2013 Lexus IS

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2006 Lexus IS

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2013.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

The redesigned IS is a much closer competitor to the BMW 3-Series sedan.
Pros:
  • More stylish
  • Added power
  • Available all-wheel drive
Cons:
  • Tight rear seat
  • Occasional jerky ride
  • Grabby brake pedal action

Lexus is known for quiet, powerful, refined cars, so one can be blamed for being a bit skeptical when it brings out a car to tromp BMW's iconic 3-series sedan.

Lexus attempted to do just that with its brash, first-generation IS compact sedan, which arrived in America as a 2001 model called the IS 300. By then, that car had been sold for a few years in Japan with a smaller engine as a Toyota. (Lexus is Toyota's upscale division.)

What was Lexus thinking? There was no way it could seriously challenge the 3-Series with such a car.

However, the trim IS 300 has been the most fun-to-drive Lexus and has gained it experience in the entry luxury sports sedan market. More importantly for Lexus, it's captured a young audience because the median buyer age of an IS 300 is only 29.

Higher Sales Expected
Lexus hopes the newly revamped compact IS, which is more refined and more liberally equipped than its predecessor, will retain the younger crowd and grab older buyers to boost annual IS sales in America to 40,000 cars.

The IS 300 attracted only 9,972 buyers in this country in 2004. The 3-Series—also sold as coupe and convertible versions—found 106,549 buyers in 2004, making it BMW's top-selling auto series in this country.

Larger and More Stylish
The more stylish, high-waisted 2006 IS resembles the BMW 3-Series sedan, which was revamped for 2006. The new Lexus is as solid and smooth as that BMW and is a big improvement over the IS 300.

The new IS looks sleeker and more muscular than its predecessor and is partly derived from the redesigned new Lexus midsize GS sedan. The IS wheelbase is up 2.4 inches to a fairly long 107.5 inches, and the car is 3.5 inches longer overall, 3 inches wider and nearly an inch higher.

The new rear-wheel-drive IS is less edgy than the rear-wheel-drive IS 300 but is far more of a 3-Series sedan rival. Car and Driver magazine's October 2005 issue compared eight respected entry-level sports sedans, including the top-line IS 350 and BMW 3-Series, and said the IS finished a close second to the winning 3-Series.

Tight Rear Seat
One criticism of the IS 300 was its cramped rear-seat area. One might think that the larger dimensions of the new IS would give it more rear-seat space. But no dice—it's still too tight back there, especially for long-legged adults, and narrow door openings impede entry and exit.

However, there's good room up front in the quiet, upscale, nicely designed interior, which has good materials, supportive bucket seats and easily read Optitron gauges with needles that appear to float.

The trunk is roomy, but the car's racy styling causes its opening to be rather small.

Variety of Trim Levels
The new IS comes as the $29,990 IS 250 with a new 2.5-liter 204-horsepower V6. An all-wheel-drive IS 250 with that engine lists at $34,285. There's also the $35,440 IS 350 with a 3.5-liter 306-horsepower V6.

The rear-wheel-drive IS 250 comes with a 6-speed manual transmission or new 6-speed automatic that allows manual gear selection with a floor shifter or steering wheel paddle shifters for $31,160. The all-wheel-drive IS 250 comes only with the automatic, as does the IS 350.

The automatic transmission shifts crisply when left in drive mode. The paddle shifters are fine as long as you're driving in a straight line, but are confusing to use when turning the steering wheel. There's nothing confusing about starting the engine with the keyless start feature—you just push a dashboard button to start or stop the engine.

Hot Rod Version
The IS 350 is the hot rod, with an engine that outpowers all others in its class. It does 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The IS 250 is no slouch, though, despite having less power and torque. It reaches 60 mph in 7.9 seconds with rear-wheel drive and in 8.3 seconds in heavier all-wheel-drive form.

The IS 350's engine will make this version hard to pass up, but Lexus says most buyers of the new IS will choose the IS 250, if only because of its lower price. Lexus also says a good percentage of buyers in northern states will order the all-wheel-drive version.

Good Fuel Economy
Extremely good aerodynamics and efficient transmissions help the IS provide good estimated fuel economy for a high-performance sedan that weighs 3,435 to 3,651 pounds, although both engines call for 91-octane gasoline.

The IS 250 delivers 20 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway with the manual gearbox and 24 and 32 with the automatic. The heavier all-wheel-drive version provides 22 and 28 and the IS 350's economy numbers are 21 and 28 despite its sizzling performance.

Nice Roadability
The electric power steering was quick but heavy in an all-wheel-drive IS 250 I tested. New front and rear suspension components and powerful new anti-lock brakes provide sharp handling and sure stops—although the brake pedal action is a bit grabby. The supple suspension shrugs off most road imperfections, but is firm enough to occasionally cause a jerky ride on freeways.

The IS 250 versions have traction control and a Vehicle Stability Control system. The IS 350 gets a more sophisticated Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system. Both help keep the car on the road under trying conditions.

An optional performance package with 18-inch (vs. standard 17-inch) wheels and lowered sport suspension isn't really needed unless one is a genuine car buff.

Well Equipped
All IS trim levels have a long list of standard comfort and convenience features, including a 13-speaker audio system. Safety items include a wide array of airbags.

Options include a sunroof, heated-ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, wood interior trim, easily operated navigation system with a rear TV camera, more upscale audio system, steering-linked headlights and a collision avoidance system with radar cruise control.

Lexus has proved that it knows a thing or two about building highly competitive cars. If I were BMW, the IS would make me a little nervous.

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BB04 - 7/29/2014 12:53:19 AM