KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 3/14/2011
In the hotly contested compact premium sedan market, cars such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 are commonly mentioned as the class leaders by both buyers and journalists. However, both groups forget a very strong contender: The 2011 Lexus IS. The 2011 Lexus IS 250 and 2011 Lexus IS 350 offer rear- and all-wheel-drive models, a choice of two state-of-the-art six-cylinder powerplants and youthful styling. While driving enthusiasts may argue that the Germans reign supreme, the IS twins are no slugs. Also, they have a reputation for longevity and low maintenance costs few others in this field can equal. If you can work around its small rear seat and lack of a manual transmission on the 350 models, the IS can be a thoroughly satisfying premium performance sedan.
You'll Like This Car If...
If you're stuck on Lexus' quality, sales experience and resale value, but you find some of their offerings a bit tame, test drive a 2011 Lexus IS 250 or 2011 Lexus IS 350. The sharp styling, impressive handling and potent engine choices may change your mind.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If you're a driving purist who can't live without a manual transmission or thickly bolstered sport seats, the BWM 3 Series or Audi A4/S4 might be a better fit. The IS' cramped rear seat might also be a deal killer, especially if your passengers vertically surpass the six foot mark.
What's Significant About This Car?
Lexus adds optional all-wheel drive to the 2011 Lexus IS 350. Rear-wheel drive versions of the 2011 Lexus IS 250 and 2011 Lexus IS 350 get a new F-Sport Package. In addition, all 2011 Lexus IS models receive a slight front and rear makeover and some minor interior upgrades.
At the heart of the 2011 Lexus IS is a sport suspension that does an admirable job minimizing body roll and lean without also delivering a jarring ride. The IS' steering is positive and linear, and the brakes and electronic stability control system work effortlessly to keep the car in check. While the 2011 Lexus IS 350 is the prime mover of this family, even the 2011 Lexus IS 250 feels fairly quick around town. Both models easily cope with the cut-and-thrust of daily commuting as well as freeway passing moves. For the ultimate performance driving experience, opt for the F Sport Package (rear-drive cars only).
Paddle-Shift Automatic Transmission
Optional in a base Lexus IS 250 but standard on the Lexus IS 250 AWD and Lexus IS 350, this slick sequential six-speed allows you to use the fully-automatic mode or shift for yourself.
Optional F Sport Package
While the well-tuned standard suspension will likely please most buyers, the F Sport Package is firmer and includes an 18-inch wheel and tire upgrade that elevates any rear-drive IS model – but especially the 2011 Lexus IS 350 – to near-BMW 3 Series levels of agility and fun without detracting from the basic ride comfort.
Simple, clean and tasteful, the interior of the 2011 Lexus IS is the epitome of Lexus' restrained approach to cabin comfort. Soft touch surfaces abound, and leather seating is standard on all models. The 2011 Lexus IS' instrument cluster contains Lexus' Optitron electroluminescent gauges, which glow brightly even in full sunlight. The same cannot be said, however, for some of the secondary readouts and the navigation screen display. Tall drivers will appreciate the front seat's long travel and the tilt and telescoping steering wheel, but rear seat passenger may find both head and legroom at a premium.
The 2011 Lexus IS' slight wedge profile has a muscular appearance that is accentuated by blackout B-pillars that blend glass and metal into a single visual element. Prominent shoulder ridges run atop the IS' fenders and highlight a subtle power bulge on the car's hood. The treatment is finished off with a set of well-defined fender flares and lower side sills. The look is completed by 17- and 18-inch wheels surrounded by performance V-rated tires.
Notable Standard Equipment
Even the baseline 2011 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 and a 194-watt 13-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer. The 2011 IS 250 AWD adds a sophisticated all-wheel drive system, heated front seats and an automatic transmission as standard equipment, while the 306-horsepower 2011 Lexus IS 350 is available with the automatic only. The IS 350 features HID headlamps, larger wheels and bigger brakes.
Notable Optional Equipment
Key upgrades to the 2011 Lexus IS include the Luxury Plus Package that adds perforated leather heated and ventilated seats, wood trim, rain-sensing wipers, power tilt and telescopic steering column, and auto dimming outside mirrors. The new F Sport Package adds a sport-tuned suspension and steering upgrades, 18-inch wheels and a dark chrome grille. Other options of note include voice-activated DVD Navigation and the 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 and Intuitive park assist. Brake, exhaust and suspension upgrade kits are available for F Sport Package-equipped models.
Under the Hood
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 fuel injection to develop 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. That's 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 about 5.5 seconds.
204 horsepower @ 6400 rpm
185 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27 (manual), 21/30 (automatic), 20/27 (AWD automatic)
306 horsepower @ 6400 rpm
277 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/27 (RWD), 18/25 (AWD)
The 2011 Lexus IS has a fairly attractive Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) that begins with an IS 250 with manual transmission at around $33,500. The 2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD is closer to $37,000. The 2011 Lexus IS 350 starts around $40,000, with a fully-loaded AWD model topping out close to $48,000. Be sure to check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to see what customers in your area are paying for the 2011 IS 250 and 2011 Lexus IS 350. All models of the IS line also enjoy a significant monetary advantage when compared to the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Cadillac CTS and Acura TSX, both in initial cost and with respect to residual values. While the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 rank above average in that critical area, the IS 250 is projected to have a slight edge with its long-term numbers.