By KBB.com Editors
The current "entry level" model for the Lexus sedan line, the IS consists of the IS 250 in rear-drive or all-wheel-drive variations and the more potent rear-drive IS 350 – as well as the high-performance version, the IS-F (reviewed separately). Visually reminiscent of the larger GS, the IS melds sporty looks, enthusiast flair, a generous roster of standard equipment and legendary Lexus quality into a premium four-door sedan specifically intended to steal buyers away from the gold standard of this segment, the BMW 3 Series. Other competitors include Acura TSX and Audi A4, both of which are marginally more spacious inside.
Sporty handling, an engaging personality and multiple powertrain and packaging configurations make the 2009 Lexus IS well worth considering by anyone who believes that small is beautiful and that a car is much more than a mere transportation appliance.
Some purists might argue that the Lexus IS lacks the handling precision and crisp visual tailoring of BMW's 3 Series, which remains the benchmark in this category. Limited rear-seat room might also draw frowns from all but the most modestly-scaled passengers.
Both the IS 250 and 350 receive a slight exterior freshening, touting new front and rear bumpers, grille and tail light clusters. Interior changes include folding rear headrests, new interior colors and new seat and door panel sew patterns. The IS 250 gains Lexus' Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM) as standard equipment, while all IS sedans receive improved suspension and steering tuning.
Driving Impressions Underpinning the Lexus IS is an enthusiast-oriented suspension that delivers good overall control and effectively limits body pitch and roll motions during aggressive cornering maneuvers. The new steering setup is...still slightly heavy on-center (the straight-ahead position) but merits good marks for being positive and linear. Powerful anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) on all IS models seamlessly interact with the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system. While the IS 350 is the clear prime mover of this family, even the IS 250 AWD feels fairly quick around town and easily copes with the cut-and-thrust of daily commuting as well as freeway passing moves. With its revised chassis settings and wheel and tire upgrade, the optional Sport Package endows either rear-wheel-drive model with an extra measure of handling responsiveness.
Paddle-Shift Automatic Transmission
Optional in a base IS 250 but standard on the IS 250 AWD and IS 350, this slick sequential six-speed allows you to use the fully-automatic mode or shift for yourself via either steering wheel-mounted paddles or an up or down push on the conventional console-mounted gear lever.
Optional Sport Package
While the well-tuned standard suspension will likely please most buyers, the Sport Package is firmer and includes an 18-inch wheel and tire upgrade that elevates any rear-drive IS model – but especially the IS 350 – to near-BMW 3 Series levels of agility and fun without detracting from the basic ride comfort.
Impressively finished and rich in soft-touch surfaces, the 2009 Lexus IS cabin is a relatively intimate space. Optitron electroluminescent gauges, user-friendly controls, a tilt and telescoping steering column and logically arrayed switches on the instrument panel's center stack emphasize its driver-friendly character, although bright sun can make the secondary readouts and navigation screen display difficult to read. Leather upholstery is standard in all versions, and optional wood accents can replace basic brushed aluminum across the line. Comfortable and supportive power front seats are a welcome home for those up to six feet tall, but modest head and leg room make the three-across fixed rear bench seat best suited for sub-adolescent passengers.Exterior
Sharing the Lexus "L-Finesse" design language that was introduced with the GS, the IS has a clean, muscular appearance with a slight wedge profile accentuated by blackout B-pillars that serve to integrate the side glass into a single visual element. Other keys to its aggressive character include a power bulge on the hood, prominent shoulder ridges, well-defined fender flares and sculpted lower door sills. Finishing the look are 17-inch alloy wheels with V-rated 225/45 all-season tires on the IS 250 AWD and 225/45 front with 245/45 rear tires on the other two models. Rear-drive models also can be fitted with 18-inch wheels and tires as an upgrade.
Even the baseline 2009 Lexus IS 250 with 204 horsepower and six-speed manual transmission (or optional six-speed paddle-shifted automatic) has a comprehensive array of standard equipment that includes numerous power assists – including 10-way power driver's and passenger's seats – plus dual-zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, SmartAccess remote keyless entry and start, a 194-watt 13-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) and anti-lock disc brakes. The IS 250 AWD adds a sophisticated all-wheel drive system, heated front seats and an automatic transmission as standard equipment, while the 306-horsepower IS 350 is available with the automatic only and features larger wheels and brakes. All IS variants are fitted with front, front-side and front and rear side-curtain airbags.
Key IS upgrades include the Premium Package (wood trim and leather heated and ventilated seats) and the Luxury Package (which adds cornering bi-xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, power tilt/telescoping steering column, seat memory and more). IS rear-wheel-drive models also offer a Sport Package (sportier suspension tuning, high-performance wheels and tires and other features for the 350) and the X Package (the Sport Package suspension and wheels, and a front spoiler). Another option combines voice-activated DVD Navigation, with backup camera and Bluetooth, and a Mark Levinson 14-speaker 300-watt Premium Surround Sound Audio System. The navigation system is also available as a stand-alone option, as are the bi-xenon headlights, SIRIUS or XM Satellite Radio, an impact-mitigating Pre-Collision System and Dynamic Cruise Control and several other worthwhile items.
Two technology-intensive, all-aluminum V6 engines provide clean and comparatively fuel-efficient motivation for the IS line. The 2.5-liter version uses dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) and direct-to-cylinder fuel injection to develop 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, sufficient to take a rear-drive IS 250 from zero to 60 miles per hour in a bit under eight seconds with either transmission, and to send the IS 250 AWD to that speed in about 8.5 seconds. The 3.5-liter V6 in the IS 350 adds secondary port injection and cranks out 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Backed with the mandatory paddle-shifted multi-mode (Normal/Sport/Snow) automatic, it propels the fleetest member of the IS family to the 60-mph benchmark in less than six seconds.
204 horsepower @ 6400 rpm
185 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/26 (manual), 21/29 (automatic), 20/26 (AWD automatic)
306 horsepower @ 6400 rpm
277 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
By GPR on Monday, March 09, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 74,325overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Power, handling, luxury"
Cons: "several minor recalls"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought the car new, as a gift for my wife, and got all the options. I felt that it was a good combination of power and luxury. At the same time, my brother bought a BMW 335i, so I have been able to do a lot of continual comparing as our cars age. I bought the Lexus because of comfort, power, and handling (pretty much in that order). Lexus did an outstanding job in this car in that they are all equal. The interior details are better than any other vehicle I've driven then and now. It has super-soft tight leather, bright clear instrument cluster, and a very quiet ride. The car is very quick with about as much useable power as can be used on-highway. The traction control is super smooth at all speeds and most average drivers would never know it was actually engaging. The handling is amazing for a sedan (as I recall, it beat the BMW 330 in the slalom by 1 mph, 66/65). The navigation still works nicely, but is not as intuitive as modern systems, of course. In comparison of the 2007 Lexus IS350 to the 2007 BMW 335i, the Lexus is a far superior car. It is equally powered, handles the same, but is way more comfortable (quiet, amazing sound system, supple leather, bright instrument cluster, etc.). Additionally, reliability has been much better for the Lexus. Tire life is about 25K per set, vs 15K for his 335 (he has had terrible problems with inner rear tire wear). Final (disappointing) thought... The newer Lexus IS's do not have nearly the quality of leather as our 2007. I have driven the new Lexus', BMW's, and Audi S4 (my top contenders for power, handling, luxury), but none of them impress me more than my 2007 IS350. I guess I'll be keeping it until someone steps up and makes a better car."
4 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By Smores on Wednesday, February 11, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 122,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Driveability, Gas mileage"
Cons: "Quirky, Expensive upkeep"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"If this car were more dependable or less expensive to repair, it would be a perfect 10. Handles like a dream. Steering, stopping and maneuvering, as well as, pick up are what you dream a car could be. The recalls and quirks were a pain to deal with but although expensive, fairly convenient since the dealership provides a loaner. Moved from So. Cal. to Pacific NW and now need an AWD vehicle. I will miss this car but need something larger now."
4 people out of 11 found this review helpful
By Jon on Monday, February 09, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 51,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I own a 2010 is 250 and i can say that owning it and driving it always puts a smile on my face.the interior is flawless with all the creature comfort that you can imagine plus an addition of some f-sport upgrades like exhaust system, air intake and f sport springs all around.all in all i rate the car as 10 for everyday driving with luxuries."
5 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By baby blue on Monday, December 29, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 110,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Design, reliability, overall quality"
Cons: "Parts for maintenance can be expensive."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My Lexus has never shown a flaw. I've driven Mercedes, BMWs, and Alfa Romeoes. None come close to the Lexus. I would not consider selling or trading my car for less than $18,000. It's worth at least $18,000. May drive the car another 10 years."
18 people out of 38 found this review helpful
By Sam Pal on Friday, December 12, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 17,600overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "extremely fun to drive"
Cons: "rear legroom is reduced"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I'm in love with my 2013 IS250! This car is quick, fun, and easy to drive. The cabin is so smooth, makes you want to drive all the time. What I love about this car is that it's gas efficient and very luxurious in many way. I wish they would have never changed the body style on it, if not I would definitely buy another one in a couple of years."
9 people out of 23 found this review helpful
By swcjlc on Sunday, October 19, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 54,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Bought car after leasing it for 2 years and only problem was a battery that needed replacement. great looking, fast and pretty good gas mileage. The IS does go thru tires in the 20-25000 mile range."
32 people out of 53 found this review helpful