For 2006, Lexus launches the second generation of its entry-luxury IS sedan: IS250, which brings more improvements and put Lexus to complete the compact sport sedans from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and the newly invigorated Acura and Infiniti brands. This new generation is perhaps the biggest challange the automaker faces.
So Lexus is trying again with an all-new sedan that starts with a stiff and solid platform onto which it bolts a variety of high-teeth features unexpected in this low-price segment. The result is a sophisticated vehicle intended to attract new buyers and to add more liveliness to the overall Lexus image.
Lexus redesigned everything about the IS sedan: the IS 250 features a 204-horsepower V6 engine powering the rear. The new IS 250 is more stylish, more powerful and better appointed than the model it replaces. More sophisticated and less plain-vanilla than its predecessor, the 2006 IS 250 exterior design shares its platform with the larger Lexus GS line of midsize sedans with a higher beltline and shorter windows. The roofline’s arc flows far back over the trunk, creating a short rear deck-lid and a sharply tapered tail. Shorter and wider, the car’s dimensions and swooping roofline give an aerodynamic muscularity. Such distinctive styling is a marked departure for Lexus, even if the overall effect is still conservative. Every detailed of IS interior make you feel comfortable and have a sense of quality and refinement. The word used in the interior is finished by Yamaha, digitally tagged and sent out to 3 different suppliers. Once finished, the pieces of wood are reunited using those digital codes so the 3 pieces end up in the same car to look like one continuous piece. The acoustic windshield doesn’t allow wind or road noise creeping into the cabin even on the highway. The cocooned quiet feeling is enhanced by the car’s higher beltline that makes the backseat a little claustrophobic. But this inconvenience is mitigated by the pleasant ambient lighting. Despite plenty of legroom, only 2 fit comfortably back there, a third person would make it cramped.
The cropped backend allows only a medium-size trunk. There’s only a small pass-through behind the rear-seatback center armrest for long items, instead of what has become the standard 60/40 split folding-rear seatback in many vehicles.
Safety and Security
The new version is equipped with standard ventilation and safety features. Smog sensors can be adjusted to ward off the worst ozone days. The heat and air conditioning system is designed to apply pressure to the torso instead of the nose and face and it comes with knee airbags. There is also the Pre-collision system first introduced on the GS which can sense if a collision is imminent and take steps to either avoid it on, if there is no alternative, prepare the cabin to reduce injures.
The IS 250 is provided with a standard six-disk in-dash CD changer and a jack located in the center console to plug in external devices such as an MP3 player for playback through the stereo system. A rear-facing camera shows the rearview on the LCD screen in the center control stack to aid backup maneuvers.
The navigation system offers a voice-command system which allows user to enter addresses verbally instead of manually. Even if it’s a great improvement over keying in information, the users need some training to hit the “talk” button on the steering wheel each time they want to speak a command. Then they must wait for a “beep” before speaking which isn’t natural. There is also a difficulty in hearing the difference between similarly sounding letters like D&T, for example, which is a bit frustrating.
The 2006 sedan rolls out a new V6 engine on the IS 250. the “base” is a peppy, 2.5 liter V6 offers204hp and 185lb-ft of torque and is offered in combination with either a new six-speed automatic with paddle-operated manual shift mode, or a six-speed stick. There is also the option for an AWD version that maintains the car’s rear-drive bias.
To improve the air/fuel mix to deliver better mileage and lower emissions, the gas is squirted directly into the cylinder, with direct injection.
While a manual six-speed is thought offering the most control and sporting experience, the paddle shifters do a good job of engaging the driver. The Lexus automatic transmissions version is responsive enough to transform a boring commute into a fun driving experience. It adjusts hydraulic pressure electronically for smoother shifts and when you don’t want to be bothered with shifting yourself, it can be left in full auto mode in gridlock.
The new IS 250 features a new tire pressure monitoring system that allows the driver to swap between 2 different sets of tires without throwing off calibration. Hill Assist automatically applies the brakes when the driver starts off on a steep climb to keep him from rolling backwards.
The vehicle is also provided with an adaptive front headlight system, a radar-guided active cruise control and a voice-programmable navigation. All the hardware and software is squeezed under sheetmetal that is better looking.
A modified version of the GS sedan’s electric power steering is definitely the best in its class. It adjusts steering efforts to match driving conditions. The IS 250 suspension is based on GS’s, too, but has been modified to deliver a more sporty feel.
The IS is balanced, handles exceptionally well in the curves and isn’t tiring. It has a stiff ride, but not in an uncomfortably way, and it is more joyful to drive than most of Lexus’ other offerings, which tend to have much softer suspension. Suspension could be found too firm by those who prefer suppleness over responsiveness.
Conclusively, adapting to the Lexus IS 250 wasn’t difficult, excepting the navigation system’s finicky voice recognition program and the keyless start function that replaces a traditional metal key with a small transmitter and a start/stop engine button. As long as the key fob is in your pocket or a bag inside the cabin, all you have to do is to hit the start/stop engine button to power up. This means that the doors open automatically when approaching the car, which is nice on cold and rainy days.
The new IS 250 is not a BMW, but it comes close. It’s certainly it will hit market in the coming months.