AUSTIN, Tex. -- In a new Generation 3.0 rendition of the rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 350 F Sport compact-class sports sedan, a pedal-to-the-metal hot lap on the closed-loop Grand Prix Course at Driveway Motorsports Academy in Austin, Tex., becomes a high-speed ride on the wild side with hair tingling, shoulders pinned to the driver's contoured bucket and pulse racing lickety-split.
This new rendition of the Lexus IS 350 carries the formidable credentials of a high-strung rally car: It scores a super-stiff new chassis with the taut independent suspension tweaked for performance, big ventilated disc brakes at all four posts and a spirited 3.5-liter 6-pack engine sending serious torque to the rear 18-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 255/35YR18 summer tires.
The new package styling looks edgy and tightly drawn like a serious street-racer with oversized wheels pegged at corners and a contoured body characterized by the low arching profile, flat side panels and blunt prow and tail with scant overhangs.
One more thing: You can't miss the new yawning-mouth spindle grille with F Sport issues adding no-nonsense black mesh, and those front-corner swooshes of the daytime running lights that underscore projector-style headlamp clusters.
Despite its tilt toward racy road performance, the IS 350 also conforms to the Lexus penchant of applying lavish luxury appointments in a leather-lined cockpit with glossy hardwood or silvery metallic accents.
Further, there's the technology angle of filling IS series cars with a stunning array of computerized controls.
A key element is the VDIM -- Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management -- system. Tapping into a host of sensors -- tracking such vehicle functions as the angle of the steering wheel, the turn rate of each wheel, lateral motion of the car body, and pressure on brake and accelerator pedals -- the VDIM constantly analyzes all collected data and uses it to deploy various traction controllers and maintain stability.
In effect, VDIM enables the IS driver to perform at a level that's perhaps a step above innate skills -- you come off as an expert in car control without working at it.
The IS series of compact-class sports sedans from Lexus traces to debut editions of 2001. Then in 2006 the series expanded for second-generation designs with three models and optional all-wheel-drive traction.
The IS series of 2014 in third-generation treatment gains a new rear-wheel-drive platform with the chassis strengthened and the wheelbase stretching longer by almost three inches to forge more rear-seat legroom and trunk space.
To a long and broad platform goes the suspension system: Double wishbones up front with high-mount upper arms plus gas-filled shocks and stabilizer bar, and the rear multi-link design also with high-mount upper arms, gas shocks and stabilizer bar.
The electric power steering (EPS) system uses a quick-ratio rack and pinion setup with speed-sensing variable assistance.
Two V6 engines define 2014 IS models, each with RWD and AWD traction options.
Standard plant is a direct-injection 2.5-liter V6 with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and Toyota's intelligent dual continuously variable valve timing (VVT-i) device. It net 204 hp at 6400 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm.
The 2.5-liter V6 drops into the IS 250 tied to an electronic 6-speed transmission with shifter paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
A direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 with DOHC and VVT-i links to a new paddle-shifted 8-speed automatic to define top models IS 350 RWD and IS 350 AWD. This plant hits 306 hp at 6400 rpm with 277 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm.
Both IS 250 and IS 350 carry standard gear like 17-inch alloy wheels, a power moonroof, automatic climate system, power controls for windows/locks/mirrors, manual tilting-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, polyurethane seat upholstery, rear seatback split 60/40, Bluetooth connectivity, 7-inch dashboard display screen and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/HD/XM/USB plus eight speakers.
An optional Premium Package installs heated/ventilated seats and twin-projector LED headlights, while the Luxury Package brings leather seat upholstery with wood trim, power for the tilting/telescoping steering wheel, rain sensing wipers, and blind spot monitor with cross traffic alert.
The F Sport Package consists of twin-projector LED headlights, unique front fascia and grille, 18-inch wheels, sport suspension tuning, high-friction brake pads, 10-way power for driver's seat, perforated leather steering wheel, TFT instrument cluster, aluminum sport pedals and (for IS 350 RWD only) an adaptive variable suspension.
MSRPs for 2014 IS series begin at $35,950 for IS 250 RWD and run to $41,700 for IS 350 AWD.