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2006 Lexus IS250 AWD Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Lexus

MODEL: Lexus IS250 AWD
ENGINE: 2.5-liter V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 204 hp @ 6400 rpm/185 lb.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual mode
WHEELBASE: 107.5 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 180.1 x 70.9 x 56.1 in.
TIRES: 225/45R17
CARGO VOLUME: 13.0 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22.3 mpg tests
PRICE: $$35,569 (includes $590 delivery, processing and handling fee)

As with most Lexus models, the IS is available with a powerful V8 engine and a smaller V6. We had the chance to drive the V6-powered IS350 at the model’s introduction. Our extended test is with the IS250, which, while sporting a smaller engine, shows no lack of power.

The IS250’s V6 is rated at 204 horsepower, which is okay for a 2.5-liter unit. Now, we’re willing to concede that the government has redefined how horsepower is measured and 2006 numbers are lower than 2005,but 204 is still relatively low. It’s a number that would have worked with a 3.0-liter a few years ago.

Nevertheless, the IS250 certainly isn’t underpowered. In fact, we found that we were able to zip around corners and reach illegal highway speeds quite quickly. Considering the weight of my right foot, maybe I should test an IS150 if it ever appears.

The engine drives either the rear wheels or, in the case of our tester, all wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. There’s a manual mode to this automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles to use for shifting. To upshift you push the right paddle; to downshift push the left one. These are similar to the paddles in the Mazda Miata, except in the Miata the gear in use is shown on the instrument panel, even when you’re in automatic mode. In the Lexus, the i.p. only shows the gear when you’re in manual.

Styling of the IS is edgier than some other Lexus models. The car definitely has an attitude. You know it’s a Lexus by the big “L” in the center of the grille, but it looks far feistier than the standard Lexus.

One styling feature that I’m sure will gain criticism from some of my nay-saying comrades is the “bustle” trunk/rear end, similar to that of the BMW 7-series and others. I know when the 7-Series was introduced, some writers carped about the slightly elevated trunk lid. I didn’t. The lid aids aerodynamics and also increases trunk room. Personally, I like it on both the BMW and Lexus.

And the IS is feistier. For example, it has all-wheel drive, so you can feel safer on slippery roads. And, as Audi showed, all-wheel drive adds to handling as well. We took the IS on our favorite winding hillclimb road and the car ate it up as if it was designed for that road. The paddle shifters made changing gears a snap. We also rode up the hill in automatic mode and there wasn’t that much of a drop-off in performance, but it was a heck of a lot more fun shifting.

Handling is, in general, flatter on cornering, although you don’t have the kidney-jarring hard ride you’d expect from a sedan that thinks it’s a sports car. You don’t have a silky smooth ride either, but one that you’d want from a performance sedan.

Since the Is wants to be a performance sedan, it has excellent front and rear seating. The front seats offer very good side support, to hold the driver and passenger in place if the driver gets too energetic. Rear legroom is tight, however, with the front seats set in a normal position for front-seat comfort.

Another feature of the IS that I never grew accustomed to was its keyless start. I guess I’ve been driving with ignition keys for far too long. The IS doors unlock without a key (or without pushing the key fob). And to start the car, you push a “Start/Stop” button on the dash. You push the same button to stop the engine. Get out and walk away and the IS locks itself, too. All you need is the key fob in your pocket and it works.

A feature I thought was great for someone who learned to drive in New York City is parking assist. This alerts you to when you’re getting too close to the car in front or behind, so you don’t park by the sound of your car bumping the others.

Also available, but not on our tester, is adaptive cruise control, that maintains a set distance between your car and the one in front when you’re in cruise control mode, even if you come upon a car that’s going slower than you are. Shift into another lane, though, and the IS accelerates back to the pre-set speed.

Audio consisted of an AM/FM/Satellite radio (not wired) and a CD changer in the dash. The HVAC system delivered great heat in colder weather. The seats were both heated and cooled. We checked the heated part, but not the cooling.

There’s tasteful wood trim on the console and doors. The top of the console (the arm rest part) slides back to offer a variety of positions. There were tow cupholders in the console, revealed when the top slides back, and one in front. In addition, there’s a fold-down armrest in the rear with a pair of cupholders for the cramped rear passengers. As an aid to senior citizens, there are assist handles above all four doors.

The IS is a great product in the ever-expanding Lexus armada of vehicles. It’s sporty and handles well.

2006 The Auto Page Syndicate