total shock. Toyota’s luxury division hasn’t turned out too many outright stinkers in its day. Plus, its lineage is solid: the original Lexus IS 300, with its boy racer-inspired design is practically a modern icon. However, for the past decade, the IS has been a thoroughly bland also-ran alongside more exciting, athletic and refined offerings like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

That has changed thanks to revamped styling inside and out, as well as performance and handling upgrades that have elevated the IS to a position of relevance. From the brand’s imposing new grille, the assertive styling cues continue with a creased character line that sweeps up dramatically from the doorsills to the angular taillights, themselves slicing out from the integrated trunk lid spoiler. In contrast to the agro exterior styling, the IS’s cabin is quite posh. Generous padding, buttery soft leather and elegant wood accents create a milieu suggestive of a far pricier vehicle. The infotainment system is intuitive; however the small, computer mouse-inspired controller is disappointingly wobbly.

The new IS also rides on a more rigid frame. This, in conjunction with wonderfully precise and communicative steering feel, allows the IS 350 to get quite spirited – if not downright sporty – when pushed a bit. The eight-speed automatic transmission is spot-on and transparent, delivering well-timed shifts in Normal, Sport and Eco driving modes. I could go on, but here’s the bottom line: When “Darn cup holders!” is the worst you can say about a car, it’s probably pretty darn good.

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