Much like the larger GS sedan that we recently spied, Lexus is apparently working on a substantial overhaul for its smaller rear-drive IS, as well.
Though still in early test mule stages, the next IS is expected to ride on a shorter version of the GS platform, which could give it a slightly wider stance than the car currently on the road. Expect the usual sedan and convertible variants to be on hand, as well as a forthcoming IS coupe set to battle the BMW 3 Series and upcoming Mercedes-Benz C-class two-door.
The reworked IS sedan will likely bow sometime in 2012 and the coupe is pegged to arrive shortly thereafter with the usual V6 powertrains as well as an eventual high-performance F variant in at least one bodystyle. The only question we have is, will a force-fed four powerplant also join the party?
Work has started on a new 4-door sedan based on the FT-86 platform.
Although it’s nearly a half decade away, we are hearing reports that the next-generation IS sedan will make its debut sometime in 2013. The reason, according to our sources, is that work has started on a new 4-door sedan based on the FT-86 platform. For those who are not familiar with the FT-86, it’s the concept car that made news at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show. As the spiritual successor to the old Levin AE-86, a car we called the Corolla coupe, the rear-wheel-drive FT-86 will make its debut in June 2012.
As for the Lexus IS, this car will be built atop a stretched version of the FT-86 chassis. Toyota boss Akio Toyoda is keen on spicing up Toyota’s image into one with a more powerful emphasis on sport, so we hear the next IS will look and perform sportier than the current model.
While the FT-86 sports car will be powered by Subaru’s EJ20 engine (2.0-liter flat-4), the IS will be powered by a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder and/or a 3.6-liter flat-6. The 2014 Lexus IS F will continue with a high-powered V-8 that’ll make the luxury sedan a presence on the racetrack.
Last edited by Motor; 01-07-2014 at 12:45 PM..
Reason: dead images
Japan*ese mag*a*zine Best Car is report*ing the next-generation Lexus IS will be com*ing this Sep*tem*ber, and will be avail*able as a V6 hybrid capa*ble of 58 MPG (4l/100kms) — here’s their pho*to*chop attempt at the third gen*er*a*tion IS.
Our source for Japanese magazine rumors, has come through again with these Best Car renderings of four possible next-generation IS variants.
With the exception of the IS wagon (which is just hideous), these photochops have some mixture of good and bad elements, with the bad mostly winning out — every single rendering has an awkward C-pillar and an oddly exaggerated front face. That said, I do think the new spindle grille will fit the IS range well, and I look forward to seeing something a little closer to the real thing than these mockups.
Even the included spec sheet has its share of ugly.
Take it with a grain of salt.
Last edited by Motor; 07-04-2012 at 10:19 AM..
Reason: dead images
The next Lexus IS has been spotted testing ahead of its debut early next year
Our spies have spotted the next generation Lexus IS testing. The new BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class rival has been seen with a modified version of the current car’s body. This version has been in showrooms since 2005, so is substantially older then its competitors.
Lexus has confirmed that the next IS will look more like a shrunken version of the new GS, which goes on sale in June. Styling wise, that means the new IS will wear the new corporate grille that’s appeared across the entire Lexus range, and will have more angular styling to match.
Optional F Sport packages will also continue to be available, while it’s also likely that the next IS will have adaptive suspension, like its GS stablemate and German rivals, as well as the Dynamic Handling System that includes rear-wheel steering.
Last edited by Motor; 01-07-2014 at 12:46 PM..
Reason: dead images
The Age in Australia has some new rumours regarding the next-generation Lexus IS:
Due to be unveiled next year, the third-generation IS compact sedan is likely to follow in the footsteps of its bigger sibling, the GS, by delivering a richer, more upmarket look in the cabin and improved road manners.
Unlike its German rivals, the IS’s exterior will be more than just a shrunken version of its bigger brother, according to a Lexus insider. Distinguishing features over its ageing predecessor include a wider, more aggressive stance, a sleeker profile and the most radical iteration of the company’s new spindle grille to date, as our artist’s rendering shows.
The corporate marketing manager at Lexus Australia, Peter Evans, recently told Drive the Japanese luxury brand couldn’t afford a gentle evolution of its popular IS midsize sedan.
“When you’re a challenger brand and you’re No.4 [in sales], you can’t afford to be evolutionary.”
Also included is some drivetrain details, with specific mention of a four-cylinder, V6, and hybrid option. A next-gen IS F is also expected.
There is one rather large nugget of speculation worth highlighting:
Media speculation says the Japanese luxury brand’s smallest sedan could be based on a modified version of Toyota’s 86 sports car – not the GS – allowing Toyota to spread the development costs between the two models. This may also pave the way for a sporty coupe body variant, alongside a coupe-cabriolet and possibly even a sleek wagon or four-door coupe.
I suppose anything’s possible, but modifying the 86 platform to accommodate a luxury sedan would likely negate any “development costs” savings — more likely, the IS will continue to be based on the GS.
Please note — the above image is a rendering created by The Age, and is not the next-generation IS.
Finally, the clip gives us a look at what appears to be the next-generation IS, which will come to market as a 2014 model. There’s nothing truly shocking here; it will adopt the same basic styling as its bigger brother, the GS. The spindle grille will be part of the deal, along with a more aggressive lower-fascia design. The new IS will make its debut sometime next year.
Just the Facts:
-2014 Lexus IS F convertible is caught testing on the Nürburgring.
-GS-derived rear suspension is capable of offering rear steering.
-Aluminum lower control arms replace stamped steel currently in use.
Last edited by Motor; 01-07-2014 at 12:47 PM..
Reason: dead images
Whatever they do, I hope they cleanup the trunk cut line and the shape of the roof that the current IS350C has. Lexus has not yet mastered the art of designing a slick looking retractable hardtop car. Hopefully the LF-LC changes that.
Whatever they do, I hope they cleanup the trunk cut line and the shape of the roof that the current IS350C has. Lexus has not yet mastered the art of designing a slick looking retractable hardtop car. Hopefully the LF-LC changes that.
couldn't agree more.
homies everywhere have been reminded not to be scared.
One staffer said the wheels look “Lexus-y.” We can scratch the 2013 Lexus LS 460, GS, and ES since all three have been unveiled. Could it be the IS? Another staffer said the LED taillights could be from Audi, but others insist it’s a Toyota or Honda, as both companies’ North American headquarters aren’t far from where this sedan was caught. However, this tester also sports a Michigan plate.
Just hours before the Lexus LF-CC coupe concept debuts at the Paris Motor Show, let’s take a look at what the concept could mean for the next-generation IS — here’s some photochops from Club Lexus member SNiiP3R.
By merging the LF-CC concept with the GS front-end, these images are a decent attempt to imagine the next-gen IS.
There’s sure to be more visual differences between the GS & IS — I’m expecting the IS to have a much larger lower grille, and it’s doubtful that the side mirrors and rear wheel intakes will make it to production — but squint your eyes, and these photochopped IS coupes appear quite realistic.
Lexus will showcase the all-new replacement for its mid-sized IS sedan at January's Detroit Auto Show.
Speaking with TMR in Sydney, Lexus Australia chief Tony Cramb hinted strongly that the new IS sedan, a strong-seller for Lexus in the United States, will make its debut at the biggest event on the North American motor show calendar.
A local launch would likely follow in the the fourth quarter of 2013.
Powertrain details for the next-gen IS are still hazy, but if the GS is anything to go by, expect evolved examples of the current range of 2.5 litre and 3.5 litre V6 petrol engines.
However, with the current IS being only one of two Lexus models not available with a hybrid powertrain (the mammoth LX 570 is the other), a hybrid is also possible.
There are a few options available for an IS Hybrid, but the only ready-to-go RWD hybrid powerplant is the 3.5 litre V6/electric-motor combo used by the GS 450h.
Another possibility is a development of the Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder used by the LF-CC concept, which uses both port and direct injection to put out around 150kW.
“It's not confirmed, but I'd like to see a hybrid. I definitely want a hybrid,” Cramb told TMR.
But what definitely won't be on the Lexus stand at Detroit, however, will be an IS coupe.
Following the LF-CC concept's debut at the Paris Motor Show, many automotive publications (including TMR) speculated that it would be productionised as a coupe variant for the IS range.
However, when asked if the LF-CC was destined for the assembly line, Cramb simply replied: “Time will tell... time will tell.”
“We did confirm that the LF-CC is the basis for a D-segment coupe in the future, but we didn't confirm that it's necessarily IS-related,” Mr Cramb said.
“A lot of people are drawing that conclusion, but it's not completely accurate.
“The feedback from Paris has been amazing on that coupe, but nothing has been confirmed at this point in time.”
Cramb also told TMR that other bodystyles, such as a wagon, were not part of Lexus' plans for the IS.
The new saloon, launching around May 2013, will rectify that by adopting the 2.5-litre petrol/electric hybrid shown in the recent LF-CC concept car. But the range will be strictly petrol or hybrid, because Lexus won't replace the IS220d diesel. Is the lack of a derv option a mistake? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.
A successor to the M3-challenging, 417bhp IS F isn't completely ruled out, but unlikely in the current climate, say insiders.
What bodystyles will I be able to choose for a 2013 Lexus IS?
The volume seller will of course be the saloon, as shown in CAR's artist impression. However, Lexus will come good on the LF-CC's coupe bodystyle and build a sleeker two-door option to fight the Audi A5 and BMW 3-series coupe. The current IS never got a true coupe model: the closest we got was the IS250C folding hard-top. We'll see the saloon first in March at the 2013 Geneva motor show, with a coupe to follow on in 2014. Prices will rise slightly over the current car's £24-£32k, but Lexus hints standard equipment levels will be higher to compensate.
Both the saloon and coupe IS will be available with Lexus F Sport trim - a range-wide sporty trim option in the same vein as BMW M Sport packs, or Audi S-line. As we've seen on the GS and LS, F Sport models get bigger alloy wheels, wider grille openings, and a rear lip spoiler (not to mention copious one-upmanship badging inside and out).
This time we have new shots taken in Belgium with a new camouflage, that reveals more of the design compared to previous photos.
The front and rear look similar to the new Lexus GS, which is not surprising.
In addition to standard petrol and diesel engines, a hybrid version is also very likely to debut in the new IS. The top of the range IS-F is very likely going to use a smaller turbocharged unit in favour of the current naturally aspirated V8.
New Lexus IS will debut in early January at the Detroit Auto Show.
Well, things are not going entirely according to plan. The car splashes through a big puddle and the steering suddenly gets light, and it comes to us that maybe our enthusiasm has sucked us a little too far and a little too fast into this big bend on slick, rain-swept pavement with the 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport.
Fortunately the boundaries here are set not by big trees but instead by little traffic cones, so the consequences of busting out of this autocross course on very wet pavement will involve only small embarrassment instead of a large fireball. And then suddenly it doesn't matter, as the 18-inch Bridgestone tires find some bite, the gentlest of steering corrections picks up the drift from the rear tires, the chassis gives a little wriggle as the car hooks up, and then the direct-injection V-6 is warbling as the car finds its way into the straightaway and the eight-speed automatic transmission begins firing off the gear changes. Let us all praise the opportunities for learning experiences offered by wet pavement.
Lexus IS chief engineer Junichi Furuyama laughs off our subsequent report, of course. Lexus has been going to the Nurburgring in Germany to test its cars for a decade now, and Furuyama is a lot more concerned with the way the forthcoming 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport feels on the long, long, roller-coaster straight down to the Tiergarten at 150 mph than in our little adventures at 60 mph in a big parking lot. What Furuyama really wants to know is if we can feel the F Sport version of the 2014 Lexus IS sports sedan communicating with us through the steering wheel.
Well, yes we can. But we can also tell you that what we feel most in this car is the struggle that's going on within Lexus to rediscover its soul.
The company has made no secret of its desire to put more emotion into its identity, and this has been expressed of late by the way Lexus has embraced the notion of pure speed. Evidence is right here in the F Sport, a new trim level for both the 2014 Lexus IS 350 and 2014 Lexus IS 250. The F Sport lies between the cooking versions of these cars and the unabashedly high-performance Lexus IS F. We'll see the final form of the heavily revised 2014 Lexus IS sports sedans at the 2013 Detroit auto show, but right now Furuyama is giving us a chance to drive some optically challenged prototypes of the F Sport cars.
The key technical improvement here is quicker response and clearer, more tangible messages from the steering, and indeed Furuyama's benchmark has been the BMW 335i coupe - the previous-generation version of the 3 Series, which he regards as a better car than the new-generation car (we're right there with him in this). The first step in delivering this kind of steering lies in a body that's ten percent more rigid thanks to the use of structural adhesives and more high-strength steel among other things. The second measure is carefully tuned steering gear for quicker response, smoother action, and enhanced on-center feel.
When you're at the controls of the IS 350 F Sport, you really feel like you've got hold of something substantial. Part of the reason can be found in a much better driving position thanks to a steering wheel that's more vertical and a seat that's located 20mm lower, plus a high-bolstered seat that feels like a deep, racing-style bucket of the 1970s. But what you really notice is the direct-injection V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission from the current Lexus GS sedan, plus brakes that really bite hard when you lean on the pedal.
As we weaved through the winding corners of San Gabriel Canyon in Azusa (not too far from well-known Glendora Mountain Road, where street racers gather late at night), the IS 350 F Sport proved to be the kind of car that you could steer with your fingertips. There's enough body roll to let you know what the F Sport is doing, yet the car is always poised on top of its tires. A quick flick of the steering wheel also instantly gives you more bite from the front tires, so you get a second chance down there at the apex if you need it.
In the Lexus fashion, there's an extensive cast of electronically controlled features to help the F Sport deliver on its promises in every kind of situation, notably a four-position chassis calibration (Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+) that you dial in with a rotary knob on the center console. When you select Sport mode, you get a different shift schedule for quicker acceleration. When you select Sport+ for the IS 350 F Sport, you get the different shift schedule plus quicker response from the electric-assist power steering and firmer suspension damping. And when you slide the eight-speed automatic into manual mode, you get faster upshifts plus engine blips for faster downshifts.
In the Lexus fashion, this is a lot of stuff, all of which is synonymous with speed. Yet you're always aware of the refinement that's also at the core of the Lexus identity, and the fundamental feel from the new car - the smooth swell of power from the V6 and the ride motions from the chassis - is familiar. In fact this makes us always aware that refinement has always been the key measure of a Lexus, not speed. And every thump from the rear suspension as the F Sport's Bridgestone Turanza ER55 summer-performance tires (225/40R-18 99Y in front; 245/35R-18 103Y in the rear) slap against a seam in the pavement makes us fret about whether such compromises in refinement are appropriate for a Lexus.
The 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport wants to speak to you of speed, yet it also wants to retain the refinement that sets apart the cars this company has always made. The question lies in blending these two things together, and the F Sport makes us keenly aware of the way we struggle with finding the right balance point just like the engineers struggle with the same thing.
Part of the answer lies in not asking the F sport to do too much. If you want refinement in a sport sedan, we're confident that the conventional trim levels of the 2014 Lexus IS will deliver just as always. We're glad that Lexus continues to set itself apart in this way, even though it doesn't always get the respect it deserves for doing so.
Meanwhile the F Sport represents a more mature approach to speed from Lexus, one that's more civilized than the Lexus IS F. The 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport is apparently the kind of car that you can drive to the Nurburgring, roar around for an afternoon, and then drive home again and go to the supermarket along the way. Furuyama tells us that he's not after an ultimate lap time at the track, but instead he hopes to deliver the kind of car that every driver will find natural and even effortless to drive in such demanding circumstances.
To us, this seems like the right kind of ideal from Lexus. We'll see if it's truly our kind of thing once we get hold of these cars for a drive, and we're booking rooms at the Hotel am Tiergarten even now.
Lexus’s German-baiting hybrid promises remarkable diesel-beating CO2 figures in a compact, agile, rear-drive format
What is it?
This is an early prototype of the all-new Lexus IS. The IS isn't being launched until the Detroit show in mid-January so much of the car's detail, including the interior and exterior styling, was under wraps for this drive. The UK will be getting two models: a V6 petrol-powered IS 250 (which is mainly for the model's UK private buyers), and the new IS 300h driven here, which combines a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor and a battery pack.
This latter car is intended to be Lexus’s big breakthrough in the UK’s CO2-driven fleet market. Remarkably, Lexus is aiming to get the IS 300h certified at "under 100g/km". The new car is based on the same new rear-drive platform as the recently-launched GS, although the wheelbase has been shortened and the track is also slightly narrower.
Lexus's engineers say the structure is extra-stiff, using 25 metres of adhesive, extra spot welds and a new technique called laser screw welding in its construction. The double-wishbone front suspension set-up gets stiffer anti-roll bars and softer spring rates (to try to improve the ride without sacrificing handling), and the multi-link rear suspension is new. The biggest advance is the redesigned CVT transmission, which finally eliminates the widely disliked mismatch between engine speed and vehicle speed so typical of previous CVT ‘boxes.
The interior styling is close to that of the CT compact hatchback. There are two centre console dials, one for the multimedia system and one for switching the chassis between Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes.
What is it like?
On the short track course on which we drove it, the IS 300h was swift and surprisingly capable, with good brakes and fine stability. However, compared to the agile V6 petrol IS, the hybrid was slower to respond to steering inputs and was less keen on rapid direction changes. The extra weight of the electric motor in the nose and the battery packs in the rear are to blame.
On the road, the IS 300h is refined and easygoing. It’s fluid on winding roads and has a decent amount of bite in the steering. The overwhelming sense is of effortless progress with a reasonable dash of driver involvement. It is also impressively swift to switch into EV mode in urban traffic, something other hybrids are reluctant to do. It was hard to be definitive about by the ride, which was excellent on smooth roads but thumped somewhat on broken Los Angeles concrete.
Should I buy one?
If you're fed up with rattling and thrumming four-cylinder premium-car diesel engines (which have generally become less refined since the EU5 regulations), the IS 300h could be a very tempting alternative to the German oil-burners. However, only when we establish the real-world economy and have driven it on European roads, and once the pricing is etablished, will be able to get a definitive answer.
Intuitive driving feel meets Lexus luxury with mixed results
Chief project engineer engineer Junichi Furuyama had but one question for the journalists selected to evaluate a selection of 2014 IS test mules: has Lexus succeeded in building the next 3 Series?
The comparison is a familiar one, with the compact Bimmer having a target on its rear bumper for several decades now. Everyone from Cadillac to Infiniti wants to build the next 3, both for bragging rights and to reap the rewards in sales.
So to make a long story short, the answer is: No. But to make a long story long, there’s one particular reason why, and it’s hardly a bad thing.
And let’s not forget, even BMW didn’t manage to build the next 3 Series, choosing instead to dilute the car’s raw driving characteristics in favor of improved luxury and everyday usability. So if BMW can’t do it while meeting the increasing demands of buyers, how would we expect Lexus to?
In fact, to the surprise of all, the car that most closely resembles the Platonic “form” of the 3 Series is the Cadillac ATS; something Caddy has discovered doesn’t automatically mean it has been anointed with success.
So where does that leave the Lexus IS? One could say in a middle ground, but that terminology reeks of compromise: a word that would be unfair to use against the new Lexus sports sedan.
Hitting a large parking lot autocross course in the IS, the unusually wet LA weather, at first both a literal and figurative rain on our parade, later became a ray of sunshine – again, both literally and figuratively.
The low grip surface delivering traction at 30 mph like you’re going 60 through the same corner in the dry, the characteristics of the IS proved difficult to discern at first. With current generation IS 250 and IS 350 on hand, Lexus also made available two new IS 250 and two IS 350 test mules.
The current generation of cars, with what appears to be a slightly shorter wheelbase, feel more toss-able and nimble. Brought to the limit, however, and they’re also more of a handful.
Behind the wheel of the new IS, either in 250 or 350 grade, and it lulls you into thinking it’s not as agile. Smoother and more planted, once the rear starts to rotate, its easier to modulate.
Essentially, the built-in Lexus qualities of smoothness and refinement work to mute the sensation of what is ultimately a very capable car.
With no specs being released on the engines, we can report that while IS 250 models will continue to use a 6-speed automatic, the IS 350 now makes use of the brand’s 8-speed box.
Certain to help improve fuel economy, it delivers impressively fast shifts via the paddle shifters, though most buyers are certain to stick to the pre-set gearing of the automatic modes – even if pulling the paddles yourself is met with a throttle blip on the downshift.
DRIVE MODE SELECTOR, WITH SPORT+
For 2014 IS models gain a drive mode selector knob, with IS 250s sporting three modes while 350 models gain a fourth. With Normal, Eco and Sport, our 350 F Sport test car also included a Sport+ option, the difference being that rather than just enhancing the throttle response, Sport+ delivers heavier and more responsive steering as well as new settings for the Adaptive Variable Suspension.
While the feel of the heavier steering is more aesthetically pleasing, even the base steering is impressive. Lexus adapted the unit from the GS to deliver a feel that’s smoother, with a clear on-center feel, while reacting better to inputs. As a result it’s another part of the reason the IS fails the 3 Series test, its smoothness and lightness masking its reactive capabilities.
Back to the transmission, Lexus boasts numerous programming enhancements in Sport mode that help keep the car in the ideal gear, and while that was almost unanimously true on the road, when pushed hard in an auto-cross environment, which often demands sudden, extreme changes of steering and throttle, waiting for a downshift was common.
While understandable, we were disappointed that the Sport+ mode didn’t take this to the next level, demanding the car default to the lowest possible gear – though perhaps we’ll have to wait for a next-generation IS F for responsiveness as hard-edged as that.
In fact, greater overall differentiation between the different drive modes would be ideal. We even found throttle response in the Eco mode to be decent… and expected it to be quite muted. While pleasant, one has to think a more restrictive Eco mode could deliver added fuel economy benefits.
STIFFER CHASSIS MAKES FOR SOFTER SPRINGS
As for the underlying vehicle architecture, again it’s adapted from the GS and while we don’t have hard numbers, there’s a slightly longer wheelbase (making for better rear seat legroom), while Lexus claims it’s more rigid than before. Suspension updates include a new pickup point for the front sway bar that improves its function; while in the rear the springs and shocks have been separated to tune responsiveness independently.
By isolating these aspects, engineers were, surprisingly, able to reduce the spring rates in the car, helping improve the overall ride comfort – likely another contributing factor to the IS’s luxury-over-performance feel.
INTERIOR A NOD TO THE LFA
Inside the car there are some very cool toys, with the car’s “killer app” being the central speedometer adapted from the LFA supercar. A circular single gauge pod slides left to right, with the rpm displayed inside on a digital screen, while small screens on either side display other vehicle data from the trip meter and fuel gauge to radio information.
Another impossible-to-miss feature are the newly designed seats. With improved bolstering, particularly on the F-Sport models we tested, perhaps the biggest advantage is that they sit 20mm lower in the car. The benefit isn’t just a more engaging position for the driver, rather, the reduced height allows for more head room resulting in a more spacious feel to the IS’s cabin.
Looking to rebrand its image with heightened focus on the communication between a car and its driver, based on our time beyond the wheel the 2014 IS does not meet the lofty goal it set out to achieve. It is not the new 3 Series, if for no other reason than that it does achieve true-to-the-brand levels of smoothness and refinement.
And this is before we’ve had a chance to enjoy the many other aspects the third generation IS will offer, from luxury materials and craftsmanship, to new technology and safety features that could just make it the most well-rounded car in the segment.
While the goal of “the most fun” is a noble one to strive for, perhaps the best compact luxury sports sedan is not the one that offers the most extreme dynamic personality, but the one that delivers in all areas to a higher level than its rivals. After all, that’s what BMW aimed to do with the new 3 Series and while the IS targeted the previous generation E90 (2006 to 2011) model, perhaps its failure to meet that goal is actually its own success.
Capable handling with Lexus luxury
Lower seating position
Sport+ not sporty enough
Luxury feel dilutes sporty capabilities
1. While no engine specs have been revealed, Lexus will continue to offer the IS 250 and IS 350 models, with the latter receiving an 8-speed automatic transmission.
2. Based on a shared architecture with the GS, the IS grows slightly for 2014 with a more rigid chassis and softer springs.
3. A Drive Mode Selector on IS 250 models will offer Eco, Normal and Sport modes, while 350 models will gain Sport+.
4. The car’s “killer app” is a new gauge pod adapted from the LFA with a sliding central tachometer with a digital screen inside as well as additional screens to the side.
John Travolta and Nicholas Cage turned things upside down in the action blockbuster "Face Off". Now they could easily star in an automotive re-make of the movie, if Lexus and BMW hadn't already filled their starring roles.
Just as Travolta went from nasty to nice and Cage went cop to crook in Face Off, Lexus and BMW have traded places in 2012.
The Germans have gone soft and cushy with the latest 3 Series and, after driving a lineup of disguised Lexus prototypes this week in the USA, I feel that the new IS is probably now the ultimate driving machine.
This is my second deep dive with Lexus - after a preview drive of the GS last year - but landing in Los Angeles I'm aware that the new IS is the most important car in the history of Lexus.
The original LS 400 was a bigger gamble, but this is the car that must bring younger buyers to the brand and finally give Lexus a prestige starter car that's more than just nice, but... Lexus knows it too, which is why chief engineer Junichi Furuyama has only brought F Sport versions of his IS to LA and only seems interested in the way the car drives.
There is nothing about comfort or quietness in his short, sharp, presentation and he only talks about the back-seat space when I raise the obvious question. "When developing the new IS, we set ourselves the target to be the best fun-to-drive car," Furuyama says. "We believe we were able to achieve that." He talks about driving harmony and fun, as well as the car's "flavour", before a brief technical rundown.
The IS lineup is basically unchanged, although there is now a hybrid model - still to be confirmed for Australia - and the IS F could change into an upcoming IS coupe. There is nothing to report on prices because the car will not be stripped of its camouflage until the Detroit motor show in January and Australian deliveries do not begin until the second half of next year.
Still, based on Toyota's red-pen work this year on the showroom stickers of the all-new 86 and Corolla, it would be no surprise to see a slight drop from the current base prices of $55,800 for the IS 250 and $64,300 for the IS 350.
Also, I cannot comment on the final finishing, or the equipment, because the various prototypes were still some way from showroom standard and almost everything in the cabins was covered with metres of black tape.
A similar IS was well beaten by the Benz C and BMW 3 in my prestige comparison earlier this year and I'm reminded of the outdated cabin, cramped back seat and suspension that makes the car feel a bit skittish.
But the new IS is improved in many, many areas, finally getting a useable back seat and a much bigger boot. It's two ticks there.
The cabin space is a huge improvement with better-shaped front seats. The wheelbase is out by 75 millimetres but there is 90 more in the back-seat space, and even the door opening has been enlarged for easier access. The view from the back bench is also helped by front seats that are set 20 millimetres lower, although that was done to improve comfort in the front. Oh, and the boot is about 20 per cent larger.
The hole in the dashboard points to a 20-centimetre display screen, the new switches and stalks feel more substantial, and Lexus promises a review-camera across the local lineup.
It gets 10 airbags and a standard reversing camera with parking radar.
The IS is basically new - "about 80 per cent of the parts" - but shares its mechanical package and suspension layout with the bigger GS. That means rear-wheel drive with more travel and control, but the basic body is much more rigid.
It has a system that plumbs engine intake noise into the cabin during enthusiastic driving. Among the claimed improvements for driving enjoyment are lighter steering, better Bridgestone tyres, softer springs and rear suspension that separates the springs from the dampers.
There is now an eight-speed automatic gearbox with various driving modes, and the gauges are a new take on the impressive TFT layout in the Lexus LFA super car.
The cars are waiting and the first job is a couple of track laps in the superseded IS, just to set the ground rules. Onto the track and the new transmission is more aggressive in its response, the front end grips better and the car sits a little flatter through the curves.
So I step up to the camo 350 and find more of the same, with extra urge of course, and a bit more compliance in the rear suspension. But it's the road drive that will provide the real answers, so we hit the freeway and head for the hills. Literally.
The IS 250 is immediately quieter than I remember - Furuyama confirms big cuts to wind and road noise - and the eight-speed auto is great. As the road turns twisty the IS responds in the way I used to expect from a BMW. It responds eagerly to the wheel and drives confidently through turns.
The IS 350 is not as precise - with an extra 30 kilograms in the nose - but the extra punch makes any short straight a fun run. I also enjoy the LFA style instruments and the multi-mode automatic, which responds almost like a manual in the sportiest setting.
So I'm convinced. These are real driving cars for people who take their motoring seriously, but they also have the sort of practical improvements that are essential for the long-flawed IS. Yes, the IS could do with more punch as both a 250 and a 350, I'm not a fan of plumbing engine noise into the cabin, and one of the suspension set-ups is significantly better for grip and comfort.
But those are relatively small things. Overall it's a great drive. There was a time when the IS was really just a tweaked Toyota, but the new cars have grown up and improved in so many ways. Now I'm waiting to get the 'real' car out from under the camo and onto some home roads to ensure I have the story right. But, right now, it looks to me as if the BMW benchmark batton has been snitched by the IS.
A one-day run is not enough for a final verdict, but I have rarely pushed a car as hard as I did in the California canyons - or hustled as enthusiastically as I did on a closed course at the Santa Anita raceway - without finding something big to complain about.
At the beginning of 2011, we rocked up to the parking lot at Southern California's Santa Anita Raceway to test the 2012 Lexus GS. This was the first sedan in the luxury brand's lineup to reset its intentions on the balance of sport and luxury. The previous GS had blanched into mute tepidity, and the new generation we drove on an autocross course and on a canyon road corrected just about everything; we liked its looks, and the Variable Gear Ratio Steering- and Adaptive Variable Suspension-equipped car moved its abilities into the realm of a true sports sedan, and it was great to drive. They absolutely nailed it.
In our review of that car, we wrote that the only other sporty Lexus was the IS, and that our favorite among its rank and file is the IS 250 with the six-speed manual. Specifically, we called it "a spirited little weakling of a car." Down on power but also on weight, it rewarded commitment and skill – it didn't have the gumption to compensate for missed shifts and bad lines, and because it was so easy to get wrong, the momentum carried through right to the smiles when you got it right.
Yet no one was ever seriously comparing the IS – Lexus' third-best-selling car – to the BMW 3 Series, and for Lexus that was a problem. You can't have your entry-level sports sedan omitted entirely from the conversation. So now, finally, it is time for the IS to get its dip into Lexus' spindle-grille-and-F-Sport-performance bath.
The aim is high: Chief Engineer Junichi Furuyama said he wanted the IS to be "the most fun to drive in the segment." That was reinforced throughout the presentation and the day with statements that the new IS should react "faithfully to even slight inputs" and that it should "respond to the driver's will." The idea with this model is to build a link from the LFA, down through the IS F, to this F Sport model.
These are goals that are hard enough in light of how cars are growing in size and weight, in general. On top of that, Lexus has to work around the ideas of luxury and refinement that any mention of the brand brings with it. Easy (well, easier) to do when you're charging LFA money, much harder when buyers are checking the bottom line and lease rates carefully. And one only needs to look at where the 3 Series has gone to see how weak the word "sport" has gotten in the phrase "sport sedan."
The next generation IS 250 and IS 350 F Sports were benchmarked against the previous-generation 3 Series M Sport, targeting its driving dynamics, feedback and fun-to-drive factor. While buyers for standard cars in the segment skew female, buyers of tuned versions like F Sports and M Sports skew male, and that's the pie Lexus wants a larger piece of.
Furuyama grouped the changes to the IS into three categories: body and suspension, driver environment and powertrain. Body rigidity has been increased by using more spot welding, a process called laser screw welding, and a lot more adhesive to join body panels at all of the major cutouts – windshield and backlight, door cutouts, engine bay and wheel arches. The front suspension is stiffer by 20 percent through the use of a new front stabilizer. In back, the IS adopts the rear suspension from the GS, separating the spring and the absorber and changing the position of the toe arm. The increased body rigidity also meant they could lower the spring rates. The objective was increased rear grip, a side benefit being that with the suspension towers going more upright there is more cargo room in the trunk.
Another part from the GS used as a starting point for this IS was the steering gear. Better feedback through the wheel and more direct steering have come through refinements like a higher stroke ratio, new ball-screw structure and increased rigidity in the pinion shaft. Lexus also wanted to give drivers the sensation of a clear on-center area.
To raise its dynamic game, the new IS 350 gets the eight-speed Sport Direct Shift (SDS) automatic from the IS F that has "G-AI," programming that makes it sensitive to g-forces and will keep it from shifting during hard cornering when in Sport mode. The 350 also gets the aforementioned Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) and Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) from the GS.
The IS 250 has three driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. The IS 350 gets four, adding Sport S+ to the top end. Sport ups the throttle sensitivity, while Sport S+ 'activates' the most aggressive settings on the electric power steering, the VGRS and the AVS.
This is called the Next Generation IS, but it's the cabin and chassis changes that go the furthest. Covered in camo as these cars were, we had to use the light and shadow to make out what we could as best we could, but on the outside this is an evolution of the current design. It doesn't look noticeably bigger than it is now, but it is noticeably more expressive.
Naturally, that starts with the spindle grille in front. The F Sports will be differentiated by exterior design and tuning, and the grilles on these sedans were filled in with different treatments on the 250s and 350s at the event – a six-bar grille up top on the 250, mesh on the 350, and each wore a different lower bumper – but we were told that these differences weren't indicative of the final cars. The headlights, single-lens jobs that are cleaner in design, jut out from the line of the car instead of being contained within it. The side sills are more sculpted and get thicker as they move rearward, then twist to form a character line that runs up the front of the rear wheel arch. It doesn't appear that substantial when viewed straight-on, but when we saw the car driving into the sun you could detect the width – everything below the sill character line is in shadow. That line is met on the other side of the rear arch by a cutline that runs over the tops of the taillights. Behind the arch, another line forms a crease that runs underneath the lights. As for the lights themselves, it almost looks like the current units have been turned over and drawn out a bit more along the sides of the car. And we don't know if the rear track is wider, but the rear arches are definitely punchier.
Instead of a lip on the decklid, the deck is shaped into a spoiler in the center of the car. Below, another crease in the bodywork runs from the bottom of the rear arch up to the bottom of the bumper, creating an effect like a built-in diffuser.
Inside, the interior feels vastly different – moreso than a list of its details would indicate. The driver's hip point has dropped 20 millimeters due to the increased concavity of the seats – and concomitant increase in bolstering. Neither the roof height nor the floor height of the car have changed, but those 20 mm raise the center tunnel and the door shoulder height in relation to your position, so you feel like you're dropped much more deeply into the cabin.
The armrest starts up near the instrument panel, the inclined portion housing the window, lock and mirror switches, sliding down into a flat stretch where one's arm would go. It's a familiar setup and replaces the L-Finesse wave of the door on the current car, where the buttons are placed on a horizontal low and in front.
The vertical slabs of paneling in the current car give way to inclines. The IP doesn't rise, cliff-like, from the center tunnel; instead it slopes up and away toward the windshield and away from the driver, but it isn't canted toward the driver. A vertical feature that houses the vents divides the upper and lower parts of the dash, textured plastic and the nav screen above, hard, shiny bits below. The climate controls have been reworked with eight buttons in two rows underneath a digital temperature readout as opposed to the six buttons in one row on the current car. Beside that readout there are touch controls to adjust the temperature; slide your finger along the silver bar, up to increase the temp, down to lower it, or you can tap either end for the same function.
We were told that one of the primary reasons for rejection of the current car among shoppers is the lack of rear leg room. That has been addressed. In the new car, with the driver's seat set for a driver nearly six-feet tall, hopping in the back seat still left an inch between the closest part of the driver's seat. Leaving one's legs in the scallops of the back of the seat meant even more space. In the previous gen our knees were hard up against the driver's seatback. There is appreciably more headroom as well. And for the first time in an IS, the rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split.
The steering wheel is the same diameter but thicker. The buttons on the left spoke are for Mode, Phone and voice commands, on the right are the selector arrows and, below that, a single switch for the 'back' button and to move the F Meter. The paddles behind the wheel are also reshaped, narrower at the top.
What is the F Meter? It is the trick that will get a lot of guys' attentions. The reconfiguring dash cluster is a wide screen that houses a single bezeled gauge, that gauge being the F Meter. When the F Meter is in the middle it displays the rev counter around its rim, and in the center displays the speed, gear and supplemental information. To the left, on the screen behind, is the oil temperature, with gas and odometer readings on the right. Tap the button on the wheel to move the F Meter to the right and the single screen to the left picks up the gas and odometer reading with supplemental notices displayed in between that and the temperature above.
When it came time to put the F Meter to work, we started with an autocross. Both the IS 250 and IS 350 were fitted with 18-inch wheels shod with Bridgestone Turanzas, 225/40 R18 up front, 255/35 R18 in back on both cars. Lexus said that the IS 250 not having Sport+ was a price-point issue and would be studied over the life cycle of the car. The 350 has that eight-speed gearbox, the 250 makes do with a six-speed automatic, and both cars' engines carry over but are fitted with sound enhancers to pipe engine noise into the cabin during sporty driving.
The only hitch to the first test was the rain – LA had seen intermittent showers for days, and while the course wasn't afflicted by standing pools of water, it was thoroughly wet.
Lexus didn't give out power numbers, but the IS 250 sounds faster than it is, the cabin filling with that induction resonance. It also feels faster than before and wastes no time working itself up to a good clip, with good throttle response in Sport and more feedback from the steering even in a straight line. The body and suspension rigidity have helped this car more than the 350; driving it correctly and maintaining momentum will still (as always) bring the greatest rewards, but the added stiffness and better response to inputs give it better reflexes and give you a larger dynamic window in which to operate. In the slalom portion that needed three flicks of the wheel at speed, the current IS 250 would skitter after you finished the slalom and were straightening out, the car's chassis and traction control still trying to catch up with what just happened. There was none of that in the new IS 250. It is still best to shift gears for yourself, though, the reflexes of the six-speed not where we'd like them in a sports sedan. Nevertheless, the IS 250 is composed, supple, chuckable, and can be pivoted around corners, even when you need to adjust your line. It's fun.
The new IS 350 is a lot faster than the IS 250 – both cars would spin wheels off the line, but we were doing five to eight more mph at the end of the short run to the first corner than in the IS 250. But it's not as much fun on an autocross course, that first turn explaining why: understeer. We were told that the 3.5-liter is about 60-70 pounds heavier than the 2.5-liter, which is part of it. The car overall feels stouter and more stable, but also heftier. Lexus wouldn't divulge curb weights other than to suggest that new car is a little lighter, but the IS 350 feels like it outweighs the 250 probably by more than it actually does. You needed to do more work to get your speed and your lines right in the 350; when you didn't, you found that the car would rather keep going in a straight line.
What's more, the additional stiffness and the advanced suspension might play the wrong kind of trick with the IS 350, making it too stiff and the rear wheels almost recalcitrant. Even in the wet the rear wheels didn't want to come loose at all unless you got boneheaded, turned traction control completely off, or got into a four-wheel slide, due to the wet, coming out of a turn at just the right speed and angle. It's isn't the kind of car you can really steer with the throttle. Overall, on the autocross it felt like a BMW 5 Series trying to be a 3 Series.
On a canyon road in San Gabriel, however, both cars came to life and the speeds each car could do and the sensation of weight were the primary differences. Cutting from apex to apex, the IS 250 in Sport, the IS 350 in Sport+, each car displays creamy handling, the 350's VGRS weights up beautifully as you increase lock, the 350's cornering limits that much higher because of its AVS. Get on them hard enough to get the tires talking, both sedans provide progressive feedback as you push closer to the edges of their abilities and don't suddenly go loose or choppy – traction control might flash its assistance, but it doesn't alter or halt proceedings.
The G-AI control on the IS 350's gearbox works as long as you stay on it; let off in the middle of a turn and it shifts a couple of times while it figures out where it should be. On both cars, even when shifting manually, we wish the actual shifts happened more quickly.
Here again, though, the 350's increased weight and stiffness, along with that tauter suspension, made it much firmer. It felt like sport sedan that was compensating for its weight with added stiffness – not uncomfortable at all, just less supple than the IS 250.
When we arrived at the event, the current IS 250 with the six-speed manual was our favorite IS. When the day was over, after driving everything, the current – not the 2014 – IS 250 with the six-speed auto is still our favorite IS. Given either of the new cars, we'd take the next generation IS 250.
Admittedly, on the day it could have been oversold to us – after the presentation we were expecting a sedan with MMA-fighter reflexes that responded to our every input and was a clear contender for the most fun-to-drive car in the segment. It's a fine car. It just isn't that.
What's not in question is that the car has evolved, it is better in almost every way, and it is more engaging if not capital-F "Fun." The only reason we'd take the current generation IS 250 over the new one is because we could (until 2012) get a manual transmission and stay totally in control of shifting.
The IS has evolved, yet we feel it isn't quite finished evolving – dynamically there isn't as much difference as we expected between the current car and the coming car. There isn't even as much difference as we expected between driving modes – we had to check the dash to see which one we were in. If you're going to offer four driving modes, from Eco to Sport S+, when I get to the final one I'd like there to be no doubt that I'm on the limit. We'd have liked Lexus to go further to make the new IS a proper and properly dynamic sport sedan overall, and we'd like the individual parts to mesh together better.
The autocross track was wet so we can make some allowances for that, but the canyon road wasn't. We'd like to have tried the current-gen IS on the canyon as well for a better comparison, but later in the day when the autocross was dry, someone who hadn't driven all day went out in the 350 and said that the back of the car was so planted he didn't think he could get the rear wheels unstuck, then he noted the understeer. An inertia-inclined front end and a sticky back isn't where a sport sedan should be, and his comments reinforced our assessment that this isn't a sport sedan you can get to dance on a tight course with easy inputs to the steering and the throttle. He also noted the understeer. The car does much better on actual roads than in autocrosses, the 350 especially, so it's good that that's where most drivers will use them.
While there's some room for tuning, with a mid-year on-sale date the production car probably won't be much different than what we drove. Lexus nailed the GS, so we know they can do the IS right – and we'll keep hoping that they do. As for the exterior, stay tuned for the production car's skin to be revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in January.
We drive the new sedan before it debuts at the Detroit auto show
What is it?
Lexus has had a busy 2012: from a new LS to a new ES, almost every car in its lineup has been revamped and redesigned. Now the relentless march of progress casts its steely gaze upon the diminutive IS, which has been little changed since 2006. The small segment is what wins hearts and minds in the luxury car war; it's where allegiances are fought and conquered over stalwarts such as the Audi A4 and the BMW 3-series, along with newcomers such as the Cadillac ATS and competitors such as the Acura TSX and Buick Regal. Chief engineer Junichi Furuyama makes no bones about it—his team benchmarked the BMW E90—the last generation 3-series—when developing the new IS. In Lexus IS tradition, it once again looks to Munich for inspiration. This new IS, Furuyama says, will be more precise, with more communication between vehicle and driver, and an increased emphasis on driving dynamics—and more emotion, inside and out.
For starters, that means potential Lexus buyers had better get used to the "spindle" grille (their words, not ours). The IS comes with the most fearless interpretation yet: its three-dimensional grille bulges outward, wearing its Lexus badge like a medallion. The IS 250 and IS 350 models get different front bumper treatments but both are suitably aggressive.
The rest of the IS retains similar dimensions from the current model. Its GS-sourced chassis adds to the wheelbase and incidentally adds stability. Rear wheel arches are stretched to dramatic proportions. The headlights and taillights are both swoopy and angular at the corners—and in front are jagged LED-laden spars for the turn signals that are separated from the headlight body. Along with that massive Predator-faced grille, that's going to raise some eyebrows when the camouflage comes off.
Speaking of camouflage, we drove the IS on public roads as well as at an informal autocross track, becoming the sort of spy-photo targets we've always hunted down ourselves. On the road that camouflage paint manages to startle entire families in Honda Civics, sending camera phones waving, as well as baffled bystanders and dawdling middle school kids who pointed and jabbered excitedly while blocking our intersection. People in a current Lexus IS barely recognized us. Perhaps, Lexus figures, that's a good thing.
What's it like to drive?
Our autocross course in the Santa Anita Racetrack parking lot was sopping wet, a rarity for Los Angeles but a boon to show off the IS's newly christened stability and grip. We drove the 250 and 350, largely carryover powertrains from the last generation. Lexus product planners told us that a hybrid model will be available in Europe only; Americans will simply content themselves with the CT. The 250 was lively, its rear end easy to manage; it felt not only far lighter than the 350 but also nearly matched it in straight-line acceleration. In the 350, with the traction and stability control off and the reassuring safety of an empty parking lot, we had to manage its rear end delicately to preserve grip. Putting the 350 in Sport Plus mode firms up the electric power steering to hefty levels. By comparison, the 250—which doesn't get the Sport Plus option—has a noticeable center soft spot in its steering.
We ran into some issues with the transmission, which now has eight speeds in the 350; still six in the 250. (No manual will be offered.) Both upshift imperceptibly and readily, dipping into the rev limiter. But the car wouldn't allow a downshift while coming out of a corner even though there was still plenty of rev range left. It's a teething issue, undoubtedly, one that we expect to be fixed when it's ready for showtime. In various Sport modes the transmission needs to be far less conservative and far more aggressive—after all, isn't that why there's a separate Eco mode?
Do I want it?
Overall, Lexus sought to inject some of the GS into the smaller IS. The new GS is a runaway success, catching us off guard with how multi-faceted it could be. Turn the knob to Eco and you get all of the refinement you'd expect from a Lexus. Turn it to Sport, then once more for Sport Plus and you get all the loud, screaming track-day furor you'd never expect from a Lexus. We had hoped that the IS 350's Sport Plus mode, which adjusts the constantly adaptive dampers and firms up the power steering, would display this same contrast. While the steering felt more linear throughout its motions, the IS 350 remained calm, quiet and composed, with little body roll and a little too much Lexus dulling of the senses. Whereas the difference in the GS was like Jekyll and Hyde, the IS is more like Jekyll and his mildly annoyed cousin Bruce.
We expect so much out of our cars these days. We want them to cruise at 30+ mpg on the freeway all day, then rip lap times around our miniature neighborhood Nürburgring when the sun sets. We want them to be seen and heard. We want to command diverging philosophies at the push of a button—or in this case, a twist of the knob. The GS performs this with stunning alacrity. Perhaps we've been spoiled by that. But Lexus wants to imbue some of that duality into the IS. It hasn't—not yet, anyway.
Lexus promises us a more in-depth drive sometime early next year, after the IS is revealed in its final form in Detroit. Already, Furuyama promises us that between now and when it goes on sale in the first quarter there will be time to implement the changes that we suggested: transmission software tuning, for starters.
Like we've already said, it'll be a mini-GS in pretty much every way.
Lexus will debut a new IS sports sedan at the Detroit auto show this January, but before that happens, the company let us loose in some prototypes of the upcoming car covered in camouflage. OK, so it's not camo in the Cabela's sense of the word—unless there's some forest of black swirlies somewhere that we don't know about—but the vinyl wrapping was sufficient enough disguise to keep us from seeing the new car's styling. "You'll have to wait until the Detroit show," was a common refrain we heard throughout the half-day drive.
The first wholesale redesign of the IS since 2006, the new car has been redesigned from grille to exhaust tips. From what we could infer through the automotive equivalent of a Groucho Marx glasses-and-moustache disguise, the new IS appears to borrow heavily from both the current IS and the latest GS.
The borrowing continues under the skin, and the IS's new, stiffer platform was among the few things Lexus was ready to talk about. A smaller version of the GS architecture, the IS looks slightly swollen in both overall length and wheelbase, but Lexus, ever the gentlemen, didn't release any exact measurements. The interior feels more spacious than before, especially the rear seat. We’d wager that more space between the wheels is a certainty, and if pressed on its exact growth, we’d say it's riding on a 110-inch wheelbase, up from the current 107.5-inch span.
The new platform also brings with it a new rear suspension. Like the GS, this IS has a compact rear suspension that separates the shock and spring to maximize trunk space. In front, the control-arm suspension appears to carry over with the exception of reworked mounts for the anti-roll bar. Electrically assisted power steering returns, but Lexus has tweaked and strengthened the rack components in hopes of increasing feel.
Sitting in the car, we were immediately struck by the new seating position and deeply bolstered seats. Taking a cue from most sports cars, the seat cushion can be adjusted to sit closer to the floor; a sportier seating position was something IS chief engineer Junichi Furuyama insisted upon. Most of the prototype interior was covered in gaffer's tape, but the shape and materials appear to be closely related to those of the GS. Unlike the GS, but as in the LFA supercar, a central-mounted tachometer swings into position and illuminates once you hit the start button. Toggling the Drive Mode Select knob between the seats from Normal to Sport changes the tach face from black-on-white to white-on-black.
Keeping the tachometer busy will be two engines that carry over from the current IS, albeit with a few changes. The IS 350’s 3.5-liter V-6 should have 306 hp, while the IS 250’s 2.5-liter V-6 should deliver 204. An eight-speed automatic is standard with both engines, marking the first time the Lexus-developed 'box will be paired to a V-6. The slow-selling manual IS 250 is dead; Lexus official told us they believe they sold one last year, and that might have been a dealer mistake. All-wheel drive will be available with both engines. A hybrid version, with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and electric motor, will be sold outside North America. With the hybrid CT 200h and the ES 300h already on sale, Lexus doesn’t see the need for a similarly priced IS hybrid in the States.
We drove F Sport versions of the IS 350 and IS 250. Like the GS 350 F Sport, the F Sport IS receives a unique front end, larger wheels than stock, summer tires, and firmer shocks and springs. IS 350 F Sport models will offer active steering and electronically adjustable shocks. All IS models will be available with the aforementioned Drive Mode Select knob behind the shifter that allows the driver to tailor powertrain responsiveness to thriftiness (Eco), regular operation (Normal), or friskiness (Sport S). When equipped with active steering and shocks, a Sport S + mode also changes the steering (quicker ratio and heavier effort) and shock (firmer) settings.
Driven back-to-back with the current IS, the 2014 proved to be the more stable of the two. It’s likely that overall grip has increased, but some of the IS’s playfulness and character have been sacrificed to the holy trinity of NVH. It’s a small difference and one that likely can be chalked up to the heavier GS-based architecture—the IS is up to 176 pounds heavier. With only a brief time behind the wheel, however, we’ll withhold further judgments until we drive the production-ready IS lineup in March.
Interested parties will have to wait until next summer to drive an IS 250 or IS 350 away from their local dealer. If you're into delayed gratification, the next IS F—most likely once again featuring a V-8—should arrive in mid to late 2014. A new-gen convertible is not yet confirmed but remains a strong possibility. A coupe version, hopefully previewed by the stunning Lexus LF-CC concept shown at the Paris show, is reportedly still being studied. Given all of that, the wait to see the new sedan at the Detroit show doesn't seem so bad, does it?
Better in Almost Every Way, but Still Too Sterile To Change the Game
First Impression: An already grown-up sedan adds another layer of maturity with a new transmission, more interior space and more performance features.
We'll leave the critical details about the 2014 Lexus IS to your imagination largely because Lexus left them to ours. But yesterday we slid still-disguised F-Sport trim levels of the IS 250 and IS 350 around a wet road course. We also blasted them up a canyon road with impunity. Still, the details didn't materialize.
The impressions, however, did.
What We Know So Far
When it comes to hard facts about the next-generation Lexus IS sedan, here's what we know right now: The new car's wheelbase is longer and it is marginally heavier. How much isn't clear in either case, but based on the improved rear-seat space we'd say the wheelbase is stretched at least 1.5 inches, maybe more given the 3.1-inch chasm between the current IS and the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.
Assuming our lip-reading skills are still well tuned, weight will increase about 90 pounds depending on feature content.
Engines from the two styles are carried over into the new car. That means about 200 horsepower from the 2.5-liter V6 in the IS 250 and about 300 hp from the 3.5-liter V6 in the IS 350. One major upgrade for the IS 350 will be the use of the Aisin-built eight-speed automatic from the company's IS F and LS models. IS 250 styles will continue to use the same six-speed auto. Manual transmissions, it seems, will continue to be as rare as zoomie headers at Lexus.
Body and suspension revisions are minor. Their main goal is to bring more chassis stiffness, ride control latitude and trunk space.
It isn't an all-new IS, but it is a subtly different car on the road.
How the Lexus IS Feels Behind the Wheel
Pound the new 2014 Lexus IS around a wet autocross course like we did and you'll notice it's simply not as lively as the old car. It's not as eager to change directions in many instances, but the longer wheelbase delivers stability in places the current model doesn't. Whether this matters to you probably depends a lot on how often you plan to hammer your IS around a wet autocross course.
But a wet autocross is a less critical dynamic measure than, say, the Nürburgring, where Toyota proves its performance cars. Junichi Furuyama, IS chief engineer, didn't say the new car is slower there, but he admitted as much by saying its time wasn't measured.
Even if this is the case, it's hard to argue with the results on the road. In that environment the car is predictable, stable and still plenty rapid. And that's exactly what Lexus wanted — a sedan that's simple, safe and still enjoyable to drive.
In the new IS there are modest grip limits combined with excellent balance and solid manners at speed. It's what we'd expect from a Lexus sport sedan — good, sanitary fun.
The Real Goal
According to Furuyama, the primary goal with the new car wasn't to make it faster anyway, but rather to produce a machine with immediate response that doesn't compromise comfort.
A stiffer body structure is the primary means to gaining latitude in both arenas, according to Furuyama. Structural improvements include additional spot welds, laser screw welds and about 80 feet of adhesive, which isn't present in the current IS.
The IS's double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspensions are still present. Out back, however, there's a new suspension design borrowed from the larger GS sedan. It separates the previous suspension's concentric spring/damper assembly and places the spring inboard of the damper. This increases the distance between the suspension towers, which produces more trunk space.
A 20 percent increase in front stabilizer bar rigidity aids body control and steering feel, while the addition of active dampers allows more (or less) compliance to compensate in ride quality.
Also high on Furuyama's priority list was a tangible increase in road feel through the steering, as well as improved on-center feedback. What he's achieved isn't quite as clear. Certainly the steering feel is different. It is abundant enough to guide the car sideways between cones, so who are we to complain? There's more weight when Sport Plus mode is engaged, but in Normal mode differences are negligible. There's nothing bad here, but also nothing revolutionary.
The New Eight-Speed Transmission
More gears are nice, but the new eight-speed in the Lexus IS 350 isn't as obedient as it should be in many situations. Upshifts, for example, are still automatic when the shifter is moved to the manual gate and aggressive downshifts are often denied. These are early prototypes, so calibration changes are still possible.
We got lost in its many gear ratios more than once, but that's an adjustment that would come with more seat time. Plus, there are genuine benefits to this many gears. Increased fuel economy and plausibly better acceleration both come to mind.
One interface that is certainly improved is the IS's instrument panel, which is a multimode thin-film transistor display similar to that of the 2012 Lexus LFA. Swap the drive mode from Eco to Normal to Sport Plus and the center-mounted tachometer changes attitudes accordingly.
All the Tech That Would Fit
Unable to resist the pull of acronym alphabet soup, the 2014 Lexus IS offers Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) and Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) coupled to Drive Mode Select (DMS).
Eco, Normal and Sport drive modes are chosen via a center-console-mounted knob. The variable-rate dampers change with drive modes, becoming stiffer as more aggressive settings are picked. Steering ratio slows as vehicle speed increases, independent of drive mode. These two features aren't available on the IS 250, where switching to Sport mode changes only the throttle calibration.
New seats are a worthy improvement, providing the ample bolstering that the current car critically lacks. They also place the driver's hip point about 0.75 inch lower in the body, which is sure to be a popular improvement with the long of torso.
More To Come Soon
Much like the power, weight and wheelbase specs on the 2014 Lexus IS, pricing for the new sedan remains a mystery. Expect full details when Lexus officially unveils the IS at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show next month.
Until then, know that this latest IS isn't a ground-breaker, but based on this brief drive it's got both the comfort and dynamic ability to solidly compete.
"So, is it fun to drive?" head engineer Junichi Furuyama asked as I hopped out of a prototype of the all-new 2014 Lexus IS F Sport. He stood on the rain-soaked pavement eagerly awaiting my response, smile stretched ear-to-ear. "Most definitely," I replied. Most definitely.
Two hours before, Furuyama had run through a quick engineering briefing of the all-new 2014 Lexus IS lineup. One goal superseded all others: make the IS fun to drive, especially the F Sport models. Oh, and make them more fun than the 3 Series, C-Class, and ATS -- the car's main bogies. As if that wasn't enough to keep Furuyama-san up at night, he also had to ensure the new IS was Lexus-like in all the usual areas, meaning it had to be quiet, comfortable, and practical as well as fun.
Improving the athleticism of the IS without nullifying traditional Lexus comfort meant substantial changes. Body rigidity was improved through additional spot welding in the A-pillars, front fenders, and floor panels. More than 82 feet of stronger adhesive was added around wheel wells, door frames, and engine bay. Laser screw welds in the floor panels shored up critical junctures, reducing flex and bumping up on-road stability.
Lexus also substantially re-engineered the suspension. The 2014 IS receives front stabilizer arms that Lexus says are 20 percent more rigid than before, and its modified multi-link rear suspension was cribbed from the latest GS. Toe arms were moved rearward and springs and shocks separated, resulting in increased rear grip, higher pitch between suspension towers, and more cargo room, according to Furuyama. In the 350 F Sport, the Lexus Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) stiffens damping as the driver progresses through the Drive Select system's five drive modes (Snow, Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport S+) - again, like the GS.
The 2014 IS also needed a steering rack with substantial tangible feel. Lexus again borrowed from the GS, opting for a revised version of the bigger car's electronically boosted setup that allows for a lighter feel at low speeds, thanks to a higher stroke ratio (up 3 percent versus the outgoing model). That's not all: a new ball screw structure provides smoother feedback throughout the steering wheel's entire rotation, and you can thank the more rigid pinion shaft for the lack of an on-center dead spot. There's a floating end bushing that improves responsiveness to small inputs, too. IS 350 F Sports also receive Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS), which changes feel based on speed and driving situation when the Sport S+ mode is selected.
Powertrains are largely carryover, though tuning and outputs are slightly different, said Lexus USA product planning manager Ben Mitchell. A version of the current IS F's eight-speed transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters does make its way into the 350 F Sport. The IS 250 F Sport continues to make do with the familiar paddle-shifted six-speed auto.
I got to try the 2014 IS 250 F Sport first. With a 200-plus-horsepower, 2.5-liter six-cylinder motivating its rear wheels, the 250 F Sport shot off the line with surprising peppiness. It's no rocket by any means, but with Drive Select in the most aggressive Sport mode (no Sport S+ here), gear shifts occur near the 7000 rpm redline and throttle response sharpens, which also means the brand's sound optimization intake chamber pumped a delicious IS F-esque growl into the cabin.
Nudge it into a bend and you'll notice a weighty but not overly boosted tug in your palms and minimal body roll beneath your bum. Turn-in aggressively and everything below follows smoothly. Though there's some plowing at the limits, there's an uncanny reactiveness to the chassis, and steering that's addicting and entertaining. Its non-adjustable suspension has a Scion FR-S ride quality to it in that it's firm yet comfortable, well-planted and never harsh. Because the IS grew lengthwise, has a stretched wheelbase, and a wider track (exact measurements weren't disclosed), it definitely feels heftier, but the 250 still exhibited a playful, balanced, and well-sorted handling personality.
Gearshifts are immediate but not extraordinarily quick (even in Sport mode) and most occur when you want, but sometimes a pull of the downshift paddle produces nothing but a loud beep indicating a "no shift." When hustled towards a corner, gears will hang high near the torquey red zone. Hit the limiter and you'll see an upshift every time. A shining positive: Throughout a day of countless hard stops, the brakes clenched firmly with each pedal stab.
Sport Mode selected, paddles flapping feverishly, and Traction Control light flashing on the dash is the safest way to have a lot of fun in the 250 F Sport. Braver drivers can kill the electronic nanny for a full tail-wagging, Bridgestone Turanza-tearing experience (the rubber is sized 225/40R-18 front, 255/35R-18 rear). They'll just need to mind the limiter.
While plenty of smiles were had in the 250 F Sport, the 350 F Sport felt like it had an extra 100 pounds hidden in its nose. Naturally, with a more powerful 300-plus-horse 3.5-liter V-6 motivating the 18-inch alloys, the 350 F Sport felt a tad quicker than its little brother in all circumstances.
What does feel substantially different is the chassis with Drive Mode Select in Sport S+, which brings the IS 350's throttle response, gear shift time, steering weightiness, and suspension damping to their highest performance levels. I mostly noticed a stiffened ride, touchier throttle, and a gearbox that was confused by multiple back-to-back shifts/on-off throttle jabs/hard stops (remember, this a prototype).
Pushing the 350 F Sport hard produced more plowing than expected in a sporty sedan of this class and price point. In Sport S+ mode, the damping feels a tad too stiff, a la the first-gen IS F, which preferred to ricochet off imperfections rather than absorb them. As a result, grip suffers overs a variety of uneven real world pavements and the Bridgestones squeal like starving piglets.
Still, there's much to be said about the solidness of the IS' updated chassis. Never did it exude unbalanced tendencies or quirky behaviors during my day of canyon and autocross runs; it simply feels very substantial and nose-heavy, not as agile or as reactive as the BMW or Cadillac. The eight-speed transmission shifts in haste, but you'll need to be in M-range mode with Sport S+ engaged for the quickest shifts and throttle-blipped downshifts.
Around town in Normal mode, the 350 F Sport had the most pliable ride. Front seats that are eight-tenths of an inch lower allow for more headroom. Those seats are also scalloped for rear occupant knee space - my 6'2" copilot fit just fine. Even in prototype form, exterior road noise barely penetrated the passenger quarters.
Triple-layered duct tape covered the majority of the interior's switchgear, yet clearly visible were haptic touch climate control slide buttons meant for temperature adjustment. An F Meter driver instrument cluster mimics that of the LFA and is basically one big LCD screen with a movable ring overlay that slides horizontally depending on drive mode and menu options. In other words, the sliding tachometer is wicked cool and will amaze hordes of passengers and would-be buyers.
IS 350 buyers will get a thicker three-spoke steering wheel that's wrapped in a new perforated leather grain. Both models receive F Sport-unique bolstered seats, wheels, body cladding, and badging along with a two-tiered leather-wrapped dash that's styled in the same vein as the latest GS and LS sedans.
The 2014 IS hits our turf in production form next year following its January debut at the Detroit Auto Show. By then, more bolts will have been twisted and a few more computer maps reprogrammed, allowing the IS' forward progression to be adequately judged. In other words, stay tuned.
Just a quick status update on the redesigned Lexus IS—it’s gearing up for the cross-country transport to Detroit’s North American International Auto Show. Watch the January 15 reveal on the Lexus Facebook page.
The all-new Lexus IS will make its world debut at the Detroit Motor Show on January 15th 2013. A press conference will be held in the Cobo Centre at 9.30am, and live webcast streaming of the event will be available at http://www.lexus-global.com.
The all-new IS model range for Europe will include the IS 250 and the IS 300h, the first IS to feature Lexus Hybrid Drive, both models being also available with a further evolution of the F SPORT package.