By Steve & Tamami Laser
Fifteen years ago, Lexus invited us to Austin, Texas, where it previewed the all-new 2001 IS 300 to the press. Following a couple of days driving the IS around Texas Hill Country, we wrote a review that stated, “During the past decade, Lexus has managed to deliver brilliantly on the promises of luxury, sophistication and technology while rewriting the book on customer satisfaction. Yet there exists a place – or a state of mind – that the automaker has yet to reach. Lexus hasn’t set the hearts of younger buyers racing with desire – until now. The IS 300 sport sedan is here, and the face of Lexus has changed forever.”
Targeting the BMW 3 Series, Lexus equipped the IS 300 with the right stuff. Under the hood was an inline 6-cylinder (yes, inline) DOHC engine that transferred 215 horses and 218 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear wheels. This engine was shared with the larger GS 300 sedan and SC 300 coupe of the day. Prices started at $30,500, making the IS 300 a great deal. (photo: Lexus)
Fast forward to 2015 and we find the third-generation IS series doing well without losing sight of the original’s positioning. Today’s IS lineup offers a wider array of choices. The IS 250 and 350 sedans feature rear or all-wheel drive in regular and F Sport trims. Meanwhile, sun worshipers can choose the rear-drive IS C 250 or 350 convertibles.
We decided to go back to the future and test the most affordable model of the bunch, the 2015 IS 250 rear-drive sedan. With a base price of $36,550, the IS 250 remains a strong value upholding the tradition of the original IS 300. Meanwhile, the new generation IS 350 checks in about $3,500 higher than the IS 250 at $40,065.
Under the hood of the IS 250 is a 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V6 with 185 lb.-ft. of torque matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The IS 350 with its 3.5-liter V6 produces 306 hp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. Its 8-speed, Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission integrates advanced G-force Artificial Intelligence (G-AI) system to choose gears intuitively or the driver can use paddle shifters.
We spent a week driving our IS 250 test car on a variety of roads and came to the conclusion that the 2.5-liter V6 satisfied all of our needs. The engine was smooth and responsive, there was plenty of power on tap and it did everything we asked. Of course, we didn’t have the opportunity to test it back-to-back with the IS 350. Yet if we were in the market for this car, we’d likely save the $3,500 and go with the IS 250.
Lexus introduced the third-generation IS for 2014 (in Austin, Texas). The latest design is dressed with the Lexus signature spindle grille separated by LED Daytime Running Lights. Compared to the previous generation, the wheelbase is increased by nearly three inches and its width by nearly half an inch. This stretch helps to stretch rear seat legroom by 1.6 inches.
Modest changes for 2015 include LED fog lamps, Siri Eyes Free technology from Apple, compatible with iPhone 4S and newer models, heated/ventilated front seats added to F SPORT (AWD also gets a heated steering wheel), revised interior trim, including piano black on the window switches and instrument panel, dynamic grid lines added to the backup monitor to aid parking maneuvers and available Lexus Enform Remote.
The latest IS features a driver-oriented cockpit design “inspired by the Lexus LFA supercar” with the dashboard divided into a display zone and an operation zone. Drive Mode Select for the IS 250 offers ECO, Normal and Sport modes, allowing the driver to tailor the car’s combination of economy, comfort, performance and handling characteristics by simply turning a dial.
A touchscreen display audio system equips IS models with an eight-inch screen, backup monitor, HD Radio™, Bluetooth® audio, automatic phone book transfer, a vehicle information display and complimentary traffic and weather data via HD Radio. The multimedia system also incorporates cache radio which has the ability to pause live radio. Lexus says it automatically records the previous 15 minutes for convenient replay.
Luxuries abound in the 2015 Lexus IS models. A high-efficiency dual-zone climate control system uses touch-sensitive electrostatic temperature switches. The IS offers two multimedia systems: a standard high-resolution Lexus Display Audio (LDA) with controller or the optional Lexus navigation system.
The navigation system puts “a world of capability at the driver’s fingertips” via the second-generation Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) multi-function controller. The RTI also allows convenient control of the climate, audio, phone controls and more stuff. The available Mark Levinson® Premium Surround System offers life-like sound reproduction. Although our test car didn’t have it, we’ve tried it in other Lexus models and the sound quality is indeed amazing.
Automakers like to equip their press cars with lots of options so journalists can try them out. Thus our IS 250 tester was loaded with 18-inch wheels, a Luxury Package that included LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, leather-trimmed seats, real wood trim, heated and ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, driver’s memory system, and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. A navigation system and Intuitive Park Assist brought the bottom line to $44,405 including destination.
Our advice? Go easy on the options and the IS 250 still remains a great value with its $36,550 base price.
Does today’s IS have what it takes to attract younger buyers to the Lexus lineup? While we may not fall into that demographic, our answer is yes. To prove our point, the next time you see an IS stopped in traffic, take a look at who’s sitting behind the wheel. Chances are good that the driver will be lacking our gray hair and assorted wrinkles. The Lexus IS appeals to young-at-heart drivers of all ages.
Lexus IS 250 press fleet vehicle provided by Lexus Division. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices, features and specifications is subject to change without notice by the automaker.)
Story, photos (except as noted) and videos ©2015 CarNichiWa.com