Monday, January 21, 2013
Lexus IS Sedan
Lexus will debut a new IS sports sedan at the Detroit auto show this January, but before that happens, the company let us loose in some prototypes of the upcoming car covered in camouflage. OK, so it's not camo in the Cabela's sense of the word—unless there's some forest of black swirlies somewhere that we don't know about—but the vinyl wrapping was sufficient enough disguise to keep us from seeing the new car's styling. "You'll have to wait until the Detroit show," was a common refrain we heard throughout the half-day drive.
The first wholesale redesign of the IS since 2006, the new car has been redesigned from grille to exhaust tips. From what we could infer through the automotive equivalent of a Groucho Marx glasses-and-moustache disguise, the new IS appears to borrow heavily from both the current IS and the latest GS.
The borrowing continues under the skin, and the IS's new, stiffer platform was among the few things Lexus was ready to talk about. A smaller version of the GS architecture, the IS looks slightly swollen in both overall length and wheelbase, but Lexus, ever the gentlemen, didn't release any exact measurements. The interior feels more spacious than before, especially the rear seat. We’d wager that more space between the wheels is a certainty, and if pressed on its exact growth, we’d say it's riding on a 110-inch wheelbase, up from the current 107.5-inch span.
The new platform also brings with it a new rear suspension. Like the GS, this IS has a compact rear suspension that separates the shock and spring to maximize trunk space. In front, the control-arm suspension appears to carry over with the exception of reworked mounts for the anti-roll bar. Electrically assisted power steering returns, but Lexus has tweaked and strengthened the rack components in hopes of increasing feel.
Sitting in the car, we were immediately struck by the new seating position and deeply bolstered seats. Taking a cue from most sports cars, the seat cushion can be adjusted to sit closer to the floor; a sportier seating position was something IS chief engineer Junichi Furuyama insisted upon. Most of the prototype interior was covered in gaffer's tape, but the shape and materials appear to be closely related to those of the GS. Unlike the GS, but as in the LFA supercar, a central-mounted tachometer swings into position and illuminates once you hit the start button. Toggling the Drive Mode Select knob between the seats from Normal to Sport changes the tach face from black-on-white to white-on-black.
Keeping the tachometer busy will be two engines that carry over from the current IS, albeit with a few changes. The IS350’s 3.5-liter V-6 should have 306 hp, while the IS250’s 2.5-liter V-6 should deliver 204. An eight-speed automatic is standard with both engines, marking the first time the Lexus-developed 'box will be paired to a V-6. The slow-selling manual IS250 is dead; Lexus official told us they believe they sold one last year, and that might have been a dealer mistake. All-wheel drive will be available with both engines. A hybrid version, with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and electric motor, will be sold outside North America. With the hybrid CT200h and the ES300h already on sale, Lexus doesn’t see the need for a similarly priced IS hybrid in the States.