Test Drive: Lexus IS 250 AWD

The Lexus IS 250The Lexus IS?is 11 years old this year, and the popular sport sedan is again expanding its offerings with more variations.

New for 2011, the IS 350 is offered with all-wheel drive (AWD) and there is a new F Sport Package for both the 250 and 350 rear-drive versions.

When you drive as many different cars as we do in a year, it?s easy to forget the characteristics of each one, and that was certainly the case with the Lexus IS 250 AWD we drove again recently.? It?s a very impressive blend of good design, comfort, performance and efficiency.

For 2011, the distinguishing characteristics were changed slightly with a new front grille, plus there are some new LED daytime running lights that are standard on the 350 model and optional on the 250.? Other little changes include tweaks to the taillights and exhaust outlets plus some new wheels.? To the untrained eye, there is very little difference.

Side View Lexus IS 250Nevertheless, the IS still impressive with an agility and road presence that makes it one of the most entertaining of the Lexus cars to drive. ?The 2.5-liter V-6 engine is the smallest six-cylinder engine we can think of in a production car.? Rated at 204 horsepower, the little V-6 nets an EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.? Our observed mileage for a week of combined highway and city driving was 25.5 mpg.? Performance is quite good with a 0 to 60 mph time of 8 seconds.

The IS is offered with two other engine options that significantly increase performance.? The IS 350 is powered by a 306-hp, 3.5 liter V-6 which drops the 0 to 60 mph time to 5.3 seconds.?? For someone that wants the ultimate, the IS F is the Lexus equivalent of the BMW M3.? It has a 416-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 and a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.6 seconds along with a top track speed electronically limited to 170 mph.

The IS 250 with manual transmission has a base price of $33,520.? All-wheel drive and the automatic transmission adds $3,630.? The top of the line IS 350 AWD is priced at $42,405.? Other IS models include the IS C hardtop convertible which is priced at $43,265 and the high performance IS F has a base price of $60,635.

Being the entry-level model of a luxury brand means the 250 gets a long list of standard luxury and convenience features like leather seating (heated in front), moonroof and dozens of other luxury features.? Our test car did have two significant option packages: the Luxury Plus Package which added upgraded leather, ventilated front seats, HID headlights, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, rain sensing wipers and several other convenience items for $2,195 and the Navigation System/Mark Levison Premium Audio Package for another $3,995.

Lexus IS 250 InteriorThe Lexus IS shows more personality than the more expensive models in the Lexus lineup with more emphasis on driving fun than luxury, although it?s still one of the most luxurious models in the category.? The handling is well suited for an aggressive drive through the mountains braking hard and fast before sharp corners and then smoothly accelerating down the next stretch. ??It rides on a double-wishbone front suspension with a rear multi-link system which gives the driver good feedback while still maintaining a comfortable ride.

Living in the northwest, we appreciated the full-time all-wheel drive that improves traction on all surfaces with a normal rear-wheel bias of 70 percent to the rear and 30 percent to the front wheels.? When extra traction is needed it will move more torque to the front wheels.? The 250 has a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment, but our test car had the equally impressive six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode.? Paddle shifters are a recommended option.

In addition to all the latest safety equipment, the IS has a full load of the electronic traction and handling aids that help keep drivers out of trouble.

The Lexus IS 250 AWD is impressive; from its sleek aerodynamic design to its efficient little V-6 engine.?? Anyone shopping for a compact luxury sport sedan, should add the IS to their ?must drive? list.


More from Our Auto Expert