It has always seemed to us as if Lexus' IS models were aimed at the buyer for whom comfort trumped style and, especially, performance. So for 2014, Lexus has redesigned its entry-level luxury sedans. Would more performance follow? We were eager to drive the redesigned IS 250 to find out.
Appearance: We love the new look, which finally puts the IS in the same design league as its competition. It really is a stunner, from the new Lexus "spindle" or "hour-glass" grille to its flared fenders and sharp character lines that embellish the hood and body. Overall, the sedan now has a wider, menacing stance. Even the details mimic this sharp-creased look. Check-mark-shaped LED running lights underscore the headlights, and the wraparound taillights taper to a thin point whose line continues across the rear fenders down to the side skirt. Dual chrome exhaust tips and V-spoke wheels, ours was the optional 18-inch alloys, finish the look.
Performance: Alas, the power plant remains the same. The IS 250 has Lexus' long-running 2.5-liter V-6 that produces 204 horsepower. (The IS 350 has a 3.5-liter V-6 that puts out 306.) The engine is simply adequate, but underpowered compared to some of its turbo-charged competition. Given the promise of its styling, it's natural to expect more power. The 6-speed automatic, which also has paddles, shifts smoothly. The wider track and a longer wheelbase make for a nimble and planted ride. We liked the lively steering feel. The suspension has been massaged, so the ride is softer and more like larger Lexus sedans. (Lexus offers an F-Sport option package for IS models that comes with a stiffer suspension, 18-inch wheels and interior/instrument upgrades.) The rear-wheel-drive 250 — AWD is available — has Sport, Eco, Normal and Snow driving modes. Our tester's Luxury package added blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
Interior: The design is youthful. As we've come to expect, the fit and finish are superb. The dash, covered in soft-touch material, is linear and less curvy than other Lexus models, which we found refreshing. The wood-grain trim is thankfully kept to a minimum. As usual, the heated and ventilated perforated leather seats are plush and comfortable. Because the IS 250 is longer, there's about 3 inches of extra legroom for the rear passengers. It can seat five, but realistically, four. The electronics have the mouselike Remote Touch interface, which has become standard on Lexus vehicles. We like it better than a touchscreen, but moving the cursor to the right spot can be challenging when the car is in motion.
Our 3 favorites
Interior: It feels like a sports car rather than a sedan.
Redesign: Sharp. I could see myself owning one.
Wheels: The V-spoke design is sporty and sophisticated.
Interior: Upscale, yet simple.
Redesign: Aggressive and striking.
Ride: Sporty, fun and engaging, but better if it had more power.
The bottom line: Lexus has given the IS 250 a seductive makeover but still gives the cold shoulder to performance. This is a fine car being held back from meeting its potential.