Lexus has completely redesigned the IS for the latest model year, giving its compact sport sedan a rich-looking cabin, a more finely tuned suspension and, most visibly, a bold new look. The previous iteration's engines carry over, meaning that power and mileage are middling, but its excellence in most other areas means the new IS is well worth a look.
Outside, the IS's front end is dominated by Lexus' corporate "spindle" grille and a unique lighting arrangement that features separate LED strakes beneath irregularly-shaped headlights. A character line that rises from the side sills and is picked up by the taillights lends a unique element to the flanks, and the overall style - while not everyone's tastes - is among the most distinctive in the segment.
Things are more restrained inside, with a low dashboard and a sloping center stack providing a simple but elegant feel. Material quality is superb throughout, and rear seat space - a major shortcoming of the previous model - has been significantly increased.
Entertainment and navigation info is displayed on a center-mounted LCD screen, which is controlled by a mouse-like infotainment controller that many find effective once mastered but not terribly intuitive at first.
Lexus offers the IS in two different models - the IS 250 and IS 350 - which both come standard with rear-wheel-drive but can be spec'd with all-wheel-drive as well as a performance-minded F Sport package.
The IS 250 is powered by a 2.5-liter V6 that makes 204 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. That's less muscle than many competitors' base engines offer, and its mileage of 21 city/30 highway mpg is similarly unimpressive. On the plus side, the diminutive six is a smooth operator that produces its power in a refined and linear fashion.
For more output, buyers can step up to the IS 350, which is fitted with a 3.5-liter V6 that uses an unusual port and direct-injection system to churn out 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque.
RWD IS 350 models shift through an eight-speed automatic transmission; a six-speed auto is used in all other IS derivatives.
Standard throughout the lineup is a Drive Mode Select system that tailors the transmission, steering ratio and steering effort to the driver's preferences.
All IS models can be equipped with a racy F Sport package, which brings an aggressive bodykit, a firmer suspension with an adaptive damping system, unique interior trim - including TFT instrumentation inspired by the LFA supercar - and more.
Standard and Optional Features
Standard kit on the IS includes automatic climate control, NuLuxe synthetic upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD/HD radio sound system with dual USB ports, complimentary traffic and weather updates, a seven-inch VGA screen, a proximity key with push-button start, HID headlamps with LED running lights, foglights, a sunroof, cruise control and 17-inch wheels.
Stand-alone options include 18-inch wheels, a backup camera, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert, a front and rear park assist system, a lane departure warning system and dynamic radar cruise control with pre-collision alert.
An available navigation system comes bundled with a back-up camera and Lexus Enform, which includes automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location and more. It can be spec'd with a 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium surround sound system.
The Premium Package adds twin projector LED headlamps and heated/ventilated front seats.
The Luxury Package brings twin projector LED Headlamps, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery with contrast stitching, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, two position memory functionality for the driver's seat, mirrors and steering column, heated and ventilated front seats and wood trim.
The F Sport package includes twin projector LED Headlamps, unique 18-inch wheels, model-specific front fascia and grille, a sport-tuned suspension with adaptive damping (RWD only), TFT instrumentation, heated and power-adjustable sports seats, a perforated leather steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum pedals, silver trim, stainless steel scuff plates, black headliner, an intake sound generator and high-friction brake pads. It can also be equipped with a variable gear ratio steering system.
All IS models are equipped with dual front, front knee, front side, rear side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
The IS faces off against a wide variety of worthy competitors, including the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series, the Cadillac ATS, the Infiniti Q50 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.