2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD
2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD
2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD. Click image to enlarge

Review by Paul Williams, photos by Paul Williams and courtesy Lexus Canada

Our long-term test of the 2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD only lasted a bit over four weeks, but it was enough time to generate three lasting impressions. The first centres on the new exterior design, which is eye-catching and very appealing. The second is the power and responsiveness of the IS 350 AWD drivetrain, and the third is the pleasure of dropping into the driver’s seat and gripping the IS’s sport steering wheel in anticipation of another pleasurable on-road experience – in other words, this is a very nice car to drive!

Coincidentally, the 2014 Lexus IS recently won Popular Mechanics’ Automotive Excellence Award in the Luxury category, although PM waxes on about its performance more than its luxury. But still, this is probably an unexpected winner in a category that includes the often-unassailable BMW 3 Series, not to mention the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and upstart Cadillac ATS. It’s also a finalist in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) 2014 Car of the Year awards program as the winner of the Best New Luxury Car Under $50,000 category in RWD trim.

To recap, the Lexus IS is a compact luxury sport sedan that’s available with a choice of two engines (2.5LV6 and 3.5L V6), rear-wheel drive (RWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) and in several levels of trim. Lexus points out that the 2014 IS can be purchased in 22 specification packages, which explains why it can start at  $37,300 (in IS 250 RWD form), while our IS 350 AWD stickers at a more formidable $50,800 (or $52,929 including options, freight/PDI and the various taxes and fees applied to new car sales in Ontario).

Our test car is the $44,000 IS 350 AWD with a $6,800 F Sport Premium Package in Atomic Silver with a black faux leather interior. Its 3.5L V6 engine carries over from the outgoing generation – still making 305 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 277 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm – and is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission (no manual is available, although an eight-speed automatic arrives with the IS 350 RWD). A standard centre-console mounted Drive Select system permits the driver to toggle between Eco, Normal and Sport modes, which has become a common feature in vehicles of this type.

I test drove a previous-generation IS 350 AWD a couple of years ago and found the power good, the design so-so and the interior dimensions wanting. The all-new 2014 model retains the sweet V6 engine and fully addresses my criticisms regarding styling and interior volume. The new exterior design, for example, is much more distinctive; heads regularly turned, and spontaneous positive comments were not uncommon when driving this car.

2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD F-Sport
2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The grille, of course, is where the visual action begins, and it is quite a construction. In combination with the somewhat menacing look of the headlights, the front of the new IS sets the tone for the car, and the dynamic elements that continue rearward. Like any vehicle, it will be a matter of personal taste, but I think it all works very well and sets the Lexus IS apart from its more conservatively designed competition.

Our car was equipped with the $6,800 F Sport Premium Package which added special external features and an even sportier presence than the base model. The F Sport Premium Package nets you the Lexus LFA-inspired 18-inch F Sport wheels and a unique front fascia with mesh spindle version of the already dramatic grille. The wheels work particularly well on this car and perfectly complement the rich Atomic Silver Metallic paint that our car wore.

Connect with Autos.ca