The slit scoops next to the grille of the 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport lead to somewhere but we’re not sure where. The outer scoops are dummies.
What’s four inches among friends?
Well, it makes for a better time in the back seat of the 2015 Lexus IS.
Before you get the wrong idea, we’re talking about Increased leg room in what was originally a compact sport luxury car. The increase in overall size of the Lexus IS—actually with the 2014 model year—allows more room inside, and apparently the product planners at Lexus figured more room is what the Lexus IS needed for more sales.
That said, the new Lexus IS is offered in IS 250 and IS 350 formats, as we’ve noted before, and for 2015 varies from 2014 in LED foglights and making the fifth and sixth gear ratios in the six-speed transmission for the all-wheel drive version the same as the rear-wheel drive version. For the IS 350, with the 3.5-liter V-6 instead of the 2.5-liter, there’s a new color. The 2015 Lexus IS can now have Atomic Silver, which happens to be the shade used on out test 2015 Lexus IS 350 RWD F Sport.
The biggest difference between the 2013 and 2014 Lexus IS is that 2014 IS a different car. There’s more elbow room, and the back seat is usable by adults for more than short desperation jaunts. Now it’s less of a sport compact for adults who wouldn’t be seen in a hot-rodded Honda, and more of a grand tourer, and that in the European sense, particularly the 2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport test vehicle.
The IS makes up for the change with dramatic—some would say outrageous—styling, though you either like the Lexus “thimble” grille or you don’t. For the grille, the F Sport grille is more aggressive than that of the non-F Sport. The mesh pattern, however, is mostly sham, largely blocked off for aerodynamics. If the grille were totally open the IS would be pushing a parachute through the air: where design meets aerodynamics.
The lower part of the huge grille is flanked by two scoops on either side. The inner slots appear to be functional, but who knows where they lead. The outer dark look-like-scoops are dummies. The not only lead to nowhere, they start there as well. They’re functionally cosmetic. Suggestion to Lexus: Make BMW-like air curtains out of them to smooth airflow over the wheels.
The reminder of the Lexus IS styling is relatively sedate, although with that grille, how could it be otherwise? We like, however, is the character line that curves up from the rocker panel and across the rear wheel well to a cutline between the rear fender and bumper cover, making a design element out of what’s usually an ugly necessity. Well done, Lexus.
If the exterior designers went overboard with the grille, the interior guys and gals met them 50/50 with the dash. It has more features than your local multiplex cinema. Fortunately, most of them are good and they blend well together, but consider: A short dash top reaches across the topping another layer that ends with a rounded edge, into which dash vents are incorporated. Between these two the designers have carved a rectangular recess for the multi-information display. Audio buttons and CD slot are on a flat panels on the center stack. The instrument panel has a hood all its own. Check the pictures.
Then there’s the center console with shift lever and then two rectangular shapes. The one on the right, which extends further forward, has a cushion-topped joystick which moves a cursor on the MID. It will be familiar to Lexus owners, but for novices, a haptic element makes it feel like the cursor is being pulled into a pit at each on-screen icon. Some people do like it. Obviously Lexus folks did when they invented it. Other people don’t, claiming it shouldn’t be used in traffic or on a bumpy road, but neither should a touch screen or a conventional dashboard button.
The dashboard designers must be really proud of their creation with the most inventive instrument panel since the 1960-62 Chrysler Astrodome http://cdn.silodrome.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Chrysler-300G-4.jpg. The i.p. in our test 2015 Lexus has a large tachometer in the center with a virtual needle on a color LCD screen that has a digital speedometer. There’s no dial for the speedo. What gear and other data displayed in the center. That’s flanked by vertical virtual engine temperature and fuel level gauges on either side.
Change the drive mode to Sport—the F Sport has variable suspension damping, throttle response and steering effort—and the entire tachometer, the physical screen on which the LCD needle and calibrations is displayed, slides to the right to expose additional LCD screen to show additional data, such as fuel consumption. It’s a nifty parlor trick, but making the entire gauge package a video representation could have done the same thing without the possibility of the mechanism not working properly. Which about the third or fourth owner likely won’t.
Full throttle, by the way, changes the rim of the tachometer to red. Just watch out for the red mist.
Speaking of the red mist and driving modes, going from the default Eco mode to Sport is relatively tame alteration. But the Lexus IS F Sport also has a Sport+ mode. It changes the entire demeanor of the car. Actions are much more aggressive, and with the transmission in full automatic mode, shifts occur earlier and with less pressure on the gas pedal. Hold the pedal steady and change drive mode to Sport+ and the car will actually speed up. The variable suspension in Sport+ makes the IS F Sport corner flatter and gives it a firmer ride.
We’d choose Sport+ on everything but roads with broken pavement, and that’s just our preference. But the Lexus IS 350 F Sport defaults to Eco mode. It’s annoying, at least to us, but no doubt the Eco mode yields improved fuel economy, which most owners probably prefer. And it helps Toyota meet its federally-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers.
But if you think four more inches would help in the back seat, you’ll love the 2015 Lexus IS.
2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport, price and key specifications as tested
Body style/layout: 4-door sedan, front engine/rear-wheel drive
Base price (including F Sport option): $43,805
Price as tested: $47,840
• Type: 3.5-liter 24-valve DOHC V-6
• Displacement, cc: 3456
• Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
• Compression ratio: 10.8:1
• Horsepower: 268 @ 6200 rpm
• Torque: 248 @ 4700 rpm
• Recommended fuel: regular unleaded
• Fuel economy, EPA est.: 15/23 mpg city/highway
• Fuel economy, observed: 18.5 and 17.7 mpg
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with paddle shift
• Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / dual-link MacPherson strut
• Wheels: 18 x 7.5-inch alloy
• Tires: 225/45R18 all-season
• Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 11.6-inch dia. front/11.0-inch dia. rear
• Steering: electric power rack-and-pinion
• Turning circle: 37.4 ft.
• Wheelbase: 111.0 in.
• Length: 192.7 in.
• Height: 57.1 in.
• Width: 71.7 in.
• Curb weight: 3,549 lbs
• Trunk volume: 15.2 cu. ft.
• Fuel tank: 17.2 gal.
• Airbags: Front, driver and passenger knee, front side, rear side, side curtain
• Anti-lock brakes: Yes Traction control: Yes Stability control: Yes Electronic brake-force distribution: Yes Brake assist: Yes
• Other: Lexus Enform Safety Connect with Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assist Button, backup camera, blind spot monitor with cross-traffic alert,
Warranty: 4-year/50,000 mile basic; 6-year/70,000 mile powertrain; 6-year/unlimited-mile corrosion