Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony and Jeff Wilson

These are not cars you buy lightly. You do not end up getting a sport sedan north of $50K simply because you were looking for a good commuter appliance or even something luxurious and capable. No, these are purchases of passion and calculation, sure to elicit many hours poring over specs, options, and perhaps lease rates vs your corporate car allowance, or the car you’ve long had your heart set on and finally spring for.

These are neither muscle cars, nor are they underpowered scalpels meant solely for driving engagement. No, these cars are about balance: the power to thrill, the handling to reward, an acceptable compromise for daily driving, and luxury to impress. They’re not cheap, nor are they out of reach for many with a healthy household income and might be pressed into family duties or used as a personal commuter. However, these are not the base luxury sedans, so they have a certain cachet that speaks to driving enthusiasts of various types. While not a vehicle destined for the masses, they must still deliver on all these fronts, preferably with a unique character that will draw new customers to the brand, or feed the dreams and aspirations of brand loyalists looking to climb their way up the product ladder.

2013 Audi S4Comparison Test: 2013 Audi S4 vs 2014 Lexus IS 2502014 Lexus IS350
Comparison Test: 2013 Audi S4 vs 2014 Lexus IS 350. Click image to enlarge

After proving itself in a trial by fire in our Sport Sedan Comparison Test and then surviving unscathed in family shuttling, commuting duties and even a short road trip, the Audi S4 has earned a place in the Hall of Fame (if we had one, that is).

However, notably absent in that Comparison were the Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS, cars that have a huge amount of anticipation surrounding them because of their past records as challengers to the German dominance in this arena. While we have yet to drive the Q50, James Bergeron sampled the IS at its launch in Austin, Texas this past spring and came away duly impressed: “The sum of the minor changes to the suspension, steering, chassis dynamics and interior refinements add up to what feels like a giant leap forward in sophistication, sport and luxury and a huge blow for the German mainstays.“

To say we’ve been itching to get the two together would be a massive understatement. After months of repeated begging, haranguing and pestering, Lexus delivered a Matador Red Mica IS 350 F Sport on our final weekend with the S4. Now, some might argue that this is a comparison of unequals, but we find it all the more fascinating for that. Audi’s Quattro AWD against the IS’s rear-wheel-drive power delivery, traditional design compared to hyper modern, forced induction versus natural aspiration and a price discrepancy that could buy you a subcompact car (okay, you might need some incentives to actually drive away in a car for less than $14K).

Comparison Test: 2013 Audi S4 vs 2014 Lexus IS 250Comparison Test: 2013 Audi S4 vs 2014 Lexus IS 250
Comparison Test: 2013 Audi S4 vs 2014 Lexus IS 350. Click image to enlarge

Now, we have our regular legion of fans who would dismiss this comparison because of all (or any of) these differences, but we want to see how they feel and drive compared to each other, to test the value proposition each offers, and to judge the new IS against the stiffest competition. Anyone who thinks the IS 350 and S4 are not competitors in every sense of the word simply isn’t looking at the same market we are. Then again, we love to hear your take on this niche, so chime into the conversation in our comments below for any reason whatsoever.

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