At the bottom of Lexus’ venerable line-up of luxury cars is the IS, a sporty sedan that by no means feels “entry level.” Its interior is made to the same high-quality standards as the flagship LS 460, with supple leather, reddish wood trim, chrome and Grade-A plastics. It comes with a choice of two engines: our tester’s 2.5-liter, 204-horsepower V6 and a 3.5-liter V6 that makes a whopping 102 more horses. That power gap is good for an almost three-second difference in 0 to 60 mph times.
The IS is without a doubt the most fun Lexus to drive, with a suspension that is firm and sporty, without being jarring. The electric power steering is feather light at low speeds, but gains weight around turns. The all-wheel drive system found on our test car should please folks above the snow belt who worry about the standard rear-wheel drive’s traction. But if you don’t have to worry about ice and snow, AWD just adds weight, which hurts acceleration and handling.
While the handsome, wedgy exterior is eye-catching, the trade-off to it is a cramped interior that renders the rear seat completely useless when taller folks are up front. In fact, when looking to the left, those same six-foot drivers will probably be peering out the rear window.
Our test car was equipped with luxury and navigation system packages that ratcheted the as-tested price up to $40,205. For the same price, you could get a similarly equipped Infiniti G35 AWD that offers a more spacious cabin and 306 horsepower. The IS 250 AWD is therefore a tough sell; preferred only by short folks (or those who don’t need a back seat) who prefer the IS’s sexy looks and sumptuous interior.
Warranty/Service: 4-year/50,000 basic warranty; 6-year/70,000 powertrain warranty; 24-hour roadside assistance; free first maintenance.