I’ve always looked at the IS as kind of the stepchild in the Lexus lineup since it was launched in 2000, and not just because that until the CT 200h Hatchback came along, the IS was the least expensive Lexus on the market.
Not by much, just a matter of a few thousand dollars under the starting mid-$30s price tag for the ES, but still the cheapest nonetheless.
That didn’t make it a bad car, just one that didn’t make you sit up and take notice like its competitors, the BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
While peppier than its sibling ES, the IS lacked the zip of its Teutonic competitors, and at least in my book wasn’t even close to Infiniti's G sedan in either looks or performance.
But I’m not as adamant about that as I once was.
Six years ago, Lexus split the first generation IS, the IS 300, into the IS 250 and IS 350, putting a better performing V6 under the hood.
The 250 still wasn’t quite as powerful as its predecessor (or the 350 either), but it was slightly bigger and more refined than the first generation sedans. Soon it began collecting awards, among them was one from J.D. Power and Associates naming the IS 250/350 the “Most Appealing Entry Premium Car.”
In 2010 the Japanese automaker revised and expanded the IS even further, producing an all-new all-wheel-drive IS 350 and offering a new F Sport Package for IS 250/350 rear-wheel-drive models.
I recently had the opportunity to drive the 2011 IS 250 for a week, and maybe it was because I was just coming out of two weeks with a full-size sedan and then a large crossover vehicle, which may have distorted my perception, but I got a kick out of the performance the IS 250 offered.
This particularly IS 250 came with the F Sport Package, which basically meant it had the all the amenities of the IS F sports performance sedan but one: the F's 5.0-liter V8 engine that pumps out 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels.
The IS 250's power plant is a 2.5-liter V6 rated at 204 hp and 185 lb.-ft. of torque, which means you're going to take about three seconds longer to get from zero-to-60 mph than the 4.8 seconds the IS F requires.
With the F package, though, you get microfiber inserts (they’re like suede) in the seats to add to the cabin’s ambiance and 19-inch wheels to ride on, and there also are upgrades to the braking and suspension systems to enhance the driving performance.
As I said, you get just about everything but the power of the F’s engine, but if you work the accelerator right on the 250 you aren't going to feel deprived.
There are steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters so you can select whatever gear you want with the six-speed automatic transmission.
Frankly, I usually don’t fool with them unless for some reason, like accelerating to merge into and expressway, I want to stay in a lower gear to keep the revs higher to have more torque available. (Sometimes I’m just showing off.)
Like all Lexus models the IS 250 runs on premium fuel. Interestingly, there’s not a big difference in mileage ratings in the 250 and the 350. The 250 checks in at 21 mpg city, 30 highway, and 24 combined with the automatic gearbox to the 20/27/22 for the 350.
But the 350 sedan nearly touches the $40,000 mark, about $6,000 more than the 250.
You make the call.
Oh, yeah. There are also convertible versions of both the IS 250 and the IS 350. That’s where the fun really starts.