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Lexus IS 250 F Sport swaps power for pretty

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

The 2014 Lexus IS 250 F Sport AWD sedan looks fast and powerful, but the sporty costume makes promises its drivetrain can't keep.

The all-wheel-drive IS 250 F Sport that I tested had rakish styling and responsive handling, but its 2.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission trailed the power or fuel economy of competitors such as 2.0-liter turbocharged versions of the Audi A4, Cadillac ATS and BMW 328i.

Prices for the 2014 Lexus IS start at $35,950 for a rear-drive model with a 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V-6 engine. All-wheel-drive models with the 2.5L engine start at $38,485. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on all IS sedans. A 306-horsepower 3.5L V-6 powers the IS 350. Prices start at $39,465 for rear-drive and $41,700 for AWD. Lexus also sells a pair of two-door IS convertibles, the $42,610 IS 250 C and $46,890 IS 350. They use the platform that underpinned the smaller previous-generation IS sedan.

I tested an IS 250 AWD sedan with the attractive optional F Sport appearance package and features that included a sun roof, power seats, 10 air bags, navigation, voice recognition and Internet functions for navigation, music, dining and more. It stickered at $43,245.

The IS sedan grew larger and more accommodating for 2014. Its wheelbase lengthened by 2.7 inches. Overall length grew 3.4. The results are a roomy front seat, functional rear seat and a 13.8 cubic-foot trunk that's among the largest in its segment.

The IS 250 AWD is priced in the mid-range of such comparable all-wheel drive sport sedans as the Audi A4, BMW 328i, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q 50, Mercedes C300 and Volvo S60.

The 250's power trails those competitors substantially. The IS 250 AWD that I drove on a long trip from Detroit to Minneapolis struggled to hold its own in the fast and heavy traffic around Chicago and the rolling countryside approaching the Mississippi.

The F Sport package looks like a million bucks — making it a steal at $2,675 — but I think Lexus erred in offering it on a car with mediocre performance.

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic.

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