Lexus, the king of the quiet ride, continues the design overhaul of its sedan line with a newly updated version of the entry-level IS 250 sedan.
"Entry level" may sound like a dismissive way to describe somewhat affordable sedans that feature a handful of luxuries passed down from their older brethren. I happen to live in a BMW household, thanks to the happy happenstance of marriage -- I'm a writer, so BMWs are something to borrow, not to buy. And I've grown quite fond of borrowing my partner's 3-Series sports sedan, one of the most popular "entry level" luxury cars you'll find on D.C.'s roads.
The Lexus IS is a fairly direct challenge to that venerable BMW model, mixing a high degree of style with a hefty dose of street savvy. How successful that challenge is depends on what you're looking for in a ride.
On appearances, the IS 250 (and its higher level edition, the IS 350) is a step up from the previous iteration. The front, in particular, features a nice interplay of angles and edges, giving the IS a nicely aggressive look on the highway.
Hey, if you want your car to look friendly you'll buy a Beetle.
The razor-sharp lines that start with the hood continue to the back end, where the IS finishes things off a bit wider than necessary. The IS looks and feels much larger than the previous model, which sported a more tuner-oriented look. However, the IS has evolved with shapes and lines that please the eye -- you can't quite say that about the new BMWs.
On the road, the IS 250 maintains the pleasant and quiet ride that Lexus is known for. The all-wheel drive, along with the stability and safety features, provides a reassuring base of operations. In fact, the IS actually feels a little too detached from the road. Like so many good-looking specimens, whether it's your car or your boyfriend, sometimes it would be more fun if they played just a little bit rougher.
The 204-horsepower V6 engine will hand over adequate power, but if you want to wring some seat-of-your-pants performance out of it you'll need to use the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters or, my preference, drop the automatic transmission in favor of the 6-speed manual.
Or you could spring a couple thousand extra for the additional 100 horses that come with the IS 350, though that may start stretching your budget from the "entry level" category to "already arrived."
Actually sitting behind the wheel is a pleasant experience, with an interior that's a bit too reminiscent of the Toyota mothership, but otherwise nicely acquits itself with some of the touches you'd expect from the Lexus badge. For those who wish to abandon the technological dinosaurs known as CD players, Lexus offers an input for iPods and other music players, although it lacks the complete iPod integration that Toyota has seen fit to include in the 2006 Scion models. But it is a step in the right musical direction.
If creating an entry-level sports sedan is about balancing style with performance, then the Lexus tilts toward the latter. While the IS may lack some of the road-feel prowess of its German competitor, it strikes a more attractively distinctive pose on the road.