This summer, the redesigned Lexus IS-250 and IS 350 will be hitting the showrooms. We got to test drive these models and compare them with the best selling German competition from BMW and Audi. This was a hard-core drive on a racetrack, as well as city commuting.
The new IS has plenty of improvements. The styling has been injected with some hormones and is more of an attention getter, yet it retains the “conservative” look that many owners want. This goes for the cabin too. It’s sportier looking, with improved controls and better materials. Rear seat room is larger, so your passengers won’t be cramped on long trips.
The suspension has improved handling, especially with the F-Sport pack, at about $3,000 more. It includes an adjustable suspension for normal or sport modes, among other goodies too long to list here. The engine choices are carry over, with the small 2.5 liter 204 horse on the IS-250, and the bigger 3.5 V-6 with 306 horses on the IS-350. The latter gets the 8-speed automatic from the previous ISF sports sedan. Too bad we don’t get the 414 horsepower performance engine, but I am told it might be here next year.
IS-350 vs. BMW 335 Turbo
On the racetrack, we compared the IS-350 with the BMW 335 turbo. The 300 HP Bimmer got 0-60 in about 4.8 seconds, while the 306 HP Lexus did about 5.6 seconds. But it’s no secret that BMW downgrades their horsepower figures–I suspect that turbo is really cranking 340 HP. But both cars are quick enough.
In the cornering and braking category, there wasn’t much difference– good news for Lexus engineers who really did their homework. One area where the Lexus is superior is in the steering. Both the BMW and Lexus use electric units; however, the German car has no feel or feedback, a situation that has generated many complaints. The IS feels like the older hydraulic unit, with great feel and feedback. Lexus tells me they went to a lot of trouble to accomplish this, and it worked!
Just a note: The suspension in the BMW 3-series has always been top rate, combining handling and ride balance equal to none. It still does from an engineering level, but the marketing people ruin it by making run-flat tires standard issue. Their stiff sidewalls create noise and harshness, so in this test, the Lexus with the conventional rubber won the comfort contest here too. But by eventually replacing those garbage run-flats with standard tires, I suspect the BMW might redeem itself. You will save about $1,000 in the process!
IS-250 vs. Audi A-4
This was a quickie test between the IS-250 AWD with its 2.5 liter 204 horse engine and 6-speed automatic, taking on an Audi A-4 FWD with a 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder, putting out 211 horses, and connected to a CVT automatic. The lighter Audi was quicker off the line, but that CVT box hurt power gain on the rounded test track. Curiously, the AWD system on the IS allowed some “fishtailing” on super fast cornering, something the Audi did not do. The A-4 is also offered with AWD, but it would surely drain the engine more. Both are good for 31 mpg on highway driving, and both cost about the same. Price?
The base IS-250 starts about $36,845. The more potent IS-350 is listed at $40,360. Add another three grand for AWD. Naturally, you will not find any at the Lexus dealer showing these figures on the window sticker. With a long list of options, the price tags can end up looking like the population of Tokyo. But the same can be said of the German cars also. If you can afford the tab, you will be getting a nice road machine, with Lexus reliability and quality. Look for these new models this summer.