If you're shopping for an entry-level luxury sedan with a sporty disposition, you'll undoubtedly come across the compact Lexus IS 250. Although modestly powered for a premium-brand sport sedan, the IS 250 offers all the other virtues of the current IS series, including precise steering, a high-quality interior and an extensive array of high-tech features.
However, choices are many in the highly competitive entry-luxury sedan market. The Lexus IS 250 is a respectable pick, but its lack of serious speed will deter hard-core enthusiasts. First-generation cars also suffered from a cramped rear seat and mediocre amounts of headroom up front. The newest-generation IS 250 is roomier, however, making it more appealing from a practical standpoint.
Current Lexus IS 250
The current Lexus IS 250 was redesigned for the 2014 model year and represents the third generation of the Lexus IS sedan family. Highlights of this new generation include new exterior and interior styling, increased rear-seat room and trunk space, revised suspension and steering tuning, and new safety features.
Lexus sells the IS 250 sedan in a single trim level, with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. For power, the 250 comes with a 2.5-liter V6 rated for 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission. If you're looking for more power, there's the more potent IS 350, which is reviewed separately.
The standard equipment list includes 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition/entry, power front seats, a split-folding rear seat, leather upholstery, Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity and audio streaming, and an eight-speaker sound system with dual USB/iPod interface. Heated seats are also standard on the IS 250 AWD and optional for the rear-drive IS 250.
Major options include LED headlights, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and ventilated front seats. The optional navigation system includes the Remote Touch infotainment interface, which uses a computer mouse-inspired controller that's at once familiar and infuriating (placing the cursor isn't easy when you're on the move), Lexus Enform telematics and smartphone app integration. To this you can add a premium Mark Levinson audio system.
The other major option group is the F Sport package, which includes 18-inch wheels (with available summer tires), special exterior and interior styling details, a sport-tuned suspension, an intake sound generator (enhances the sound of the V6 engine), heated sport seats and upgraded instrumentation.
On the move, the Lexus IS 250 is smooth-riding and quiet but a bit light on emotion. Handling is sharper when the car is equipped with the F Sport package, but you pay dearly for that extra measure of capability, as the ride becomes quite stiff over bumps while road noise is excessive with the available summer tires. We advise you to stick with the standard setup.
Acceleration is adequate, but the IS 250 sedan's 7.5-second 0-60-mph time is below average for this price range, and significantly slower than most rivals' four-cylinder models. In the end, the best thing about driving the Lexus IS 250 is its precise and communicative steering, which arguably sets the standard for the entry-luxury class.
Inside, the leather-lined Lexus IS 250 feels luxurious even in standard spec. Seat comfort and passenger legroom are very good up front, but larger drivers might not like the cockpit's narrow feel. The backseat provides headroom and legroom on par with competing entry-level luxury sport sedans.
Used Lexus IS 250 Models
The previous-generation Lexus IS 250 was introduced for the 2006 model year and lasted through 2013. Although it used the same 2.5-liter V6 engine as the current IS, it was a significantly smaller car and passenger quarters were quite snug.
This IS 250 could be had with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Its 2.5-liter V6 produced 204 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Rear-drive models could be had with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic, while the AWD car was only available with the automatic.
Standard equipment varied over time but typically included 17-inch alloy wheels, power front seats, leather upholstery and a premium sound system. Major options included xenon headlights, heated and ventilated front seats, a Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system, a navigation system and an F Sport package that includes a sport-tuned suspension and sport seats.
In reviews, we found this Lexus IS 250 was smooth-riding and quiet but not very involving to drive due to merely adequate acceleration and lifeless steering. Inside, the leather-lined Lexus IS 250 felt luxurious even in standard spec. But taller drivers often took issue with the lack of headroom up front, while the backseat offered considerably less legroom than most competing luxury sport sedans of the same time period.
There were a few notable changes during the car's seven-year run. For 2009, Lexus restyled the grille, retuned the suspension and added a two-tone interior option. For 2010, there were a number of technology upgrades including a new iPod interface, enhanced Bluetooth and a hard-drive-based navigation system (a change from the earlier DVD-based unit). After 2012, the manual transmission was no longer available. Tech fans should note that these IS 250 models lack much of the current car's available tech features, including HD radio and smartphone app integration.
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 was even smaller than the second-generation Lexus IS. It wasn't particularly refined or luxurious either, as its cabin design was more reminiscent of a Toyota than a Lexus.
Read the most recent 2015 Lexus IS 250 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Lexus IS 250 page.