2013 – or 2014 – Lexus IS?

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The 2013 Lexus IS (250 and 350) is still for sale as a new model, but the 2014 – heavily updated – is just now becoming available, too. This presents buyers with one of those crossroads moments when they can stick with the old – but still brand-new model – or go with the “new new”  (and very different) model.'13 Lexus IS lead

I haven’t yet driven the ’14, but just spent a week in the also-still-new-2013.

Here are some things to know about both.


The IS series is Lexus smallest luxury-sport sedan. It slots in between the larger – but less sporty – ES350 – and the more expensive GS. '14 IS 350

It’s available with either of two V-6 engines – one very small (2.5 liters) and frankly, pretty weak (204 hp, 0-60 in 8-8.3 seconds), the other larger (3.5 liters) and much stronger (306 hp, 0-60 in 5.5 seconds).

Either version is available in RWD or AWD layouts – but neither with a manual transmission.

Prices for the 2013 (first picture above, in gray) start at $35,065 for the RWD IS 250; with AWD, the sticker price is $37,525. The RWD ’13 IS350 starts at $40,320. Equipped with the optional AWD system, the price climbs to $42,780.

The ’14 IS250 (pictured above, in white) begins at $35,950 for the RWD version; $38,485 with AWD. The ’14 IS350 starts at $39,465 with RWD and $41,700 with AWD.

WHAT’S NEW2013 sideview

2013 is the final year for the current generation (the second generation) of the Lexus IS series; there are virtually no changes to the car vs. the 2012s.

The ’14 is a larger, roomier car – with revised exterior styling centered around the new Lexus “Cylon Centurion” hourglass grille. However, the drivetrains are mostly carryover, with the ’14 having the same 2.5 liter and 3.5 liter V-6s under its hood.

One thing that has changed, 2013 vs. 2014, is that the all-new ’14 IS350 is priced lower than the new-but-old ’13 IS350. Base price for the ’14 with RWD is $855 less than the ’13 with RWD. The ’14 with AWD stickers for $41,700 – vs. $42,780 for the AWD-equipped ’13, a difference of $1,080.2014 sideview 2

Usually the “all new” version of any given car costs more than the old model. So why the price cut? It’s partially exchange rates – and partially that Lexus is trying to make the ’14 more competitive in its segment vs. models like the all-new Caddy ATS, which starts at just $33,095 – and which can be ordered with a 321 hp V-6 for $41,895.


The ’13s engines are the same as the 2014s – so there’s no under-the-hood downgrade attending the purchase of the new-old 2013 vs. the new-new 2014.2013 gauges

The ’13 and ’14 both get to 60 in about the same timeframe.

AWD is available with either engine.

Old-new IS is a more compact-sized car (180.3 inches long overall, vs. 183.7 for the new-new ’14), if you’re looking for a bit more room in your garage.

If you’re shopping the ’13, probably your local Lexus store will be more ready to cut you a deal in order to make room for the ’14s.


If you buy the ’13 IS350, you get a six-speed automatic – vs. the ’14 IS350’s more up-to-date eight speed.

’13 is a tight fit inside – front seats and back. New-new ’14 has significantly more head and legroom for both front and rear seat passengers, as well as a slightly larger trunk.

’13’s exterior/interior are pretty much the same as they were in 2012, 2011 . . . and 2010 and 2009. In fact, the ’13 IS is pretty much the same as the 2006 IS – the first year for the second-generation IS (and the last time there was a major change, either inside or outside). From 2006 to 2013, it is hard to distinguish one model year from the next. If you like the second-generation IS, that’s not a problem, of course.

Even the small-engined (and not-quick) IS250 is pretty piggy: 21 city, 30 highway – 24 combined.

But then, so is the new-new ’14 – which does no better.

UNDER THE HOOD2013 IS 250 engine

This one’s easy, because both the retiring ’13 and its replacement have the same engine lineup.

As before, the ’13 IS 250 comes with a 2.5 liter, 204 hp V-6. It’s a little V-6 – and in the 3,435 lb. IS (RWD; the AWD version is slightly heavier) performance is what you’d expect – tepid. Zero to 60 takes about 8 seconds flat (8.2-ish for the AWD) version, which is arguably too lethargic for a car with a $35k-to-start price tag. The IS250’s acceleration is barely par for current-year economy compacts in the $17k range. (Just for instance: The $16,200 to start ’13 Ford Focus achieves virtually the same 8.3 second to 60 time).2013 ES350 engine

The IS250’s so-so acceleration (it’s adequate for everyday driving) would be unobjectionable – or at least, acceptableif the car delivered exceptionally good gas mileage. But it does not. The RWD car’s 21 city, 30 highway is actually well  below class leaders like the BMW 3, which not only delivers an EPA rated 24 city, 36 highway (RWD) but also gets the car to 60 in 5.9 seconds – two full seconds sooner than the IS250.

The upgrade – the IS350 – comes standard with a 3.5 liter, 306 hp V-6 – as does the 2014. However, the new-new (2014) gets an eight-speed automatic bolted to the bellhousing, while the old-new 2013 has a six-speed automatic. Acceleration is the same in either car – zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds – but the ’14 is slightly more fuel-efficient, with an EPA rating of 19 city, 28 highway (RWD) vs. 19/27 for the ’13.2014 shifter

What’s worth noting here is not so much the slight difference between the performance/mileage of the 2013 vs. the 2014 IS350, but rather the massive performance gulf between the IS250 (either year) and the IS350 – in context of the slight difference in gas mileage.

The appropriately powerful and quick IS350 is only 2 MPG behind the unacceptably slow-mo’ IS 250 in city driving – and just 3 MPG off the IS250’s highway number. At least in terms of cost-to-feed, there is little reason not to buy the IS350 – and good reason not to buy the IS250.2014 F Sport

As before, an F-Sport performance enhancement package is available with both the IS250 and the IS350. It is a handling and looks enhancement package – not a horsepower enhancement package. It includes (the ’13) a special 18-inch wheel and tire package, firmer suspension calibrations, front and rear spoilers on the outside – and heated/bolstered F Sport seats. The new-new 2014 also gets a motorized pod instrument cluster inspired by the LFA supercar’s and (V-6 engines) a less-muffled air intake that makes it sound fiercer, though the hp rating remains the same.

ON THE ROAD2013 road 2

The ’13 IS350 is quick, quiet and smooth – but otherwise unremarkable. There is nothing about its handling or ride or road manners that sets it apart from others in this class because the others in this class are also quick, quiet and smooth. However, some of them offer something more – for example, the six-speed manual gearbox you can get in the BMW 3 and the Caddy ATS (which has the additional allure of a punchy turbocharged engine – or, if that’s insufficient, a brawny 321 hp 3.6 liter V-6).

The IS250, on the other hand, is remarkable for being considerably slower than other cars in this segment. For example, the Audi A4 – though not much more potent on paper (2.0 liters, 211 hp) nonetheless can scoot to 60 in 6.2 seconds. With Quattro AWD. This is nearly two seconds quicker than the FWD IS250 – and more than two seconds quicker than the AWD-equipped IS250.2013 road 3

You can also get a six-speed manual transmission in the A4.

Both the Caddy and the Audi – and the BMW, too – have more personality than the Lexus. It’s not that they’re necessarily more competent in terms of their lateral g capability, or their times through a gymkhana course. They’re just more fun to drive, that’s all.

As I drove around in the ’13 IS, I found my mind wandering back to 2001. That year, the first year for the first-generation IS, the IS did have personality. It was fun to drive.2002 IS action

I got one of my most memorable tickets in one, in fact. The car egged me on with its free-revving DOHC in-line six – and six speed manual transmission. Without the safety net of AWD – or the bevvy of electronic interferers that come standard today. It was a much more aggressive car to look at, too – the very first Lexus to come from the factory with clear plastic tail-light covers – just like the hopped-up sport compacts of the time. Power bulge hood, drilled pedals (including a dead pedal to the left of the clutch, as in race cars), a slick “chronometer” gauge package that has been copied since then by numerous others – but which Lexus had first. The pull-up parking brake was – unlike in the current car – tensioned such that you could use it to lock the rear wheels and perform 90 degree bootleg turns (and 180s). Which is how I got that ticket. 2002 IS gauges

Two tickets, actually.

They were expensive – but worth it. I had a blast in that car. I wish I could say the same about this car – the 2013 (and probably also the 2014, given it’s not much different, mechanically).

A manual transmission option; maybe a turbo. More power – or better economy. Something – anything – to give it some memorable or distinctive quality. Some reason to want to buy it rather than a BMW, Cadillac or Audi.

AT THE CURB2013 front

Here we come to the biggest difference between the last of the second generation and the first of the third: Size – and space.

The ’13 is 180.3 inches long overall – and rides on a fairly short 107.5 inch wheelbase. The ’14 is 183.7 inches long – and its wheelbase is 110.2 inches. Plainly put, the ’14 edges closer to almost-mid-sized, while the ’13 is a true compact.2014 front view

For some perspective/comparison: The Caddy ATS is 182.8 inches long overall and has a 109.3 inch wheelbase – slightly bigger than the ’13 IS – and slightly smaller than the ’14 IS. Likewise the BMW 3. It is 182.5 inches long overall and rides on a 110.6 inch wheelbase – making it a bigger car than the ’13 IS – and slightly smaller than the ’14.

The upsizing of the ’14 IS was no doubt done in response to complaints about the scanty real estate in the ’13 IS. Though it fits more easily into tight parking spots, it is also a tight fit inside. Taller drivers may find their heads rubbing up against the ceiling, as I did – even with the seat lowered down as far it will go. The ’13 IS’s 37.2 inches of noggin space is a pretty close shave. There’s an inch and a half more clearance in the ATS (38.6) and nearly three inches more in the BMW 3 (40.3 inches).2013 backseat

The ’13’s diminutiveness is also apparent in the second row: 30.6 inches of legroom. Now that is tight. How tight? It’s 1.1 inches less room for your legs (and knees) than in the backseat of a Fiat 500 microcar (31.7 inches). The ATS has nearly 3 inches more legroom in back (33.5 inches). The Audi A4 really takes the cake, with 4.6 inches more (35.6 inches).

The larger ’14 IS has more passenger-agreeable (and tall driver-friendly) accommodations: 38.2 inches of headroom up front – a full additional inch of clearance – and 32.2 inches of backseat legroom, 1.6 inches more than in the ’13. It’s still tighter than the others, but the gap is closer. I could probably live with the ’14. The ’13 is just too cramped for someone my size.

THE REST2013 shifter

I do like the old-new car’s fuss-free controls. Being an older design, the ’13 lacks such things as “haptic” (pressure sensitive) and iPad-like buttons; there is no mouse – and the gear shifter is straightforward put-it-in-drive-and-go. The ’13 is a car you can drive without having it explained to you first. The ’14, on the other hand, does have a mouse input and what Lexus calls Remote Touch Electronics. You may dig this – or hate this – which will help determine which IS is the IS for you.

As mentioned up above, you will probably find it easier to haggle down the price of a new-but-old ’13, as opposed to the new-new ’14. But perhaps not, given that Lexus chose to leave the ’14’s powertrains largely untouched relative to the outgoing ’13s. Yes, you’d get a new, larger car – and all the latest technology. But is that sufficient warrant to pay new-new car money for an old engine lineup? It’s possible there will be a run on the remaining ’13s – while the ’14s take up floor space.

I guess we’ll see.2013 last rearview


The old-new car would have been so much better with a bit more room – and a bit more personality. The new-new one has the room, but comes up short on the rest.

I still miss the original IS, myself. But that’s neither here nor there today.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. Seems displacement means significantly more when determining horsepower than does the number of cylinders. Particularly when comparing this to Hyundai’s 2.4, which has a tenth of a liter less in displacement, and 2 less cylinders, but only makes 4 horsepower less. I’d generally be one to choose a small NA V6 over a turbo 4 still, but in this class, I’m not sure. I’m thinking about buying a Mazda Millennia, which also has a 2.5L V6, with 170hp. Reviewers back then said that that engine felt more than adequate. So I’m assuming this Lexus 2.5 is simply slow when compared to it’s peers?

    In the paragraph comparing the IS to the Quattro, you said the Lexus was FWD. Just letting you know.

    The original IS was certainly revolutionary. It’s understandable that you’d get tickets in that car. My high speed record was made in a Toyota V6, and I have yet to beat it. I have a warm place in my heart for their engines.

    Finally, I like this comparative review style. I’d like to read more like this, maybe even comparing two different new cars competing with each other. Good job.

    • The fastest I ever drove was 203 MPH in a Nissan Skyline on the German autobahn (A7). If you ever get a chance to drive GTR….. The first gen IS was a terrific car but Lexus is trying to appeal to, um, no one right now.

  2. The typical Japanese have no adult sense of style…Nor do the childish freaks in their Kalifornia design studios. They have an occasional good design by accident. This front end doesn’t look horrible on the ES but Lexus is about dead anyway as their reliability is falling due to bumbling MBA cost cutting stupidities. The ES and RX are the only good sellers. Japan is a nation of 12 year olds.

    • You mean as opposed to the American stylists who came up with the Aztek? The Pacer? The “dustbuster” minivans of the ’80s?

      “Shamu the whale” Caprice?

      The Prowler?

        • There’s good, bad – and ugly – on both sides. I agree, current Lexus (and Toyota) cars are a little (and sometimes more than a little) strange-looking, disproportionate – and so on. But, submitted for your consideration:


          • Ohhh…Come Now…The Gremlin was gorgeous 😉
            What about the 69 Javelin?

            My taste is current BMW 5er and X5…I cannot think of even one Japanese car that has classy adult styling. Perhaps the new Acura NSX.

            • I like the Kia Optima – and the Infiniti G sedan/coupe is proportionate and stylish. The Subaru BRZ (and its twin, the Scion FRS) are good-looking cars; the Miata is timeless.

              I also like the Mazda6 (and Mazdas in general).

  3. To me, the 2013 IS 350 is “just right” in size and performance. The body is inconspicuously attractive…..elegant even, to my eyes. In this, its final year of production, it is an “instant classic.” Any mechanical quirks worked out long ago. And with typical Lexus quality, should be a pleasure to own for a long, long time.

    The 8 speed trans in the 2014 IS would be compelling, if that new front grill were not so horribly ugly. Too bad. The new Lexus front is a Monumental Blunder. Not quite as bad as the atrocious look that Acura is finally abandoning. But it will cost them major market share.

  4. I test-drove the original IS-300 several years ago when I was looking for a replacement for the shop-queen Cooper S, and I liked it a lot. I liked it better than the BMW 3-series, actually. It felt lighter and more tossable.

    I’ve ridden in a friends new-model IS and I asked myself “WTF happened??” The new one is a tight fit inside and while it rode better than the 1st gen, something had been lost.

    Chip H.

    • “It felt lighter and more tossable.”

      It was – considerably so!

      The first-gen IS weighed about 250 pounds less than the 2013; it had sharper steering and a much more “in tune” suspension. With the manual gearbox, it was a BMW 3 in all but name (and price)!

  5. I remember the original IS and the “Altezza” tail light craze that it spawned. It seemed like an entire industry spawned overnight providing custom Altezza lights for every vehicle under the sun. The Lexus IS was originally the Toyota Altezza in Japan…a modern take on the classic M3 if there ever was such a thing. It had a very high revving 200HP 4 cyl. and VERY unique tail lights made famous by this game:


    With the craze that ensued, Toyota scrambled to get the vehicle to market by shoving the (slightly) sluggish naturally aspirated Supra drivetrain into it. Thanks to government mandates we got the shaft….again.

  6. The 2014 looks like an Audi A5.

    Do people like having all the very overpriced navagation and touchscreen things in their cars? What I want is a way to control my phone (all functions, not just answer a call) from the steering wheel. Display? The phone already has a (nearly) 5″ display. Navagation? The phone has serveral apps to choose from, some free. Music? Again, the phone already plays music. The whole point of a smartphone is convergence, yet once I get in my car it becomes an island. All they would need to do is have an HDMI display/audio input and a bluetooth trackball on the steering wheel. Done.

    Of course, maybe I’m the exception (or not the target demo). Maybe all the Lexus buyers still have 10 year old Star Tacs. I watched the “documentary” The Queen of Versailles the other day and noticed the guy running Westgate had a cheap burner phone.

  7. The 2013 IS looks like a $18,000. Corolla, with the exception of the convertible. However, I can’t get past the new “cowcatcher” grille on the 2014 IS. It has to be one of the ugliest cars I have ever seen. Currently have a BMW 328i convertible, past its warranty and needing repairs that were never needed in a Japanese car. Add in the fact that everything has to be done by the dealer ( $550. for a new battery as the computer needs to be reset by the dealer), I’ve finally given up on BMW’s. Have owned them since the time when there were probably only 3 BMW dealers in the country, Max Hoffman in Manhattan and LA, and Competition and Sports Cars in Greenwich Ct. I expect that sometime in the near future only the dealer will be able to perform an overpriced car wash and have the computer reset.

    Gave up on American cars with my last one in 1969, so that leaves me looking at the upcoming Infiniti Q50. Eric: Any chance you will be doing a review soon? At least it doesn’t have twin turbos like the new BMW. Less to go wrong and repair. But not happy about all the electronics in the dash. Probably going to buy it anyway as I see nothing else that works for me.


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