There’s only one thing better than getting an invitation to test drive the completely redesigned 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport—and that’s getting an invitation to test drive the completely redesigned Lexus IS 350 F Sport on track at the legendary Rockingham Speedway. Goodbye speed limits and radar wielding state troopers. Hello high-G force turns and pedal-mashing straightaway.
I had street tested a previous version of the F Sport, and was eager to see how the new, aggressive, sport-tuned Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) with Sport+ driving mode—a combo the Lexus engineers were all geeked out about—could handle an amped-up journalist eager to experience all 306 horses they had corralled under the hood.
Engineering intel also says the new AVS is 20% more rigid than the outgoing model, providing cornering grip that keeps the rear end stuck to the pavement like Charlie Sheen to a pair of porn stars. It was time to find out just how sticky that is.
Upon arrival at The Rock, Lexus had new IS models lined up and ready to roll—along with a lone 2013 model, the sacrificial lamb whose sole purpose was to prove its inferiority to its new brother. (More on that lamb’s slaughter in a minute.)
After a hot lap with an instructor to get a feel for the course they had laid out, it was time to get behind the wheel. I immediately gravitated over to a metallic red beauty. The third generation IS wears their new spindle grill, and the F Sport gets a special black honeycomb version flanked by wide, snarling side vents that give it the look of a grinning Predator just before he lays into an aging action star.
New design touches also include a body length side swoop, a wider, more confident stance, wraparound LED headlamps and special 18” five-spoke wheels. Drop into the power 10-way driver’s seat, beefed up with extra bolstering to keep your ass where it belongs as you carve into the turns, and you’ll experience the all-new interior.
The centerpiece of the cockpit is the Adaptive Meter dead center in the dash. Adapted from the LFA Supercar, it features a center gauge that slides off to the right to reveal an 8-color Thin Film Transistor LCD that displays all menu items.
I strapped in and rolled to the starting line. The flagman dropped the green and I dropped the pedal. I usually take it a little easy on the first lap, but the car was a little sluggish. Something felt off. Finishing the lap and coasting into pit road, I found out the reason: The person before me had put the car into ECO mode.
Piloting the IS 350 F Sport in ECO mode is like getting Kate Upton into bed, then telling her you just want to hold hands.
I dialed in SPORT+ and headed back to the start line. This time all 277 lb.-ft. of torque from the 3.5L V6 slammed into the rear wheels and the F Sport tore off down the straight towards turn one. There’s an old joke that the “F” in F Sport stands for a certain four letter word you’ll shout the first time you gun the throttle. This new version will have you adding about a half dozen more U’s to the middle of that word.
The engineers had the directive to make the new IS more fun to drive, with immediate and precise handling. They succeeded. After a few laps, I was taking the corners harder and faster, the IS was feasting on turns, and the back end still refused to break free.
The nimbleness of the new IS surprises – like seeing a jacked-up pro wrestler body slam an opponent, then dance a perfect ballet. The IS handled everything I threw at it, from diving into a sharp turn off a 90mph straightaway, to screaming through long, tight turns without complaint.
Then it was time to take the 2013 for a spin. Turn one, no problem. But, going into turn two the rear hinted it wanted to break lose, and in the tight, late apex turn four it did. Even at a speed several mph slower than I had taken it in the 2014. I feather-footed the 2013 thru the rest of the course, bid it goodbye, and stayed with the much more capable 2014 for the rest of the day.
The entry fee to enjoy a track-capable luxury sedan will start around $43,000 for the RWD version and $44,880 if you decide to go AWD.