Full 2006 Lexus IS 250 Review
What's New for 2006
For 2006, Lexus debuts the all-new IS 250. Replacing the previous IS 300, the IS 250 brings forth new powertrains, more features and a higher-quality cabin.
Since 2001, the Lexus IS 300 has taken on the BMW 3 Series with marginal success. Although it never really lit up the sales charts, the rear-wheel-drive IS 300 has earned a small but loyal -- and young -- following. When it came time to create the second generation of the IS, Lexus had to design a sedan with expanded appeal that wouldn't disenfranchise the kids. A tall order, but one the IS 250 meets with commendable success. The 2006 Lexus IS 250 sedan is bigger and more luxurious than the car it replaces. Buyers can choose between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and a standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic.
Since Lexus already had an excellent rear-drive platform in its recently redesigned GS, it became the starting point for the new IS. By carving out 4.7 inches of the GS's wheelbase and lopping off 4.4 inches of front and rear overhang, Lexus had the basic structure of the new IS. The GS's double-wishbone front and independent multilink rear suspension moves intact to the IS and is retuned for the new application. The IS 300's straight six has been replaced by a new 2.5-liter V6 engine that features VVT-i variable valve timing and makes 204 horsepower. Also coming from the GS is the suite of electronic technologies --traction control, stability control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and BrakeAssist -- that Lexus groups together as the "Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management" (VDIM for acronym lovers). VDIM is optional on the IS 250.
Behind the wheel, the IS 250 is all about comfort and coddling, offering the sort of gentle driving experience Lexus is known for while trailing the 3 Series in terms of athleticism. For those more interested in a luxury car than a sport sedan, though, the capable Lexus represents a worthwhile choice, offering a plush interior, refined drivetrain and exquisite assembly quality.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The IS 250 comes in just one trim level. The standard features list includes keyless entry and ignition, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power doors and windows, cruise control, leather seating, a moonroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a 13-speaker premium audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. Optional is a 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system that delivers 5.1 multichannel playback. Other notable options include 18-inch wheels, 10-way power seats, a navigation system, heated/ventilated seats, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (which allows drivers to set a preferred interval between the IS and traffic ahead), rear park assist, rain-sensing wipers, corner-adaptive headlamps, Bluetooth connectivity and bi-HID headlights.
Powertrains and Performance
Under the IS 250's hood is a 2.5-liter V6. Lexus rates it at 204 horsepower at 6,400 rpm with 185 pound-feet of peak torque at 4,800 rpm. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. The IS 250 is rear-drive but Lexus also offers an all-wheel-drive version. The latter comes with the six-speed automatic only.
Safety equipment includes front and rear side curtain airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and BrakeAssist, and stability control. An optional Pre-Collision System (PCS) -- packaged with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control -- uses a millimeter-wave radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car. If the computer determines that a collision is unavoidable it preemptively stiffens the suspension, retracts the front seatbelts and pre-initializes BrakeAssist so increased braking is applied the instant the brake pedal is depressed. In crash tests, the IS earned a "Good" rating (the best possible) for its performance in IIHS frontal offset and side-impact testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
The new IS 250 features impressive interior materials, an attractive cabin design and plenty of luxury amenities. Everything from the soft-touch dash and door panels to the supple leather seats exudes high quality. Rear seating isn't as comfortable as we'd like, which surprised us given the IS 250's growth from the old IS 300 days. The answer lies in the wheelbase, which is 1.2 inches shorter than the new BMW 3 Series and offers minimal rear legroom. If you regularly carry adults -- or even large children -- in the rear seat you might consider the Audi A4 or Infiniti G35.
The IS 250 cruises along freeways like the luxury car it is. Acceleration is adequate for this class of car. The manual transmission allows one to wring out a bit more speed but overall the automatic is a better choice. The ride is controlled but soft, and its silent cabin, devoid of any noise, harshness or vibration, is a portrait of tranquility. On twisting roads this smallest of Lexus sedans is comfortable, reassuring and competent.