There is a lot of activity in the compact executive sedan segment at the moment. BMW and Mercedes have launched impressive new models, and Audi will soon follow with an updated A4. Looking to spoil what has been for the biggest part an all-German party, is Lexus with its still-fresh IS sedan. Sporting dashing good looks, rear-wheel drive and a standard features list seemingly as long as its rivals’ options’ sheets, the Lexus IS250 is a very attractive proposition… on paper at least. Is it as impressive on the road?
Seductive looks for Lexus IS250Whereas the previous IS was quite an individualistic-looking machine, with some strange detailing – Remember those tail lamps? – and a “stocky” stance, the new Lexus IS250 model boasts a far more elegant design overall. The wheelbase is, at 2 730 mm, rather long, and on this stretched canvas Lexus’s designers have painted a sweeping, low-slung shape that is both modern and different enough not to be labelled generic. There’s also a marked lack of brightwork, with the colour-coding being extensive and even the door handles and fog lamp surrounds being devoid of the usual chrome. That said, the Lexus IS250 still looks suitably upmarket, with the 17-inch alloy wheels being particularly attractive.
Unfortunately Lexus has not been as successful inside. Certainly, at first glance the IS’s cabin looks expensive, with the generous leather trimmings, satellite navigation screen and long list of toys lending the car a true luxury segment feel. But spend some time in the Lexus IS250 cabin and it doesn’t quite convince. The previous IS had really smart chronograph-inspired instrumentation, but the new model’s dials are far more generic, even though they’re by no means unattractive. Overall, the detailing of the facia is let down by some unimpressive materials lower down, as well as confusing ergonomics. The latter is partly the result of the standard touch-screen system, which takes over some functions, but not all. Consequently a large number of buttons remain part of the dash’s design, which adds clutter.
That being said, owners will get used to the layout as familiarity sets in. Besides these quirks, there’s precious little that is worth complaining about. The seats are superb, offering excellent long-distance comfort and great support during fast cornering. The driver’s seat is also electrically adjustable, as is the steering wheel (for rake and reach). Courtesy of the long wheelbase, rear legroom is also impressive, and the boot is reasonably sized – it can swallow 378 L-worth of luggage. Unfortunately, as is the case with some German rivals, the IS’s rear seats can’t fold forward.
The standard features list is otherwise very comprehensive and includes satellite navigation (usually an expensive option on the rivals), a truly excellent Mark Levinson sound system, rear camera park assist, climate control, auto lights, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, keyless go and no fewer than eight airbags. Phew… talk about a full-house package…
Sweet, revvy engineAs the Lexus IS250 badging suggests, there is a 2,5-litre sized engine underneath the bonnet. This V6 develops 153 kW and 252 Nm of torque, both figures down on what the big-capacity six-cylinder rivals from the German brands are offering. Nevertheless, the sprinting ability is sufficient, with a 0-100 km/h time of 8,4 seconds being good enough for most. What it lacks is the immediate responsiveness of its rivals, because this engine needs revs to get going. Thankfully, it is very smooth, even near the red line, so its refinement partly makes up for the relative lack of power. With fuel consumption of 9,9 L/100 km, it is also quite economical, though the figure can rise significantly when the car is driven with more “purpose”.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that there isn’t enough power to have fun. The six-speed automatic transmission can be manipulated using handy paddles on the steering wheel, and shifts are generally executed swiftly. If you manage to stay in the engine’s optimum power band, it is also far more responsive to throttle inputs, with a nice surge of power, always delivered in a refined manner. Power goes to the rear wheels, of course, and Lexus has certainly tried hard to endow the IS with crisp handling characteristics, as it displays admirable neutrality during hard cornering and responds well to brake and steering inputs up to very high speeds. If there is a negative, it concerns the somewhat numb steering feel, but at least it is precise.
The Lexus IS250 uses a multi-link rear suspension, which not only plays a big part in the impressive dynamic finesse, but also contributes to excellent ride quality overall. The damping is really good, and there’s more suppleness in the suspension than, for example, in a BMW 3 Series. This makes the Lexus IS250 a great touring car.
Lexus IS250 - VerdictBesides the slightly disappointing facia design and trim, there is not too much to fault here. At the high-value pricing, the Lexus IS250 SE offers a tantalising alternative to the German threesome, and could be just the ticket for the upwardly mobile executive that doesn’t like to follow the herd. And there’s little apparent compromise to be made – the performance, though not class-leading, is eager, the dynamic balance quite superb, and the features comprehensive. What’s not to like?
- Striking design
- Standard features list
- Dynamic balance
- Cabin comfort
- Facia finish
Engine: 2,5-litre, V6, petrol
Power: 153 kW @ 6 400 rpm
Torque: 252 Nm @ 4 800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 225 km/h
0-100 km/h: 8,4 seconds
Fuel economy: 9,9 litres/100 km
- Mercedes-Benz C280 Elegance 7G-tronic: Brand new and arguably the new class leader. The C-Class manages to blend dynamism and luxury like no other C-Class before it, and perhaps no other car in this class treads as fine a balance.
- BMW 330i Exclusive Steptronic: Recently launched, the latest 330i is a very strong rival, offering that lovely 200 kW straight-six engine and exquisite rear-wheel drive handling. On the downside, it can’t match the IS’s specification and the low-speed ride is too firm.
- Audi A4 3,2 Multitronic: Audi’s very likeable A4 is not quite convincing at this level. The interior, though exquisitely built, lacks some of the Lexus’s nice-to-have features, and the transmission is a love/hate affair. Given the price, it somehow doesn’t feel special enough.