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Road Test: 2014 Lexus IS 250 F Sport AWD

Prices for the Lexus IS 250 start at

Prices for the Lexus IS 250 start at $35,950. (March 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Bloomberg

For Halloween this year I'm going as a 2014 Lexus IS 250 F Sport AWD. The new sedan looks fast and powerful, but the sporty costume makes promises its drivetrain can't keep.

The all-wheel drive IS 250 F Sport that I tested had rakish styling and responsive handling, but its 2.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission trailed the power or fuel economy of competitors such as 2.0-liter turbocharged versions of the Audi A4, Cadillac ATS and BMW 328i.

Prices for the 2014 Lexus IS start at $35,950 for a rear-drive model with a 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V-6 engine. All-wheel-drive models with the 2.5L engine start at $38,485. A 306- horsepower 3.5L V-6 powers the IS 350.

The IS sedan grew larger and more accommodating for 2014. Overall length grew by 3.4 inches. The results are a roomy front seat, functional rear seat and a 13.8 cubic-foot trunk that's among the largest in its segment.

The IS 250 AWD that I drove on a long trip from Detroit to Minneapolis struggled to hold its own in the fast and heavy traffic around Chicago and the rolling countryside approaching the Mississippi. Its EPA fuel economy rating trails the A4, ATS and 328i, all of which use smaller but more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engines.

The IS 250's handling is responsive. The car felt secure and balanced in fast curves and the brakes performed admirably. The steering provides good feedback and a secure on-center feel.

The optional F Sport seats proved comfortable and supportive on my long drive. Lexus uses a video game-style joystick to control some features, including navigation. It's OK, but takes the driver's eyes and attention off the road longer than I like.

The 2014 IS has a handsome shape that's accentuated by the F Sport appearance package. In addition to interior upgrades, the F Sport provides LED headlights, 18-inch five-spoke wheels and a bold version of Lexus' attractive spindle-shaped grille.

The F Sport package looks like a million bucks -- making it a steal at $2,675 -- but I think Lexus erred in offering it on a car with mediocre performance.

Lexus wants to establish its F badge -- first seen on the seriously fast IS-F a couple of years ago -- as a peer to BMW's M Sport and Mercedes' AMG performance brands. Slapping the badge and trim on the IS 250 undermines F Sport's credibility as legitimate performance gear.

It's a fine costume, though. A bit more trick than treat.


2014 LEXUS IS 250

BASE PRICE: $35,950


ENGINE: 2.5-liter DOHC VVT direct-injection 24-valve V-6

POWER: 204 horsepower at 6,400 rpm

EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 20 mpg city, 27 highway

WHEELBASE: 110.2 inches

LENGTH: 183.7 inches

WIDTH: 71.3 inches

HEIGHT: 56.3 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,649 pounds

BOTTOM LINE: More trick than treat

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