2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport
The last time I'd driven a Lexus was when I borrowed a friend's RX 330 SUV in Los Angeles for a drive to Santa Barbara, Calif. It was my first experience with a Lexus, and I quickly gathered that they had designed the vehicle more thoughtfully than the cars I'd driven at the level of the RX series—from the quietness of the ride to the ease of the navigation.
The next time I drove a Lexus was in Austin, Texas last year. After comparing the IS to the Mercedes-Benz C250 and the BMW 335i on a racetrack, it became clear that the IS 350 sits at the true intersection of sport and luxury, which appeals to the driver who wants a fun and powerful yet refined ride. As a 20-something who writes about design for a living, this car definitely meets my standards for a car that looks sleek and drives just as powerfully.
Now in New York, I had the opportunity to drive the IS 350 again. In Manhattan. Initially concerned about the car in dense city streets, I remembered that I would be going to Washington, D.C. and had driven this impressive car before. I recalled that it's a calm, fluid ride with all of the amenities needed for a five-hour highway drive—advanced navigation, HD radio with traffic updates, and Mark Levinson premium audio (I cannot emphasize enough how fantastic these speakers are).
My first complaint from a purely "design" perspective would be the front end of the vehicle; it has a grille that seems larger than it needs to be and there is too much space around the headlights. Beyond this dramatic exterior take on the new IS, the interior does feel spacious and organized.
My second critique would be the Remote Touch joystick for the navigation and media system; although the nav display is optimized for exiting the highway, more so than any other car I've driven, it's a frustrating task to type in a destination. However, this seems to be a feature most luxury carmakers are consistently seeking to optimize, and once you do select your destination, the rest is easy.
Getting into the IS 350 F Sport, which is $3,180 more than the 350, you immediately feel comfortable. The seats are sporty and perfectly firm, with the option for heating. The moment you hit the gas, even just getting out of a parking lot, you realize you'll never have a problem maneuvering at instant demand.
Overall, the F Sport, with 306 horsepower and a 3.5L V6 engine, passed both of my test scenarios: long highway driving and track racing. Although I don't love the nose of the car, the overall appearance and mechanics reinforced what I learned from driving a Lexus the first time around; despite stiff competition from German carmakers, they've created an IS 350 that's fun, youthful, comparatively well-priced, and well-suited for both day-to-day driving and longer trips.