2015 Lexus IS 250 +VIDEO
A Worthy Competitor In The Compact Sports-Luxury Sedan Class
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyers Guide
From the slightly tentative IS 300 in model year 2001, the Lexus IS has carved its own niche in the compact sports-luxury sedan class. And since the massively-changed third generation debuted for model year 2014, one would expect that 2015 would bring few changes. Meaning maybe color or upholstery choices. Which is the case -- but there are more detail changes. LED foglamps join the running lights and headlights. The F Sport package, offered for all variants, gets heated and ventilated seats for year-round comfort, and a heated steering wheel is optional in standard AWD and standard in F Sport AWD models. And there is more connectivity for iOS and Android devices.
I tested a rather fully-equipped 2014 IS 350 AWD late in the model year, with the F Sport package and premium audio and navigation system among other options. It was as impressive, and pricey, as expected. I've just spent a week at the other end of the IS lineup, a rear-wheel drive 2015 IS 250 with upgraded wheels and tires and navigation system sans audio upgrade. Consolation prize?
Hardly. While noticeably less powerful -- 204 hp and 185 lb-ft compared to the 350's 306 and 277 -- it was also noticeably less thirsty. It didn't have the multi-mode Adaptive Variable Suspension that was fitted to the 350, but provided a fine balance between comfort and ability anyway. With about 275 pounds less weight, the IS 250 was pleasantly responsive and plenty of fun to drive, with excellent brake response. The six-speed automatic is programmed, in default mode at least, to choose the highest gear practical in order to improve fuel economy. Which was not a problem on the highway or around town -- and when the road got less crowded and more interesting, it was a simple matter to turn the mode select knob to Sport, slide the shift lever to manual mode, and use the paddles to allow the engine to run up to the happy zone. Yes mileage suffered a bit -- but I wasn't doing that continuously (there's enough traffic to see to that, alas) and still got through a week of minimal highway droning to the tune of 24 mpg. Similar driving in the 350 barely passed 20.
The current IS has grown three inches in wheelbase over its predecessor, all the better for interior space, especially in the rear seat and trunk. Weight has not increased, thanks to revisions in design and construction. Comfort and amenities are not lacking, even in the "entry level" IS 250. Yes, upholstery is leatherette -- as it is inside many a comparable German competitor. A moonroof, LED foglamps, heated outside mirrors, pushbutton start/stop, a 60/40 split folding rear seatback, 12VDC power plus an auxiliary jack and two USB ports in the console box, Bluetooth® connectivity, a first aid kit, and pretty much every contemporary convenience feature are standard. Even Siri Eyes Free Mode if you have an iPhone 4S or above. You can add plenty more, but you don't have to. The options in my test car were useful but not strictly necessary, and what's not to like about value with luxury and a fun-to-drive character?
APPEARANCE: The third-generation IS is more evolutionary than revolutionary in that the overall shape is immediately recognizable, but more angular accents give it better definition. It's muscular but not muscle-bound, with the hourglass "spindle" grille well-integrated into the front by flanking cutlines from the hood. LED foglamps are next to real, functional brake ducts. As they go toward the rear, the side shoulder lines become sharper and rise upward. They are complemented by unusual rising lines in front of the rear wheel arches. Fender flares are moderate. There is a small ducktail at the rear of the trunk and prominent L-themed LED taillights. Twin exhausts exit through a faux venturi panel.
COMFORT: As the most sport-oriented and European Lexus, the IS's interior design is appropriately elegant and simple. The IS 250 has a level of appointment similar to that of its chief German competitors. Upholstery is NuLuxe leatherette, a good-enough simulation to easily fool anyone not reading the specs. Trim is plastic, but high-quality matte silver and, new this year in base trim, gloss "piano black" and matte dark gray. Backlit "Optitron" main instruments are easily visible, with useful trip computer information between the tach and speedometer. The steering wheel is manually-adjustable for tilt and reach and features a thick stitched-leather rim and controls for audio, phone, and information systems. With the optional navigation system, map and nav, audio, climate, information, and Lexus App Suite systems are controlled by the trackball-like Remote Touch Interface. It's reasonably intuitive but could be distracting to use while driving.
Front seats are as supportive and comfortable as expected, properly bolstered and power-adjustable. The rear is best for two people as the central tunnel is high and the seat cushion comfortably contoured for outboard passengers. The trunk is reasonably sized and a space-saver spare is found under its floor. As is typical in luxury cars, interior storage is less than in mainstream family sedans. Bottle holders and storage are found only in the front doors. The glove box is lockable, and the console box usefully sized, with connections and power for an external audio player.
SAFETY: Strong materials and careful design and construction protect passengers. All IS models have four-wheel disc brakes. Antilock, of course, with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and traction and stability control, all managed by the Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) system. There are ten airbags, front, knee, and side for front passengers plus rear side and full-length side curtain. Optional safety systems include blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and the Pre-Collision System.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Increased use of high- and ultra-high tensile strength steel, laser screw welding and adhesive bonding to attach sections, and rear subframe and cowl bracing increase the rigidity of the IS's unibody structure and mean a quieter ride and better suspension response. Revisions to the front double-wishbone and rear multilink systems take advantage of that, even in standard form. Correct tuning and matching of spring and shock rates and bushings ensures proper sports-luxury ride quality and handling characteristics. It's not take-no-prisoner sport like some older German cars, but that means it won't be tiring after a long drive without adrenaline and endorphins to mask the pain. Steering is electrically-assisted, with an appropriate level of assistance. Add excellent brakes, and the result is a car that is a pleasure to drive on any road.
PERFORMANCE: In 250 form, the IS is well-balanced and quick enough to be fun without inviting a PhD in traffic school and without a huge fuel budget. With 204 horsepower developed at 6400 rpm and torque peaking at 185 lb-ft at 4400 rpm and a six-speed automatic transmission programmed for fuel economy by keeping in the highest practical gear at lowest reasonable revs, it will usually be far below the torque peak in D, even in Sport mode. That's a non-issue in regular driving as there is plenty of low-range torque. But the engine does need to be revved for best response. Sport mode seemed to me to not quite get it right, especially on the tight and relatively slow roads I most enjoy. No worries, just move the shift lever into manual mode and use the shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. The old IS 250's manual is, alas, extinct but this works as well, if with less involvement. With a balance of work and play and only moderate use of highways I got 24 mpg. Which, amusingly enough, is the EPA-estimated overall mileage.
CONCLUSIONS: The Lexus IS 250 is a worthy competitor in the compact sports-luxury sedan class.
2015 Lexus IS 250
Base Price $ 36,550
Price As Tested $ 40,870
Engine Type DOHC 24-valve V6 with VVT-i continuously-variable cam phasing and valve lift on all camshafts and direct fuel injection
Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.
Horsepower 204 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed multi-mode automatic
Wheelbase / Length 110.2 in. / 183.7 in.
Curb Weight 3461 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 17.0
Fuel Capacity 17.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires Bridgestone Turanza F: 225/40R18 88Y R:255/35R18 90Y (optional)
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS EBD, BA, VSC, VDIM standard
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 30 / 24
0 to 60 mph 7.7 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
18" aluminum alloy wheels with 225/40R18 front and 255/35R18 rear tires $ 935
Navigation System with backup camera, remote touch interface, Lexus Enform Destinations with 1-year trial subscription, App Suite, voice command, Lexus Inside $ 1,855
Intuitive Parking Assist $ 500
Trunk Mat $ 105
Destination Charge $ 925