What is it about the Lexus IS that generates a lukewarm response from enthusiasts? Audis and BMWs get widespread respect, but the smallest Lexus seems to have to fight for it.
That’s the question to which we found an answer in our week with the Lexus IS 250.
Part of it seems to be the perception people have of the Lexus brand; the first thing that comes to mind is posh luxury, not edgy enthusiasm. That’s how Oldsmobile died – it didn’t stay young enough, and its clientele timed out as the years passed.
Lexus isn’t about to let that happen, with its recent LFA supercar and upcoming RC F Coupe. Of course, the IS has its own designs on the young among us, and the starting point is styling. This car has some really nice sculpting.
The test car’s $935, 18-inch alloy wheels were impressive with their Liquid Graphite finish. Tires are 40-series in front and 35-series in back, which means the rear tires have slightly shorter sidewalls for a firmer response. Neat, but that means no tire rotations to extend their lives.
It’s a shame that Lexus sells these wheels without a dip-down rear-view mirror to show you where the curb is. To get that, you have to pony up for the Luxury Package, which you can only purchase after getting the Navigation Package, the Backup Camera Package or the Mark Levinson stereo. So you’re up over $40K, in a car that started at $37K, just to get that parking aid.
Not including a dip-down mirror with barely-there rear sidewalls practically ensures that the wheels’ Liquid Graphite finish will be ground into curbs in no time. Lexus could be a little kinder to its IS buyers than that.
As you’d expect from the IS’s names, the IS 250 and 350 come with either a 2.5-liter or 3.5-liter V6 engine. The IS 250 has 204 horsepower, and the larger engine adds 102 horsepower and about the same amount in torque. The 250 has a six-speed automatic, while the 350 comes with an eight-speed, which Lexus says has a quicker reaction time.
That would be nice, but the tranny on the test car felt fine, with sharp power delivery and slick shifts. It masked whatever power deficiency you might feel after driving, say, an Infiniti Q50, which for about the same price of an IS 250 beats it and the IS 350 with a stomping 328-horsepower V6.
The IS 250’s handling was capable, especially with those meaty larger tires. The car felt planted, and the body stayed level. The IS 250 is not as encouraging as, say, a BMW 3-series, because there’s a layer of Lexus smoothness on top of everything. Instead, the IS 250’s reward is its spry silkiness.
Inside, the test car had a form-fitting feel, with a high transmission tunnel that brought the thin pad of the console directly under the driver’s arm.
An unfortunate consequence is that the passenger’s elbow lands on the cupholders, which for them means no drinks, or no armrest.
The rear seat accommodates six footers, with decent headroom carved out of a cove behind the mooroof.
We appreciate the tactile controls and their logical layout…
…and Lexus’s controller for the center screen is a pleasure to manipulate.
Back to the question of respect for the IS. As I drove this IS 250, I kept thinking that this would be the sports sedan I’d like my mother to drive. There’s enough feedback to inform but not enough to overwhelm. There’s a clear view out, and the turning circle s is a heroic 34.8 feet. And, it feels nimble by design, with a small-diameter steering wheel and a quick 2.84 turns lock-to-lock.
This was confirmed when a mature couple descended from the building in front of which I was shooting the IS 250. They have a previous-generation IS and love it. They appreciated the tester’s bigger back seat and liked the long curve that sweeps up from the bottom of the body.
I had to agree with them that the deep front spoiler/bumper was ready to get ripped on a curb, as it had happened with theirs, resulting in much expense.
“I love Lexus,” she said, especially the dealer service: “I know I’m paying for it, but I want to be treated well.” She remarked that she enjoyed trying all the Lexuses given to her as loaners when she took her IS in – in fact, it seemed that she liked taking her car in for service so that she could do some test-driving of her own. But she always welcomed back her nimble and parkable IS.
So we found our enthusiastic IS audience, and it’s a bit off from the younger folk Lexus wants to woo. We’ll have another look at the IS next month, when a Lexus IS F is due to burn up the pavement leading from our driveway. For now, the IS 250 is a well-rounded sedan that checks a lot of boxes. Go tell your mom.
2015 Lexus IS 250
Base Price: $37,475 (including delivery)
Price as Tested: $40,870
18-inch aluminum wheels, $935
Navigation system, $1,855
Intuitive Parking Assist, $500
Trunk mat, $105
Form-fitting driver’s environment
Typical Lexus cushy feel can blunt the excitment
Awkward console cupholder placement