What's New for 2008
For the 2008 Lexus IS 250, a handful of minor changes take place, including a new "Liquid Graphite" finish for the wheels, revised front seatbacks (to provide more rear legroom), recalibrated steering for better feel and the addition of a coin holder.
Earlier this decade, Lexus introduced its first entry-level luxury sport sedan, the IS. It was a decent performer with sharp reflexes, but its cabin was cramped and had about as much sporty flavor as a Scion. A couple of years ago, Lexus upped its game, replacing the IS 300 with the IS 250 and IS 350.
The two cars are more buff, more luxurious and more sporting than their predecessor. As half of Lexus' tag-teaming sport sedan line, the 2008 IS 250 boasts a sophisticated suspension, powerful brakes and a sprightly V6 under its neatly tailored sheet metal. The cabin is a model of refinement and classy design, with most cutting-edge luxury features either standard or optional. The IS 250 isn't as powerful as the 350, but it is less expensive and the only one of the two to offer all-wheel drive.
Like its forbear, the 2008 Lexus IS 250 faces competition from BMW -- in this case, the 328i. In addition, there's also the Audi A4, Acura TL and Infiniti G35 to think about. And honestly, you can't lose with any of them. The Infiniti and Acura, in particular, boast considerably more power and roomier backseats. Meanwhile, the BMW still takes the trophy for ultimate driving enjoyment. But with its athletic moves, impressive overall quality, reputation for reliability and generous features list, the well-rounded IS 250 remains worthy of strong consideration.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Lexus IS 250 is a compact luxury sport sedan that's offered in one trim level. Standard equipment is generous and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, leather seating, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control and a premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack.
Optional features (mostly bundled into packages) include 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, parking assist, adaptive cruise control, driver seat memory, rain-sensing wipers, a power rear sunshade, a navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and a Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system. Heated front seats are standard on the all-wheel-drive model and optional on the rear-wheel-drive versions. Both IS 250s can also be had with ventilated front seats. A sport suspension package (not available on the AWD version) dubbed the "X" package is available and features firmer suspension calibrations, 18-inch wheels, larger tires and alloy foot pedals.
Powertrains and Performance
As one may infer from the model name, a 2.5-liter V6 powers the IS 250. It makes a respectable 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. Buyers may choose either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. One may have either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic in the rear-drive IS 250, while the AWD version is automatic only. Our test of a manual-transmission IS 250 yielded a respectable 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds, but expect automatic-equipped models to be at least a half-second slower.
Revised fuel economy estimates stand at 21 city and 29 highway for the IS 250 automatic, which is excellent for this segment. The manual gearbox and the AWD versions produce average results, with 18/26 and 20/26 respectively.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control and a full complement of airbags (front-seat side and full-length side curtain) are all standard. Optional is a pre-collision system (PCS) that is packaged with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. PCS uses a radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car. If the computer determines that a collision is unavoidable, it pre-emptively stiffens the suspension, retracts the front seatbelts and pre-initializes brake assist so increased braking is applied the instant the brake pedal is pressed.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the IS 250 earned a "Good" rating (the best possible) for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2008 Lexus IS 250 boasts impressive interior materials, a handsome design and plenty of luxury features. Impeccable fit and finish is evident everywhere, from the soft-touch dash and door panels to the supple leather on the seats. Lexus also offers one of the best electronics interfaces in the luxury game, with easy-to-use controls all around. The optional navigation system and accompanying touchscreen are particularly friendly.
Most compact sport sedans aren't generous with rear-seat legroom, but this is particularly true with the IS 250. Even with this year's marginal improvement in legroom (that comes via scooped-out front seatbacks), adults or even large children may not be happy in the rear seat on long road trips -- especially with a taller driver up front. Headroom is also in short supply in both front and rear. If you're at all above average in size, the IS may prove to be no more spacious than a luxury coupe.
The 2008 Lexus IS 250's manual transmission allows drivers to wring out the most performance from the car's small V6 engine, though most buyers will be suitably happy with the automatic that delivers better-than-average fuel economy. On a twisty road, the IS 250's precise steering and buttoned-down suspension inspire confidence. The ride is controlled yet comfortably supple, and the plush cabin, devoid of noise and vibration, is a fine example of tranquility.