By Keith Buglewicz
In a single generation, the Lexus IS went from a boring-but-competent entry-level luxury sedan to one of the most dynamically styled entries in its class. The 2015 Lexus IS is visually unchanged from its debut last year, and that's good news for those who love its bold grille, sinister headlights, and sharply angled taillights. The visual changes, plus a high-performance chassis tuning, give the carryover engines a better platform to work with, making this small rear-wheel-drive Lexus luxury sedan an honest competitor to cars like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and Cadillac ATS. Inside, added refinement and high-tech touches keep this Lexus in the technology hunt. The previous-generation retractable-hardtop convertible remains largely unchanged.
If you're looking for an entry-level luxury sedan, but want something with dynamically out-there styling to back up its driving characteristics, you can't do better than the 2015 Lexus IS sedan. Yeah, we just said a Lexus is the most visually striking sedan in its class. How times change.
While the fashion-forward design may be cool to some, it might be over the top for others. The BMW 3 Series is always a good call, and the Cadillac ATS is a definite winner. Additionally, if you want the IS look but with only two doors, you're out of luck.
Only minor changes are in store for the 2015 Lexus IS including LED fog lights on base models, interior tweaks, and wider availability for the heated steering wheel. Siri Eyes Free and Slacker are added to the Enform infotainment center. The limited edition Crafted Line is offered on IS 250 models.
The 2015 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 are about as quick as their competition in a straight line, and when the road bends, the suspension is ready for action....
... This is a genuinely fun car to drive, one that's the equal of the sporty Cadillac ATS and BMW 3 Series. However, the suspension remains supple over bumps, and the superb front seats and quiet interior remind you that you're driving a Lexus. For more bite, the IS F Sport models add an array of sport-oriented hardware, but without more than a marginal increase in real-world performance, the $3,000 package is a tough sell. Good visibility and easy maneuverability make short work of U-turns and parking lots. In terms of power, the 2.5-liter and 3.5-liter V6 engines offer plenty of thrust for passing and merging. The fire-breathing V8-powered IS F is gone for 2015, but the previous-generation convertibles linger for open-top fans.
Lexus prides itself on its technology, so it makes sense that the 2015 Lexus IS would be on the cutting edge. The infotainment system features goodies like a reconfigurable home screen, 3D building icons, and the Lexus Enform mobile application suite – all sure to scratch your digital itch.
TWIN PROJECTOR LED HEADLIGHTS
Similar to the LED bulbs you can buy for your house, the LED headlights available on the Lexus IS last longer, weigh less and are smaller than standard headlights. They also use a lot less energy, and cast a light that's closer to daylight for better contrast during nighttime driving.
The 2015 Lexus IS dash design looks similar to the Lexus GS sedan, and the conventional and touch-sensitive switches are all easy to find and use. We particularly like the mouse-like controller used for the infotainment system, which is immediately familiar to anybody who's used a computer. Front passengers are comfortable, and rear legroom is acceptable, if not class leading. We dig the Lexus LFA supercar-inspired gauges in F Sport models, which use a digital instrument cluster and a cool sliding bezel. Crafted Line models stand out via a black interior with scarlet accents. The IS C convertible models retain the old interior design.
The 2015 Lexus IS hews closer to the Lexus LF-CC concept than anybody could have imagined, and showcases the most aggressive form of the brand's design philosophy. The now-signature "spindle grille" dominates the front, especially in F Sport guise. The angled panels hide functional elements, too, like the wide stance and long wheelbase that make the car more stable, or the wind-cheating underbody panels and vortex generators on the outside mirrors and taillights serve to improve aerodynamics. The 1,375 Crafted Line models all wear Ultra White paint. The IS C stands out with its folding hardtop roof that transforms the car from a coupe to a convertible.
The 2015 Lexus IS comes comprehensively equipped, even in its base-model form. Standard are a sunroof, HID headlights with LED running lights, new LED fog lights, and 17-inch wheels. Inside, there's push-button start with keyless entry, Bluetooth, and programmable Lexus Personalized Settings that pre-sets certain electronic settings to the owner's preference. New this year is standard Siri Eyes Free mode for iPhones, which allows better integration with the infotainment system and Apple's phone. There's also an 8-speaker audio system with a 7-inch VGA screen on the dash, as well as USB and auxiliary inputs.
The navigation system on the Lexus IS sedan is among the best available, and the same goes for the 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. Crafty car shoppers who seek fundamental vehicle enhancements like LED headlights and heated/ventilated front seats should opt for the Premium package rather than the more expensive Luxury Package. But for the ultimate Lexus experience, you'll want the leather interior, power tilt steering wheel, wood trim, and other high-tech features bundled with the Luxury Package. The F Sport package adds even sportier suspension and brakes, while the Crafted Line includes navigation, blind-spot monitoring, unique styling cues and two TUMI duffel bags.
Sedan or convertible, there are two engines available for the 2015 Lexus IS. The base engine is a 2.5-liter V6 with 204 horsepower. It comes connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is available. The upgrade engine is a 3.5-liter V6 with 306 horsepower connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission, or a 6-speed automatic if you get all-wheel drive. Note that the IS F and its 416-horsepower V8 engine are gone for the 2015 model year. On the convertible side, you can get either V6, but both come connected to the 6-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive isn't available on either car. Also, all 2015 Lexus IS models use premium unleaded gasoline.
204 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
185 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/30 mpg (rear-wheel drive), 20/27 mpg (all-wheel drive), 21/30 (IS C)
306 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
277 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28 (rear-wheel drive), , 19/26 (all-wheel drive), 19/27 (IS C)
The standard 2015 Lexus IS 250 with rear-wheel drive starts at about $37,500. However, we think that the $41,000 you'll pay for an IS 350 is worth the price. Not only is the engine more powerful, it's nearly as fuel efficient thanks to the new 8-speed automatic transmission. You'll add about $2,500 if you want all-wheel drive on either IS sedan model. For those seeking exclusivity, the limited Crafted Line IS 250 starts just over $42,300 in rear-drive form. Fully loaded, the IS tops out north of $51,000. The IS C hardtop convertible starts around $44,000. The sedan prices are on par with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Infiniti Q50, but the Audi A4, BMW 320i and Cadillac ATS start in the mid-$30,000 range. Check out the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for the 2015 IS before buying, and sleep easy knowing that, like most Lexus vehicles, the IS will hold its value.