Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lexus Redefines IS With 250 AWD

There has been talk around Lexus about challenging BMW for years but the product has been mostly oriented to luxury. Things are clearly changing with the redesign of the Toyota luxury channel’s IS series of sedans.

The IS series is the second portion of the Lexus lineup to be redesigned with much more emphasis on performance, with the GS series having been redone last year. The resulting vehicle is harder edged and distinctly more likely to appeal to the serious driver in search of a sports sedan deserving of the label.

My Mystic Gold Metallic tester was equipped with all-wheel-drive and Lexus’ six-speed paddle-shifting automatic hooked to the 2.5 liter V-6 behind the IS250 designation. The engine produces 204 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque.

Acceleration is good, but not stunning, showing a 7.07 second 0-60 mph time. The transmission does its thing with typical Toyota/Lexus efficiency, moving up and down the shift range smoothly and without drama.

By the way, no matter how hard I try, I still dislike paddle shifters. Yes, yes, they’re “just like F1,” they simply aren’t as enjoyable to use as a traditional manual shift with properly placed pedals.

Moving right along, the IS250’s full-time all-wheel-drive is essentially transparent in every respect except the added weight it brings, which is reflected somewhat in the straight-line performance.

Wet-road grip is superb, of course, and dry pavement cornering is crisp and utterly predictable, with soft understeer following quick turn-in. If you are getting the impression that the redesigned IS is much more rewarding to move down a twisting piece of macadam, you are absolutely right.

The interior is marked by highly legible gauging that is set-off with illuminated rings. There is also a flowing instrument panel that gives the IS250’s passenger cabin a bit of a modernistic atmosphere. The seating is quite comfortable but grips in the right places, at least on my average-sized frame.

Notable among the safety features of the new IS are what Lexus calls “Twin Chamber” advanced air bags that create an indentation in the middle that the automaker claims eases the shock of impact with the body.

Overall, the IS250 is a definite move up from the previous generation. Is it something to go Bimmer hunting with yet? Not the IS250, but I have a hunch the more powerful IS350 might be just the thing.