Lexus IS: Talking 'bout evolution

The new Lexus IS sport sedan, top, and the outgoing Lexus IS.

Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS | LEXUS
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LOS ANGELES -- As modern-era sage Vincent Vega says, "It's the little differences."

So it is with the redesigned 2014 Lexus IS sedans that will debut next week at the Detroit auto show.

Aside from the spindle grille that announces the entrance of all Lexuses these days, the redesigned IS shares a strikingly similar stance, silhouette, beltline, greenhouse and overall styling language with its predecessor. One could wonder if the exterior design team Photoshopped the new grille onto the car, went out for a three-martini lunch and forgot about the project.

That's unfair, of course. It is those little differences that make such a big difference to designers. The headlights and taillights sweep more forcefully away to the flanks of the car, and the subliminal language of the lamps is more of a scowl than a squint.

The hood line is more stoic than the current tapered version. The shoulder creases are crisper, and continue to rise into the rear deck after the C-pillar, rather than tapering toward the finish. The base of the rear door cut sweeps upward before the rear wheel arch, rather than intersecting with it.

But all of that is inside baseball among us car geeks. It's a safe wager that most Lexus shoppers couldn't tell the difference between the new and old IS. Even BMW took a bigger swing at the design plate for its hallowed 3 series last year. That's the car everyone in this segment is trying to copy, remember.

For the new IS, Lexus borrowed the same instrument panel cluster, center stack and console that it introduced last year with the ES and GS sedans.

The bigger design change happens inside the car, although, again, everything new is the same again. Rather than rehashing the existing interior design, Lexus borrowed the same instrument panel cluster, center stack and console that it introduced last year with the ES and GS sedans.

But because the IS is much narrower than its siblings, the horizontally sculpted interior layout seems a bit squished.

Mechanically, things stay pretty much the same as well, although Lexus traditionally tightens its suspensions, adds a few horsepower and gains an mpg or two with each redesign.

The 2014 IS also will include eco, normal and sport driving modes, where sport actually creates dynamic change to the driving experience, and not just boost the rpm of shift points.

Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

A hybrid version will join the IS lineup. The 2014 IS also will include eco, normal and sport driving modes, where sport actually creates dynamic change to the driving experience, and not just boost the rpm of shift points.

By the way, the attached pictures are of the IS F-Sport, which carries a $12,000 premium for the optional vehicle dynamics package if you want that styling over the plain vanilla IS sedan. Lexus has not said if it will merely sell the body kit, without performance upgrades, for the new IS.

For all the talk from Toyota Motor headquarters in Nagoya about creating emotional vehicles with creative styling, Lexus appears to be following the decades-old BMW predictability of "same sausage, different sizes" with its new sedan lineup.

Your designers aren't hearing you, Akio.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter

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