Over the last 18 months you can really see Akio Toyoda’s fingerprints on the Lexus brand. For many years Lexus was considered a brand of fine cars with excellent build quality and a dealer network that set the standard for the industry. However, they were also thought of as bland and emotionless vehicles. Cars and SUV’s for those that wanted something nice, but didn’t care about cars or want to think about cars.
Akio’s statement was that cars bearing his family’s name WOULD have emotion, would have a connection to the driver, they would NOT be thought of as just a commodity item.
The all new GS was the first real statement along those lines and now with the 2014 Lexus IS, the third generation of the car, Akio has focused Lexus’ efforts into not just drawing event with cars like the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4, but setting the standard for the small luxury performance segment.
The new IS draws from it’s larger stablemate, the GS, in several areas. The front end is a further, more aggressive evolution of the spindle grill, the interior continues the horizontal theme dash, and the rear suspension is derived from the GS as well.
The new IS gains 2.5 inches in wheelbase allowing for a further 1.6 inches of rear seat legroom. The overall length has been extended 3.5 inches, the trunk now has an additional .5 cubic foot of space and the first time offering a 60/40 split folding rear seat for additional cargo capacity.
When the new IS is ordered with Satellite Navigation, it comes loaded with 3D mapping including Street View. Traffic and weather information are now subscription free, weather is updated every 10 minutes and traffic every 2 minutes. Traffic also has the addition feature of Predictive Traffic which can forecast ahead 15, 30 and 45 minutes so that you can see what your route may look like, and if you should choose a different way. Also when you are running low on fuel gas stations will appear as Points Of Interest on the map.
The 2014 IS has all of the safety features you’ve come to expect on a car at this level, 10 air bags, Blind Spot Warning with Cross Traffic, lane departure alert, and Pre Collision Radar cruise control down to 25 miles an hour.
The F-Sport version of the new IS, available on both the IS 250 and the IS 350 is distinguished by a different nose and bumper, different seats, LED daytime running lights, variable adaptive suspension and additional drive modes of Sports S and S+. Also in the F-Sport is a different gage cluster that draws it’s inspiration from the LFA Supercar. The center dial slides from the center to the right and alters the information on the LCD gage cluster.
Optional on all models is the 15 speaker, 835 watt Mark Levinson audio system. The system features a full digital (Class-D) amplifier, 5.1 channel/7.1 channel surround system, a total of 15 GreenEdge™ ultra-high efficiency speakers and a Lexus-first Auto Volume System,which automatically adjusts volume when changing between sources or radio channels.
The IS 250 and 350 can be had either as Rear Drive or All Wheel Drive. Power comes from either a 2.5 liter V6 in the IS 250 offering 204 horsepower and 184 lb/ft of torque, or the 3.5 liter V6 in the IS 350 which offers up 306 horsepower and 277 lb/ft of torque.
Fuel economy is rated in the IS 250 at 21/30/24 (city/highway/combined) for the Rear Drive and 20/27/23 for the All Wheel Drive model. The IS 350 rates as 19/28/22 for the Rear Drive and 19/26/21 for the All Wheel Drive.
All IS 250’s, plus the IS 350 AWD will use a six speed automatic transmission, while the Rear Drive IS 350 will use the eight speed automatic from the outgoing IS-F.
On the road the new IS has a very comfortable and controlled ride quality, the cabin is very quiet, as you’d expect. However, when you put your foot down, there is a very sporty sounding exhaust, and when tossed aggressively into corners, the body stays very flat, and the handling is very neutral, with just a hint of understeer to keep you safe.
Lexus believe you can have your cake and eat it too with the suspension in the new IS. They have soften the springs at all four corners to make the ride more supple, yet larger anti roll bars allow the handling to be very sporty and controlled without being overly stiff. When you want a more aggressive suspension you can dial it up with the drive mode selector. In the standard IS you have a Sport mode, and in the F-Sport there are Sports S and S+ options. The additional modes will not only change the suspension calibrations, but alter how aggressive the throttle is as well.
For 30 years the BMW 3 Series has set the benchmark for the small sport luxury segment, and Audi in the last decade has been running neck and neck with BMW with their A4. Lexus have now gone all in on this segment, and just like when Lexus entered the market with the original LS, the Germans will be may need to re-evaluate their current efforts.
Pricing for the IS 250 begins at $35,950 and $39,465 for the IS 350, All Wheel Drive adds $2,515 to the IS 250 and $2,235 to the IS 350, all models of the new IS will be available mid Summer.
Having previously tested and really enjoyed the Cadillac CTS SportWagon, we wanted to sample the CTS that 90% of people will purchase: the Sedan. We will say till we are blue in the face that people are missing out if they don’t sample the wagon, as it’s a brilliant package.
So how is the Sedan different than the SportWagon? Very little, and that’s a very good thing. The original CTS was the official reboot of the Cadillac brand and with this latest generation of the CTS a car that has pulled even with the best in the world.
Many of the opinions that we had with the Wagon remain with the Sedan. The Art & Science design was controversial when it appeared almost a decade ago, but today, it’s almost mainstream with many other companies having taken elements of that design language, sharp edges, compound surfaces and tight packaging. With its deep front end and prominent grill the CTS has a very aggressive look from the front, it looks as if it’s eager to eat up the miles on the road.
The side profile of the car is less radical, though it has a number of lines that sweep upwards towards the rear to give the car a wedge look which continues the theme of forward motion. The rear view again is a study in angles giving the car texture from the rear.
The interior of the car is made up of quality materials and soft touch surfaces. There are a few bits of hard plastic material in the car, but for the most part they are in places where you wouldn’t notice, or wouldn’t care. The Wagon that we tested had the pop-up screen that had navigation, DVD and other touch screen functions. Our sedan was not so equipped. While we didn’t miss the nav system, the big screen did make working through the bevy of menus somewhat easier. If you would like it, it’s a $2,145 option.
One item we would like to see as an option that comes standard on the Premium Collection model would be a heated steering wheel. Come the winter months in many parts of the country, grabbing a cold leather wrapped wheel with bare hands can be uncomfortable. There are cars in GM’s product line that cost less money than the CTS like the Buick LaCrosse, which have the heated wheel as standard equipment, and you never knew how much you’d love this feature until you use it the first time.
The driver’s seat is a nice place to do business. It doesn’t matter if you are stuck in traffic commuting to work, piling up the miles on the highway, or out on a two lane road for a Sunday drive. Our CTS was equipped with the optional 3.6-liter direct injection V6 which has 304 horsepower. The standard engine is a direct injection 3.0 liter with 274 horsepower, but this 3.6-liter unit is the one to have. While the horsepower numbers aren’t that different, torque numbers tell the story. The 3.0 V6 only produces 223 lb/ft while the 3.6 has 273. The CTS is no lightweight at 3,900 so that extra torque is helpful in getting the car moving quickly. The 3.6 likes to rev and does so willingly. When you put your foot down, the car gets up to speed quickly, but it’s not a kick you in the pants kind of power. It’s smooth, almost turbine-like, and before you know it, you are approaching triple digit speeds.
There are a very vocal minority of people who think that Cadillac needs to slot a 6.2 liter LS3 engine from the Camaro and Corvette into the engine bay of the Caddy to have something in-between the V6 and the Supercharged CTS-V, but it’s our opinion that it’s unnecessary and few people would pick that option, the 3.6 has enough power that will keep an enthusiast happy, and the rest of the world more than satisfied.
For those that might be considering an Audi A4 or A6 the CTS does have an AWD option although our test unit did not come equipped with it. As a bonus, there is no fuel mileage penalty for choosing the AWD either.
One of the intriguing things about our time with the CTS SportWagon and now again with the Sedan is how it really grows on you. First impressions of the car are good, you think it’s a nice car, but it doesn’t knock you out. After four or five days of driving the CTS a light bulb goes off and you realize just how special the CTS is. While this is great for long-term ownership, we wonder how this effects impressions with the typical 20-30 minute drive potential buyers have at a dealership.
Pricing is reasonable for the CTS as well. Our Performance Collection RWD edition stickers at $41,565; the only option our test unit was equipped with was the compact spare tire, so our as delivered price was $42,740. Looking over the options list, the only thing we might consider choosing is the optional $2,400 Recaro seats that are both heated and cooled.
The Cadillac CTS is certainly a car that can go up against the worlds best, and anytime Cadillac wants to send one over for us to drive we will be happy to do so. If you go buy one, or just drive one, you won’t be let down.