If you're shopping for an entry-level luxury sedan with a sporty disposition, you'll undoubtedly come across the compact Lexus IS 250. It's the less expensive companion to the pricier but more powerful IS 350 and it's the most affordable way into the Lexus lineup. Although modestly powered for a premium-brand sport sedan, the IS 250 offers all the other virtues of the current IS series, including precise handling, a top-quality interior and an extensive array of high-tech features.
2008 Lexus IS 250 4dr Sedan
In addition, the Lexus IS 250 actually offers a wider variety of drivetrain configurations than the more potent IS 350. On the standard rear-wheel-drive sedan, the company gives you a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. If you've settled on the automatic, you have the option to order your IS 250 with all-wheel drive.
Choices are many in the highly competitive entry-luxury sedan market, yet the IS 250 is certainly one you should consider. That said, its lack of serious speed will deter hard-core enthusiasts, as will its muted steering feedback. For the general premium car shopper, though, the Lexus IS 250 represents a solid buy, as it offers high levels of luxury and refinement while staying within comfortable range of the $30,000 mark.
Current Lexus IS 250
Lexus sells the IS 250 in a single trim level, with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The power source is a 2.5-liter V6 rated for 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The standard equipment list is respectable for this type of car. Naturally, all the requisite safety features are on board, including front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and stability control. Major options include adaptive bi-xenon HID headlights, heated/ventilated front seats, a surround-sound Mark Levinson audio system with a CD/DVD changer, a navigation system with a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control and Bluetooth. There's also an X package, which is essentially a sport package that provides bigger wheels, high-performance tires, firmer suspension calibrations, aluminum pedals and a front lip spoiler. Note that you can only get this package on rear-drive IS 250s.
On the move, the Lexus IS 250 is smooth-riding and quiet but a bit light on emotion. Handling is secure and precise, particularly with the X package fitted, but the IS never communicates with its driver the way a BMW 3 Series sedan does. Otherwise, the IS 250's dynamics are certainly on par with the other leading entry-luxury sedans, including the Audi A4 and Infiniti G35.
Acceleration is adequate for a car in this price range, but with 0-60-mph estimates falling around the 8-second mark, we'd hardly call it pulse-quickening. Still, buyers will be impressed by the V6's creamy power delivery and the automatic transmission's quick responses in sport mode. The manual gearbox is a reasonable choice for enthusiast drivers, but it's not as tidy through the gears as top competitors'.
Inside, the leather-lined Lexus IS 250 feels luxurious even in standard spec -- something that can't be said of many entry-level luxury sedans in this price range. Still, consumers wanting that quintessential Lexus experience will need to check off bird's-eye maple trim on the options list. Seat comfort and passenger room are excellent up front, but the backseat offers considerably less legroom than the quarters in the 3 Series and G35. Trunk space is average at 13 cubic feet.
Past Lexus IS 250 Models
Introduced for the 2006 model year, the IS 250 represents the second generation of the Lexus IS series. The first generation, known as the IS 300, was sold from 2001-'05. This car was quicker and more involving to drive than today's IS 250, but it wasn't as roomy, refined or luxurious.
Buyers who put any priority on handling would be wise to zero in on 2007 and later models with the optional X package. Also note that the standard stability and traction control system (known as Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, or VDIM) was undefeatable on '06 models.