For the latest incarnation of its entry-level luxury line, Lexus says it started with an idea of the experience its drivers wanted and worked to make that happen.
The result is the 2014 Lexus IS sport sedan. The models, which include the IS 350 and IS 250, were unveiled Tuesday during press previews at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. And they seek to raise the bar for compact luxury.
"To be competitive in this segment, you have to have a great-looking car that's fun to drive and offers a true luxury and a value proposition, and the IS delivers them all," Mark Templin is group vice president and general manager of Lexus, told reporters.
The IS also is offered in F SPORT models, which include enhanced suspensions, unique 18-inch wheels and other additions.
The luxury division of Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. is looking to the IS to help boost 2013 sales. Overall, Lexus sales in the U.S. rose 23 percent in 2012 from the previous year to about 244,000, helped by other new or refreshed models.
The IS, however, didn't show the sales growth last year of other Lexus models. IS sales fell about 6 percent in 2012 in the U.S. from the previous year to about 27,700, while updates to other models helped Lexus overall.
UNDER THE HOOD: Rear- and all-wheel drive versions of the IS 250 are powered by a 2.5-liter, V-6 gasoline engine, while the IS 350 features a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine. A gasoline-electric hybrid version called the IS 300h will be available in Europe, Japan and some other markets, but not in the U.S. The IS has switchable driving modes such as "ECO," normal and sport to allow drivers to set preferences for fuel economy, comfort, performance and handling.
INSIDE: The driver's area is inspired by the super-expensive Lexus LFA sports car, making it feel more "sport" than "sedan." Its wheelbase is longer than the previous version, offering more interior space and trunk capacity. Lexus says that change coupled with a thinner front seat means rear passengers get 3 more inches of knee room. The rear seats fold down partially or entirely for more cargo space.
OUTSIDE: The IS aims for a broader, more powerful stance on the road. It has a large grille that Lexus describes as a "spindle" that is featured on some of its other models. The design emphasizes the wide flare of the wheel arches on the IS, and L-shaped daytime running lights that are a Lexus trademark help set its look apart.
PRICE: The new IS line goes on sale in June in the U.S., Templin said. Lexus says pricing is expected to be released closer to that time. Lexus said it might consider offering the hybrid version in the U.S. later if there's customer demand.
CHEERS: With a sports car-inspired interior feel, additional passenger space and more aggressive design, the all-new IS offers a solid entry point into the Lexus brand. That blending of luxury and performance may lure back buyers.
JEERS: The IS sits in a tough competitive spot, up against luxury mainstays including the BMW 3-Series. How it's welcomed by drivers will show whether the overhaul is enough for it to help Lexus post another year of sales gains.
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