Dec 21,2007 00:00
The Lexus IS 250 is a svelte slice of personal-size, sport-sedan luxury. The 2008 version of the all-wheel-drive IS 250 has attracted attention because its price was cut $200 without sacrificing any equipment or features. The price "adjustment" probably had something to do with the new and larger Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic, which has a starting price of $35,215.
That's a lot of money for a car with restricted back seat legroom, and a rear-center seat so small that it merely suggests this is a five-passenger sedan. But for the young career professional ready to unload the old Camry, this car is an effective image enhancer in styling, drivability and comfort.
And when power and presence are required, there's the 306-hp IS 350, starting at $37,670, which is $200 more this year. The IS 350 isn't available with all-wheel drive.
Not much is new on the IS models for 2008. Among the changes are a darker finish to the 17-inch wheels (standard equipment), backlighting on the outside power-mirror control, white illuminated scuff plates and an additional coin holder.
But not much was needed, either.
I liked the IS 250 for its simplicity and refinement. It's almost delicate in its communications with the driver. Steering, brake and throttle feedback are polite. Cornering is so flat and sticky, it's fun to just let it fly. However, Lexus recommends snow treads for adhesion in wintry areas.
But the all-wheel-drive IS isn't a performance sedan. At 3,651 pounds, it's 124 pounds heavier than the more-powerful IS 350. The paddle shifters are an impressive feature, but I used them little in my nearly 300 miles of driving. The power output doesn't urge playful driving, and I'm the first to appreciate the manual-shift versatility of such a transmission.
Fuel mileage is 20 mpg around town, 26 on the highway with 91 octane, which cost me $3.79 a gallon in mid-November. And if the mileage numbers seem low, consider that the rear-drive IS 250 with manual transmission gets 18/26. Also a bit surprising may be that the IS equipped with an automatic transmission weighs 20 pounds less than the six-speed manual-transmission car. The rear-drive IS with automatic, which weighs 216 pounds less than the all-wheel-drive model, is rated 21/29.
Inside, sound isolation is almost intimate, provided by sound-dampening asphalt sheets in the roof and floor pan and an acoustic glass windshield. But as quiet as the cabin is, the ride can be choppy and monotonous on some sections of concrete expressway. On blacktop roads, the ride is carpet-smooth.
And, even with all-wheel drive, the turning circle seems shorter than its 38.1 feet. The car pivots into tight places.
While lighted "Lexus" door sills add cachet, I'd trade them for a light in the trunk.
Sightlines for the driver are unhindered. Visibility is so good that a rearview camera is unnecessary, but it's part of the $2,550 navigation package that is as easy to use as any I've tried.
The dark-blue test car with light, leather-trimmed upholstery was elegant without being fussy except, possibly, for the networked electronic systems for climate and audio controls, which require paging to a screen to make adjustments. At first, I was annoyed that there wasn't a simple knob or dial control, but the screen system isn't difficult to master, though it does require taking eyes from the road.
On some levels of justification, the IS isn't convincing for the cost. However it comes down to the Lexusization. The IS package is agreeable to drive; it makes commuting pleasurable and it surely doesn't hurt the image.