Editor's note: In the second annual CultureMap Auto Awards, our automotive correspondents Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top cars and trucks of 2013/2014.
Sport Sedan of the Year: 2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport
The hotly contested sport sedan segment was invented by the venerable BMW 3-series, which dominates the category with its balance of performance, driving dynamics, efficiency and entry-level luxury. Most recently challenged by the Cadillac ATS, last year's pick for outright CultureMap Car of the Year, now Lexus has a legitimate alternative with its all-new 2014 IS 350 F-Sport.
We say legitimate in that the IS isn't new to the market; it's been boring us since 1998 with unremarkable dynamics, forgettable styling and the signature numbness that made the Lexus brand most known for having been no match for the BMW.
Well, forget all that.
This new IS is the first of Lexus' self-proclaimed "car guy" and boss Akio Toyoda's "Wow! I want that!" plan, and it drives like no other sport sedan in its class. With a hefty feeling inspiring confidence, one gets the notion this car is buttoned up nose to tail. Interior fit and finish is on par with the flagship LS sedan, last year's CultureMap Luxury Car of the Year, with an industrial robustness more akin to a 1990s-era Mercedes Benz than the overly plastic finishes of the BMW 3-series.
The IS 350 F-Sport's exclusive Adaptive Variable Suspension and Variable Gear-Ratio Steering paired with a 306-horsepower V6 and smooth shifting eight-speed automatic makes a unique match for the otherwise predictable 3-series.
The IS range starts in mid-$30s, and the IS 350 F-Sport starts in the the mid-$40s — comparable to the Cadillac ATS and BMW 3-series.
Sport Sedan of the Year Runner-up: 2014 Audi A7 TDI
Although the Audi A7 couple-like sedan isn't all that new, it's now available with a fuel-saving TDI clean diesel engine, making it the best-looking, most fun to drive "eco-friendly" sport sedan out. The 3-liter V6 diesel is rated at 240-horsepower and a whopping 428 lb-ft of torque — more torque than even the V10 gas engined Audi R8 supercar.
That monster torque, channeled through an industry-best eight-speed automatic transmission, along with Audi's legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive, gets the full-size beauty to 60 in just 5.5 seconds — about the same as the Lexus IS 350 F-Sport.
The difference? The A7 delivers that acceleration along with a real-world 38 miles-per-gallon highway compared to Lexus' at-best 28 mpg.
Equipped with our recommended options, the eco-motive Audi is a $70,000 luxury sport sedan proposition.