First Drive: 2014 Lexus IS

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.

Reviewed: 2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo Sedan

Eighteen months ago, when we had the opportunity to drive the new Buick Lacrosse, it completely blew us away. It completely reset expectations for what a Buick could be.  It truly was the redefinition of a brand.

The follow-up to the Lacrosse for Buick is the new Regal, though it is actually the Opel Insignia redone for North America.  Having been bred in Germany expectations for this car were quite high, perhaps too high.  Much of the enthusiast press had already tagged this car as a performance sedan to go after the BMW Three series, especially in turbo form.  While this car may share similar dimensions with said BMW, make no mistake this car is no Three series competitor. Rather, the Buick Regal is a more than competent sedan, that while not an enthusiast car, certainly won’t embarrass itself when called upon to up the pace. 

As Buick is being reborn and rebranded from GM’s bankruptcy, there has been a question among the press, as to whom Buick is targeting, and what other brands they consider to be competitors.  The two brands that immediately come to mind Buick may be shooting for are Acura and Lexus.  Buick certainly has Acura covered and the quality of their cars are at least as good if not much better than their equivalent Lexus counterparts. On top of that, the Buicks have some style and personality unlike the cars from Lexus. 

The exterior styling of the Buick Regal, while not groundbreaking, nor extraordinary, is nonetheless very pleasing to the eye and does have character. You could say, that the car even has a bit of elegance in its design. Maybe the better term for it it would be graceful. The design language certainly is a carryover from what we saw with the Lacrosse and even a little bit with the Enclave, which was really the first of the new exterior design language. 

Inside the Regal, the quality of the materials are very pleasing and while the leather of the seats was not buttery soft, the material did have a nice thickness to its feel.  The use of hard plastics was kept to an absolute minimum, and the materials had a nice soft touch and good graining. That said, there were some interesting omissions from our Regal test car.  Number one, if there was a trunk release button inside the car it was not to be found.  Number two, at the price level of our test car, which was a fully optioned CXL Turbo model, there was no backup camera, no remote start, nor proximity locks.  While some of this may seem very nit picky, we recently had a  Kia Optima in for review that was $7000 less expensive than the Regal, yet had all of these features.  As competitive as this market segment is, it’s these little things that can make or break a car’s acceptance. 

The Telematics system worked very well we had no problems pairing our iPod, nor our Blackberry phone to the system.  As part of the option package there was a Harman Kardon nine speaker stereo system, and we have to say it’s one of the best factory installed systems we have yet experienced. We tested it with a number of genres including jazz, techno, classical and rock, and it held up well to all of these. For example, we had an old “Everything But The Girl” album playing, and got some looks from how much the system was bumping, all without distortion. On top of that Tracie Thorn’s vocals made you feel as if you were in a small club with her. 

The driver seat is multi adjustable including lumbar and side bolsters. We had no problem finding a comfortable driving position that were sure would be good for 500+ miles.  Back seat room was also very good, a six-foot person would have no problem being comfortable for an extended period of time. The trunk of the Buick Regal is also quite substantial. While it missed out on our bimonthly Costco, Trader Joe, Meijer’s runs we have no doubt he would’ve swallowed all of that with ease.

While many people expected the turbo model to be a performance car, our take away was that much like Hyundai and Kia the use of a turbo four-cylinder is more a replacement for a V6 then it is to be a performance model. While the Buick regal Turbo certainly has good power, it’s not going to blow you away. The level of power is certainly more than acceptable and the four-cylinder engine is very smooth, it never had us wishing that there was a V6 upfront instead. Fuel mileage for our Regal Turbo is rated by the EPA at 18 city 28 highway and 22 combined. Our results sow 21 in city driving and 32 on the highway, which we were pleased with. 

The Regal Turbo gives you the option of two additional suspension settings, a sport mode and a touring mode. The difference between the two can be felt, the sport mode did firm things up, and you certainly felt more of the road through the seat. However, the majority of our time with the car we chose neither. In the standard mode the car rode very well and ate up highway miles, it dealt nicely with the bomb craters that we have for roads in Southeast Michigan. There was no harshness to the suspension in dealing with several large potholes, which, in other cars, have caused unpleasantness.  The steering could have used a little more feedback and road feel, it wasn’t bad but it would have been nice for just a little more. The car was responsive to direction change, and held lines nicely when we tested it on a few off ramps. 

Our test car had a base price of $28,745, the top level option equipment package added $5690 to the total giving and as delivered price including destination of $35,185. The way Buick have decided to option this car is to offer the choice of seven different packages rather than mix-and-match choices, and there were no options that were not included in this car. At 35 grand the Buick is in a tough price range. For essentially the same money you can get a well-equipped though not loaded  La Crosse, which to this day is still one of our favorite cars we tested over the last two or three years. The Regal is certainly a match for any Lexus IS or Acura TL and would probably offer better value for money, but it’s the omission of a few little things that keep us from having the same reaction to the Regal that we did for the Lacrosse. 

At the end of the day the Buick Regal Turbo is a very good effort. While we are a bit disappointed that it not our socks off like the Lacrosse did we were still pleased to see that Buick is continuing its efforts to redefine its brand and deliver quality products that are much more than you would expect.