Oh, the tough life of an automotive journalist. A seemingly endless number of cocktail parties, ride and drives, trade shows and press trips.
Cute PR girls and more branded swag than you could possibly fit into your carry-on. Rough stuff.
Of course, leading this life does have its drawbacks—lousy airport food, constant hangovers and jet lag, and an impressive collection of speeding tickets.
Which causes us journos into being a rather jaded lot, and many of the incoming press invites are instantly routed to the recycle bin.
It really takes something special to get our attention these days, and encourage us to get out of our Recaro desk chairs and out into the field.
And that something special, more often than not, can be summarized in a single word: racetrack.
And not just on the scenic roads around Raleigh-Durham, but for track time at the famous Rockingham Speedway, aka the Rock.
RSVP? En route.
As a die-hard German car fanatic, I am always leery of Japanese brands making bold claims about their product’s handling and performance.
Sure, many Japanese cars have very impressive specs—at least, on paper.
But as a guy who grew up flogging old Bimmers through the twisties of Northern New England (this, dear reader, is the very essence of what life is all about), I constantly wonder how these modern Japanese cars could possibly be as fun to drive.
A racetrack is the appropriate place to find out.
I’ve really got to hand it to Lexus—they are touting this third-generation IS as a sports sedan amongst the best of them—and by holding their press event at a racetrack, they gave us jaded hotfoots the chance to really put that to the test.
Although Lexus had every model of the new IS on hand to try out (including base models and AWD versions), I didn’t bother with anything but the hot new F-Sports, in both 250 and 350 trim (205hp and 306hp, respectively).
You shouldn’t either.
In addition to some enhanced bodywork, snazzy wheels and an impressive exhaust note, the F-Sport models have top-notch interiors with killer sports seats that offer a comfortably aggressive driving position.
They also feature an electronic dashboard and gauge setup taken from the LFA. And borrowed from the brand’s Halo supercar is the superb 8-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shift.
Now, before you all cry foul and ask what imposter wrote this review, let me restate this for the record: I loathe automatic transmissions.
As a general rule, if it doesn’t have three pedals, I’m not interested.
The exception comes when vehicles don’t have a manual transmission option at all—and even overseas, the new IS is strictly an autobox machine.
This is a shame indeed, but remember that only something like 15% of Americans even know how to drive a manual transmission, and it makes sense that a manufacturer would question the financial wisdom of making one available at all.
Add in the fact that I am yet to find a Japanese-made manual transmission that blows up my skirt.
They all tend to be as loosey-goosey as a ’97 Civic.
Which brings me back to the 8-speed automatic in the F-Sport IS.
Rather than trying to accommodate a very small segment of the sports sedan buyer market with three pedals of mediocrity, Lexus simply took their most advanced, motorsport-designed automatic gearbox and plunked it into their small sports sedan.
Quite frankly, this is a coup for the driving enthusiasts—it is an excellent transmission with multiple driving modes that didn’t leave me wanting at all for a manual setup in the least.
In fact, with the combination ring/infield layout they had staged for us at Rockingham, I didn’t even use the paddle shifters. It’s that good.
In addition to wringing the 2014 models out on the track, I also had the opportunity to slip behind the wheel of a current generation model IS and put it through its paces.
I won’t say much about that to avoid getting off topic—but I will say this: if you’ve walked away from Lexus based on the feel and handling of the current car, walk right on back and try again.
The evolution is so advanced it is scary. The 2014 model is a potent performance car that lives up to their claims.
Ultimately, the IS 350 F-Sport is the one to own, and nicely kitted out for a hair under $50K, it is absolutely a bargain when compared to a similarly setup 335i M-Sport, which set up to my liking would kiss the $60K mark easily.
But this isn’t about the money—this is about that X-factor that makes a car fun to drive.
And Lexus, we at DRIVEN tip our hats to you—you made it happen with the new IS.
Now make an awesome manual ‘box, and we’ll love you forever…
- Posted July 02, 2013
- Share on