First off – you have to understand going in, that the Lexus IS targets a wide range of people with different desires from a car. Gilmore girls to real car enthusiasts. But for an enthusiast – it’s all there. Lexus has found a way to appease the masses & make a great all-around car… without sacrificing performance in the name of comfort. A lot of cars try and fake it these days; the IS is the real deal.
From one enthusiast to another – you’ve gotta go with the IS350 over the 250. Buddy-to-buddy, arm around the shoulder, I’d say… do whatever you’ve gotta do to make that happen. Wait longer, save harder, pull from savings, sell an organ… whatever it takes. The IS chassis is true; a solid & capable platform. But the IS250 runs a 2.5 6-cylinder making 204hp/185tq. It’s not bad… but it’s not pavement-pounding either. The 250 runs a 7.7 0-60, and quarter-mile in the mid-15s, while getting you about 26mpgs. Some people want the luxurious amenities, and don’t care as much about beasting the streets. For those people, the 250 is a match.
The 350, on the other hand, makes 100 more horsepower out of its 3.5… and shaves 2 seconds off that 0-60 time… and another 2 seconds off the quarter-mile time. As an enthusiast – that’s where you want to be.
As mentioned, the chassis is solid in either model. Front engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. Braking is really impressive, even on the 250. In fact, I was surprised & grinning to find out that the 350 even had bigger brakes. The 250 has 11.65 vented front rotors, and 11.45 solid rears. The 350 comes with 13.15 vented fronts, and 12.20 vented rears.
What really buttered my biscuit, was the ‘sport-mode’. Admittedly, as a car guy, I expected the ‘eco/normal/sport’ knob in the car to be not much more than a dummy switch… a placebo effect. I was quick to hate… as most enthusiasts/tuners are. But I was wrong; sport-mode is real! In sport-mode, the car trims up in almost every way. I felt shift points change, throttle response become more sensitive, and a lessening in traction control interference. Even more impressive & unexpected, I felt dampening become stiffer, and I felt more resistance from the power steering (electronic PS).
Shooting through the familiar sweeping turns & backroads in sport-mode, the car stayed level, responsive, and totally planted. It wasn’t just good, it was exceptionally good for a car with such mass appeal. The 3,500lb curb weight disappeared. You could send a lot of modified imports home – with the right driver in a stock IS with sport-mode on. (My car did have the upgraded wheels/tires with 255/18s front & rear.) My only wish is that the IS came with a twin-clutch setup, similar to Volkswagen’s DSG transmission… and that they made it in yellow again.
Inside, the front seats are soft, yet sport-oriented & supportive. The car blocks out unwanted noise – a remarkable effect for someone like me, who’s used to riding in low/loud imports. We were in the car for 5-hours straight, and remained entirely comfortable – with seat warmers AND seat coolers. The whole interior really does fit like a glove. Gas & brake pedals are well-placed. You sit low, and the center console is high – making for a cockpit-like feel. Radio/navigation is controlled via a joystick within finger’s reach on the console, so there is no need to move around, re-adjust, and get fingerprints on a screen. AC temperature adjustments are made with a sweep of the finger on dual, thin, chrome strips (no knobs/buttons). That sounds petty, but it’s soothing, and well thought out. The climate control just works effortlessly. In a lot of cars, you feel the AC/heat coming out of the vents… but it never seems to really cool/heat the entire cabin effectively. The Lexus system ideally cools/heats the cabin uniformly. Same thing goes with the seat heaters/coolers. In a lot of cars, the seat heater just creates a hot spot… about 5 minutes after you wanted it. In the IS – it’s just quick, comfortable, and unobtrusive.
Exterior style is left up to personal opinion. But I like it, and furthermore, I admire Lexus for taking the IS back to it’s original agenda. I feel like the 2nd generation got a little conservative & inconspicuous. Maybe it grew up just a little ‘too’ much. But I feel like the IS’s soul is back with this model. It’s slim with strong lines. I always say, if you want to get a feel for the design of a car – wash it. And when you wash this thing, you really start to notice/feel: the lines where the tail lights meet the quarters, the bulged trunk lid, the aero front end, the flared fender/doors in relation to the pillars.