The 2014 Lexus IS 350 is techie without trying too hard
There we were, in a high-ceilinged loft space in the artsy Dogpatch section of San Francisco. The walls were white. The furniture was white. A DJ supervised a thumping soundtrack. And parked on the smooth concrete floor under bright lights were two Lexus IS sedans.
The crowd consisted of slightly rumpled automotive and tech journalists (myself included) and sleekly trendy blogger types. We all snapped photos to post on Twitter and noshed on treats from food trucks parked outside just for us.
Lexus had made a concerted effort to associate the IS with all the coolest aspects of one of the coolest cities. Like a new kid at school trying a little too hard to fit in. However, when I drove one the next day, the vibe I got from the car was precisely the opposite: It was as cool as a cucumber without trying. Or at least, not seeming to. And that included the tech.
This car has plenty of it: The IS 350 I drove was the 'F Sport' model, whose race-y embellishments include a TFT instrument cluster taken directly from the Lexus LFA Supercar. The Navigation Package also built into the car adds infotainment, device ports, a backup camera, and even voice commands. But all the tech is subtle, part of the overall, leather-wrapped package—a genteel contrast to the ostentation (however luscious) of the Tesla Model S. Even on a short jaunt, I could appreciate that subdued elegance.
What Devil’s Slide?
A fellow journalist took us south on Highway 1 toward Half Moon Bay. We’d lucked into a clear, warm day on the coast. The stunning view distracted me from my job of checking out the buttons and gizmos. (And the car’s handling was so sure, I barely noticed when we passed through the notoriously twisty Devil’s Slide section.)
A 7-inch VGA screen nestles discreetly in the upper dashboard, offering an interface for the audio, navigation, phone, climate, and other functions. The display also shows the backup camera view, available with the Navigation Package.
You move around the screen using a joystick—not a casual, Atari-esque one, but rather a stylish, ergonomically designed interface consisting of a broad, leather-topped pad, located in the center console just beyond the gear shift.
It feels great to touch this soft pad. It responds to small, gentle movements, so it demands far less physical effort to use this joystick than to use a dial (which is the standard issue on the car), let alone touch a screen. The joystick interface still demands that the driver remove a hand from the steering wheel and glance at the display to navigate the cursor, however, so the setup is no less distracting than other designs.
Complimentary real-time traffic and weather
One of the downsides of car tech is that the connectivity can cost you—either by co-opting your phone's data plan or getting a dedicated plan for the car. Lexus has been kind enough to provide a complimentary subscription for real-time traffic and weather. The Navigation Package also comes with the Lexus Enform system, which includes emergency and safety assistance features, but it's free only for the first year.
Remember that supercar-inspired instrument cluster mentioned earlier? Here it is: a TFT display behind your steering wheel, with a center ring that can move to show different kinds of data onscreen. Below is the view when it's slid to the right, to show mileage and fuel data, as well as infotainment icons.
Push a button, and the ring slides back to the center, changing to more standard driving information.
Yes, it's a small thing, but as electronic displays become more common, the moveable ring is a fun detail that makes this electronic display unique.
As we headed back north to San Francisco, it was my turn to drive. We stopped at one of the many nurseries along Highway 92, because who can resist a greenhouse that advertises ‘Carnivorous Plants’ with a big, dripping-red-lettered sign?
It was raw and ruthless, completely unlike this carefully conceived and comfortable car, designed for treating rather than eating. From the luxurious leather-topped joystick to the sliding instrument-cluster display, the tech in the 2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport is a subtle, seamless part of the car's overall experience.