We had never considered the Lexus IS to be one of the leaders in the midsize luxury sport sedan category. After all, when you are competing with the heavy hitters like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 it is difficult to be a standout. It?s like a college team competing professionals.
After spending a week, recently, in the 2015 Lexus IS 250 AWD, we think it might be time for us to reexamine the Lexus IS status in this competitive automotive grouping.
To start with, Lexus seems to have finally developed a unique design theme that not only sets the brand apart from the competitors; it?s a major step up from the often ?understated? Lexus designs.
Much like it took us time to embrace Audi?s deep ?singleframe? grille, it?s taken us a while to warm up to the new Lexus ?spindle? family grille design, but our enthusiasm grows with each new iteration. The grille is flanked by narrow headlight slits fitted with standard HID headlights in the low and high beams and is accented below with a ?swoosh-like? line of LED daytime running lights, and when you add the optional Luxury Package, the headlights are the super-bright LEDs. The resulting look of the front end can appear almost sinister when viewed in a rear view mirror.
In the rear, the clean look is accented with an upswept short deck lid/spoiler and dramatic wrap-around taillights that extend forward toward the rear wheels. It?s all tied together with full character lines on the side and a trim muscular look.
The interior is equally unique with a sophisticated, business-like design and excellent control placement on the console, center stack and the steering wheel. Most of the controls are buttons and knobs but someone decided to get cute and add some touch-sensitive electrostatic switches to control temperatures, but we?d prefer to have the old style knobs. We do like the mouse-like control and wrist pad design on the console which is used to control functions on the high-mounted screen. It feels almost like a computer mouse, which we?re all familiar with.
Our IS 250 test car was powered by one of the smallest V-6 engines on the market, a 2.5-liter direct injection, DOHC with Variable Valve Timing. The V-6 is about the same displacement and horsepower as some of the popular four-cylinder engines but the V-6 configuration gives it a smoother, stronger feel. Our test car came with full-time all-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive is standard) driven through the standard electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The combination produces a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.9 seconds and a top speed limited to 131 mph. The EPA fuel economy rating is 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. We averaged 23.5 mpg during a week of mixed driving conditions.
The flip side of the IS sedan equation is the IS 350 and IS 350 AWD. Both are powered by a 305 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 with an eight-speed automatic with shift paddles. The extra power drops 0 to 60 mph acceleration times dramatically to 5.6 and 5.7 seconds respectively, with only a slight fuel economy penalty ? the IS 350 is rated at 19/28/22 mpg and the AWD at 19/26/21 mpg. Like most of the European brands, the Lexus IS models require premium fuel.
The safety equipment list in the 2015 Lexus IS has a forest of acronyms with highlights being VGRS (Variable Gear Ratio Steering), PCS (Pre-Collision System), ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control), BSM (Blind Spot Monitoring), RCTA (Rear Cross Traffic Alert) along with about a dozen others included.
Base prices range from $37,575, including the destination charge, for the IS 250 RWD up to $46,520 for the IS 350 AWD F-Sport. The IS 250 AWD we tested has a base price of $40,010. The optional18-inch aluminum wheels, the Luxury Package, Navigation System, Intuitive Parking Assist and trunk mat took the final price to $46,500, for a beautiful, very well equipped car. Highlights of the features included LED headlights, leather seating, real wood, heated and ventilated front seats, navigation and Lexus Enform telematics.
The 2015 Lexus IS 250 AWD turned out to be one of our recent test car favorites. It?s a comfortable size, attractive, well-built and a good economical performer. Handling is spot-on with precise steering, great road feel and brakes that scrub off speed quickly when needed. It would be a tough choice deciding between this and the much more powerful IS 350, but the 350 is more fun to drive.
The only nitpick we had was that the sun visors didn?t have an extension, nor did they slide to help block the sun when in the side position. Overall, we think the Lexus IS is a real contender in this tough mid-size, luxury sport sedan category.