Motoring: Lexus offers the sports sedan you want
The very first IS-series arrived in the year 2000 and became an instant star. The car had a sleek, taut design, the interior was well equipped and sporty at the same time, and its rear-wheel drive chassis was sensational. The original IS was the first Japanese car to put a scare in BMW, as enthusiast buyers now had a new option to consider when looking for a sporty sedan. As you'd expect, they sold them by the boatload, except for the IS Sportback (wagon) version.
The second-generation IS model showed up for the 2006 model year. The car had grown slightly, but retained the characteristics that car enthusiasts want. This time, Lexus offered two engine options with the IS in Canada, and also made all-wheel drive optional.
Lexus also offered this model in a convertible guise, along with its sedan sibling. Just by the sheer numbers I see running around, I'm guessing the second-gen IS-series has done very well too.
Lexus must have been under great pressure to come up with a replacement that can replicate the success of its ancestors — have they been able to accomplish this?
To find out, I spent a week with two models of the new IS-series.
First up was the IS250 F Sport AWD. This model has a 2.5-litre V6 motor, has the optional allwheel drive system (base model gets rear-wheel drive), and it has the F Sport performance package, that makes the car look and feel sportier.
I would advise anyone buying a new IS to choose the F Sport, because without this package, the car looks very ordinary, perhaps even unfinished. The F Sport package gives it the right bumpers and makes the car look fast.
In reality, the IS250, with its 204 hp, is not very fast, but boy oh boy, is it entertaining. This is a willing engine that just loves to rev. What it lacks in power it makes up for in character. It pulls neatly, builds up speed well, and sounds good while doing it. The six-speed auto also works quite well. It is not the quickest shifting transmission on the planet, but it is entertaining to use.
The most impressive feature was its all-wheel drive system. On a rain-soaked highway, the car gripped as if I was driving on a summer day. The stability and road holding was simply sensational.
I realized how bad the roads were when I jumped into the IS350 F Sport with just rear-wheel drive. I don't want to sound like I'm suggesting that the rear-wheel drive IS350 is not drivable in wet weather, but having just experienced the all-wheel drive version, I quickly realized how much better the AWD system enhances traction. As a year round driver, I'd pick the AWD.
From a drivetrain point of view, I'd have the IS350, because its 3.5- litre V6 engine develops a much more pleasing 306 hp, and since this motor is mated to a quicker shifting eight-speed automatic, this car is even more entertaining to drive.
This motor would please just about anyone, and the car's excellent steering and chassis makes it a true delight, especially when it's dry.
The two versions are quite different when it comes to fuel consumption. The IS250 AWD averaged 9.2 litres/100km, while the IS350 RWD drank 2.0 litres more over the same distance. Given that the IS250 is cheaper to buy and still very entertaining to drive, I'd buy that one.
In either case, you will get a car that has one of the nicest interiors in its segment. The design is simple yet sophisticated and elegant. It certainly has been inspired by the interior of the $400,000 Lexus LFA supercar. Everything is within easy reach, everything works very well, and it just makes you feel good. The only gripe I had was that it could make do with more storage spaces, for instance, a sunglass holder would have been nice, but this is just minor niggling.
The driving position is fantastic, and best of all is its instrument cluster, which at the touch of a button moves the main cluster to the right, revealing other information that you might require. Trust me, this feature alone will convince many to buy this car.
As for the price, IS250 AWD starts from $39,900, while a rearwheel drive IS350 is yours from $44,500. For this kind of money, trust me, there is hardly any sports sedan that is better.