By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.6
Roughly 10 years after its initial launch, Lexus' IS still struggles – at least in many markets – for its footing in the sport-sedan segment. And although it is in the seventh year of its second generation, and while offering V6 and V8 powertrains, capable suspension and a niche-oriented hardtop convertible, the IS rarely gets a mention when the media or public discusses sport sedans. In most metro markets, the 3 Series BMW, A4 Audi and, to a lesser extent, the Infiniti G37 are ubiquitous, while the Lexus IS (in any variant) goes about its business almost anonymously. That shouldn't deter the sport-sedan prospect, however, from test driving an IS 250, IS 350 or IS F. Performance is crisp, styling is attractive and long-term reliability is well ahead of the German competition.
If, in a sport sedan, you find a level of refinement fully appropriate to your transportation mission, the 2012 Lexus IS 250 or IS 350 delivers that refinement in spades. It may lack the ferocity of a BMW 3 Series (unless opting for the IS F), and falls short of the Audi A4 in high-tech cool but the Lexus goes about its business both quickly and oh-so-capably, and can do so long after its warranty has expired.
If you, like the segment, are moving into the ranks of "mid-size," you may find the accommodation offered by the Lexus IS models too small, especially in the rear seat. And while many buy a Lexus for its Four Seasons-level retail experience, others will find that environment sleep-inducing, along with most of the model lineup.
Having received several upgrades in 2011, including revised front and rear styling, minor interior updates, the addition of an all-wheel-drive option to the IS 350 and an F Sport package for both IS 250 and IS 350, Lexus gives it a rest in 2012. There are two new colors in 2012.
Driving Impressions If BMW's 3 Series serves as the definition of "sport sedan," then the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 might be seen as the "Grand Tourers" of the category. With...a nimble chassis and responsive powertrains the lineup remains recreational, but all iterations of the Lexus IS provide a level of compliant composure the Germans rarely deliver – at least in this size category. Of course, what's under the hood will determine, in large part, where you peg the smile meter. Opt for the IS 250 with automatic and you have the perfect vehicle for the sorority parking lot. Grab it, however, with the available manual (figure on ordering it, as most dealers won't stock it) and you have a nimble and involving 4-door sportster. The Lexus IS 350 borders on the visceral, while the V8-equipped IS F can make a credible run at BMW's M3, and do it at 170 mph! Given its mission, the hardtop convertible – with either available powertrain – is little more than a boulevard cruiser.
In a segment offering all-wheel drive as an all-season prerogative, Lexus' approach delivers 70 percent of the engine power to the rear wheels under normal operating conditions. With that proportional distribution, little of the sport orientation is lost on dry pavement, while capability is increased on wet or slickened pavement.
Optional F Sport Package
While the well-tuned standard suspension will please most buyers, Lexus' F Sport Package is firmer and includes an 18-inch wheel-and-tire upgrade that elevates any rear-drive IS model – but especially the Lexus IS 350 – to near-BMW 3 Series levels of agility and fun. And it does this without detracting from the basic ride comfort or overall level of refinement.
As BMW and Audi interiors continue to gravitate toward mid-size, the small Lexus remains, well, small. The driver and front-seat passenger are well accommodated, and all seating positions are well appointed, but this is best regarded as a "personal" 4-door sport sedan, one which will never be confused with a family hauler. Of course, if you're in a Lexus showroom shopping for the family, the dealer has roughly a dozen better choices from which to choose. And luxury touches abound on the IS 250 and IS 350, beginning with standard leather, black metallic-finish interior trim, electroluminescent instrumentation and dual-zone climate control. We like the personal feel of the IS, and the convertible hardtop offers unlimited headroom.Exterior
The Lexus IS 250/350 body shell shown in March, 2005 was remarkable for its utter lack of adornment or distraction. A softened wedge profile, short overhangs, and raked windshield created a sporting four door that was almost coupelike in its integration. Thankfully, despite updates to the front and rear fascias in 2011 its stylistic integrity hasn't been diminished; this remains a very tasteful execution of an established formula. Opt for the IS F (or F Sport package) and things get a bit nasty, but only after hours. The IS C hardtop convertible strikes, to these eyes, the only discordant note; to accommodate the folding hardtop its back end looks slightly pregnant, and that's too bad.
At least one Lexus dealer keeps the inventory process relatively simply: Do you want navigation – or do you not want navigation? Beyond that, the decisions are already made, with little to add to an already well-equipped platform. Dual-zone automatic climate control, power tilt-and-telescopic steering column, Lexus Memory System for driver and front-passenger seating, leather-trimmed interior, Lexus Premium Sound with SiriusXM satellite radio and electroluminescent instrumentation are among the high points of a standard-spec IS. And let's not forget the IS 250's 6-speed manual transmission; try one, then buy one.
For those wanting to underscore "sport" in sport sedan, the F Sport Package should do it. Available on either Lexus IS 250 or IS 350 with rear-wheel drive, the F Sport ups the visual and functional ante with 18-inch alloys finished in Dark Graphite; an F Sport suspension coupled with a more aggressively tuned power-steering unit; front lip spoiler, upper and lower grille inserts and rear spoiler; F Sport front seats, and a host of interior modifications. For those more interested in "audio" than "audacious," opt for the Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package, with more adapted technology than the first moon landing.
Two technology-intensive, all-aluminum V6 engines provide clean and comparatively fuel-efficient motivation for the IS line. Both powertrains use dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) and direct fuel injection. The 2.5 liter develops 204 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, sufficient to take a rear-drive IS 250 from zero to 60 mph in under eight seconds with either transmission (6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic), 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 lb-ft of torque. Backed with the mandatory paddle-shifted multi-mode (Normal/Sport/Snow) automatic, it propels the fleetest member of the standard IS family to the 60-mph benchmark in about 5.5 seconds. If a 0-60 time of under six seconds isn't quite quick enough, consider the IS F's 5.0-liter V8, and then go cruising for pink slips. With an 11.8:1 compression ratio, the all-aluminum eight cylinder produces 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft of torque, and is capable of launching the IS F from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and achieve a top track speed (don't tell the wife) of 170! All engines require premium unleaded.
204 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
185 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28 (manual), 21/30 (automatic), 20/27 (AWD automatic)
306 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
277 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27 (rear-wheel drive), 18/26 (AWD)
5.0 liter V8
416 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm
371 lb-ft of torque @ 5,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/23
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."
3 people out of 6 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."
17 people out of 37 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