2006 Lexus IS 250/350

Newly Buff and Ready To Compete

By Kate McLeod

The Lexus IS 250/350 is a sedan.  Sedans––you know-–basic workhorses for suburban commuters.

Fug-ged-aboud-id.

The luxury sedan category is bursting with product and Lexus, who has a rep as excellent but dull, is up against some heavy horsepower, boss sound systems, to-the-minute technology, and glove leather embraced by sexy sheet metal. To name a few, the Acura TL, Infiniti G35, Chrysler 300, Cadillac CTS, Saab 9-3, Audi A4,BMW 3-Series, and the Mercedes C-Class are after the same customers.

Enter the new Lexus IS siblings – the IS 250 and IS 350 – a vast improvement over Lexus’ first attempt in the near luxury category.  Looks like Lexus hired a personal trainer for their babies as they are better looking, more powerful and better equipped than the previous generation and are worthy competitors in the class.  Add to that a “gay-friendly” moniker and they look even better.

The new IS is available in two drive types, rear-wheel drive and AWD.  Lexus is expecting its 250 rear drive to be 50% of sales, the 250 All-wheel-Drive to make up 30% and the 350 to be 20%.  A start/stop push button revs up the two technologically-advanced direct-injection engines with variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust (VVT-I) that power the IS.

The IS 250 is run by a 2.5 liter, V6 with 204 bhp at 6,500 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm coupled with a 6-speed manual. A 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel is optional, as is AWD.  The 350’s 3.5 liter engine puts out 306 bhp at 6,400 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. of torque at 4800 rpm and is paired only with 6-speed automatic.  Gas for the 250/350 is strictly 91 octane premium and mileage averages around 22 city/28 highway depending on the model.  The paddle shifters (small paddles that upshift and downshift on the backside of the steering wheel) are totally “Ferrari-out-of-my-way” and fun to operate with the transmission being as smooth as 400-thread count sheets.   

Our drive route consisted of some roads around Westchester County in NY—not exactly the open road but enough of a drive to know that the real fun is driving the 250 manual— less power but still more fun.  That is not to say that the feel of the automatic isn’t bright and controlled (maybe a bit too controlled), but if I were buying I’d go for the smaller engine and the manual.

Toyota’s Vehicle Dynamics Integration Management (VDIM) integrates many of the electronic operations like steering (electric power), wheel speed, yaw rates, skid control, hill start assist, electronic throttle, traction control, ABS and other safety systems but it doesn’t kill the spice this sedan delivers––at least for me. I’m no Charlie’s Angel, but I love to drive and this sedan has enough fun quotient built in.  

The IS has one of the world’s first twin chamber airbag for front passenger, which deploys with a slight depression in its center to help disperse the forces applied to the passenger immediately after deployment.  The IS is equipped with 10 airbags total–front, front seat-mounted side and knee airbags for passenger and driver, and front and rear side curtain airbags.

As for looks, the new IS is part of Lexus’ new design language, which it calls L-Finesse.  Even the name doesn’t sound gritty enough for a real performance angle.  I think it is beautifully designed and the interior is well thought out in classic Lexus style.   Bottom line: It is much better looking than the previous IS 300 with a to-die-for paint job but . . .it’s not hot, or hot enough.  If you own it you’ll feel great about riding in it; if you want look-at-me, you’ll need to look elsewhere.  

Leather trim, power seats, illuminated metal scuff plates, wood trim, and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel all add to the luxury of the vehicle.  The optional premium sound system by Mark Levinson, and navigation system with rear back up camera, Bluetooth and voice activation will set you back a few grand.

The cost: $37,000 to $42,000.  Competitive and right-up-there expensive with options.  Whatever its drawbacks in the field of sedans, the IS has Lexus’ in its name. Lexus’ reputation has been hard won in a short period of time and my guess is they are not going to let their guard down anytime soon. They’re really trying to best the Ultimate Driving Machine.  We think, close, very close, but no cigar, just yet.

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