By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

In launching the next generation IS four-door, Lexus tweaked its marketing strategy to try to capture a more junior clientele.

What’s resulted is a promotional pitch geared more toward the nightclub than the yacht club.

Or, as Lexus of Charleston’s Mike Warren said, “It’s going from ‘chardonnay and cheese’ to ‘hot and sweaty.’”

The Lexus dealership on Savannah Highway received its first 2014 IS models in the past few weeks. The updated lineup includes the IS 250, IS 350 and IS F Sport.

Prices start at $36,000 for a base 250 while a decked-out F Sport in the showroom cost $48,418.

Lexus hadn’t restyled the IS since 2007, so there was much anticipation. The carmaker chose to focus on looks while also lengthening the model a little and bolstering power.

“The next generation IS is totally redesigned,” said Warren, general sales manager.

The manufacturer added the F Sport body style – a full cosmetic makeover with spindle mesh grille vaguely shaped like a wide “L”; 5-spoke 18-inch alloy rims; interior aluminum trim; and bucket-like perforated Recaro seats made of leather or Nuluxe faux leather.

Lexus showcases two IS engines. They consist of a 2.5-liter V-6 powerplant in the 250 and a 3.5-liter V-6 engine producing 306 horsepower in the 350 and the F Sport, matched to a new eight speed transmission.

“It’s fast, I can tell you that much,” said Raymond Rhett II, master certified sales and leasing consultant at Lexus of Charleston.

The dealership expects to sell the IS to a range of customers including generation X and Y buyers in their 30s and 40s. Senior clients also will be interested.

“To be perfectly honest, the first one we sold was to a 93-year-old couple,” said Steve Weaver, sales manager.

The F Sport combines a sporty façade with a host of interior and outside perks. The 835-watt Mark Levinson audio system counts surround sound and 15 speakers among its highlights. There’s a 10-way power driver’s seat and tilt and telescopic steering wheel. A rear view camera upgrades the navigation-communications system.

Lexus increased the sedan’s wheelbase by four inches while enlarging the trunk as well as providing a 60-40 fold down of the rear seats,Warren said.

Driving lights are LED, and a blind spot monitor on the side view mirrors lights up when a vehicle is approaching from behind, he said. All-wheel drive is available on every trim.

Even with the heftier 3.5-liter engine, the 350 and F Sport get 19 mpg city, 28 mpg on the highway for an average 22 mpg. The IS 250, meanwhile, racks up 30 mpg on the open road.

Warren said the eight-speed transmission “enhances the performance.” He described the 2014 IS as “a little bit more aggressive than it used to be, a true BMW 3 series competitor.”

Based on a moderate drive this week in an obsidian F Sport with Rioja Red interior, the new IS meets Lexus’ youth movement objectives.

The F Sport from the outside stands out like a six-figure sports car, notably the striking mesh grille and alloy wheels. Inside, the aluminum trim and red seats entice the driver and passengers.

Lexus designed an effective information display center. The cluster is visible behind the leather wrapped steering wheel, dotted with buttons to raise or lower the volume, change the radio station or adjust the information gauges.

Meanwhile, the center instrument console is reasonably easy to use, with redundant features for climate control and audio. Lexus’ maneuverable handle to switch functions on the viewing screen makes it simple to scroll from audio to map routes, for instance.

On the road, the IS F Sport produced an exceedingly smooth ride. The deep seats provide a race-car-like feel behind the wheel. So do the paddle shifters, which are used when the car is in a manual-like mode without a clutch.

A knob below the center console can be turned to eco mode for fuel-efficient driving and to sport mode for greater performance. The sport function instantly boosted the engine power, offering quick acceleration. The IS handles reasonably well, and brakes are responsive.

If the new IS has a place to improve, it would be in matching the engine with the sporty looks. The F Sport lagged in regular mode, giving the sedan a luxurious ride that’s wanting in pickup.

All told, though, Lexus is on the right path with the new IS to finding a car that buyers of all ages would enjoy – mixing balanced servings of high technology, convenience, comfort and roominess while stoking the good looks and adding a speed producer just a knob away.

To learn more about the 2014 IS, visit your local Lexus dealer.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.