Full 2009 Lexus IS 250 Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Lexus IS 250 receives a handful of minor tweaks, including subtle interior and exterior styling changes, a more advanced stability control system, slightly revised suspension tuning and a two-tone interior option.
It wasn't too long ago that BMW had the entry-level sport sedan segment pretty much to itself. Sure, there were half-hearted efforts to match the magic of the blue-and-white propeller here and there, but the company's 3 Series remained the car to have for compact-sedan buyers who loved to drive. Eventually, though, rival automakers began to realize that this market segment couldn't be ignored. That's why the number of serious entry-level sport sedans has ballooned in recent years -- and why Lexus decided to get into the act by introducing the IS series.
The 2009 Lexus IS 250 (along with its more powerful IS 350 sibling) represents the second such act for Lexus, the previous-generation IS 300 having been the first. Essentially a rebadged Japanese-market Toyota, this initial effort was entertaining enough, but it couldn't quite match class leaders in terms of performance or refinement. The IS 250, on the other hand, was engineered to meet the European and Japanese competition head-on. It's got strikingly taut styling, a sporty interior and even a manual-shift option to complement its rear-wheel-drive layout. In other words, the 2009 Lexus IS 250 has what sport-sedan shoppers are looking for.
At least, that's how it appears on paper. Unfortunately, driving the IS 250 is something of a letdown from the enthusiast's perspective. The 2.5-liter V6 seems rather crude and underpowered compared with the BMW 328i's silky smooth 3.0-liter inline-6, and while the IS 250's steering is accurate, it's notably lacking in feel. Handling is certainly competent, but the IS 250 bounces up and down like a softly sprung luxury sedan over bumps, even with the optional sport suspension. As for the stick shift, fuggedaboutit -- it's easily worst-in-class. On the whole, it seems that Lexus was aiming for a slightly less sporty demographic with this car, namely buyers who want the look of an entry-level sport sedan along with the compliant ride and coddling interior of an entry-level luxury sedan.
If that was the target, then the IS 250 generally hits the bull's-eye. Interior materials quality is excellent, noise levels are Lexus low, and the IS 250's aggressively styled exterior belies its supple suspension tuning. As a sharp-looking compact luxury sedan with a sporty flavor, the IS 250 is an unqualified success. Just know that you may be disappointed if you expect this Lexus to give a 3 Series sedan -- or an Audi A4, or an Infiniti G35, or even a Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport -- a run for its money when the going gets twisty.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Lexus IS 250 compact luxury sport sedan is available in only 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, park 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, sport-biased tires and aluminum pedals.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Lexus IS 250 is powered by a 2.5-liter V6 that generates 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard, while AWD is available. Transmission options consist of a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic, though if you want AWD, you're stuck with the automatic. Our test of a manual-transmission IS 250 yielded a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds; for reference, a manual-shift BMW 328i will do the same trick in 6.4 seconds.
EPA fuel-economy estimates stand at 21 mpg city/29 highway and 24 combined for rear-wheel-drive models with the automatic transmission, while the manual shifter knocks those numbers down considerably to 18 mpg city/26 highway and 21 combined. When equipped with AWD, the IS 250 returns 20 mpg city/26 highway and 22 combined.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are all standard on the 2009 Lexus IS 250. Optional is a pre-collision system (PCS) that comes packaged with adaptive cruise control. The 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 initializes brake assist so increased braking can be applied the instant the brake pedal is pressed.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the IS 250 earned a perfect "Good" rating for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests. In government crash testing, the IS 250 managed four stars (out of a possible five) for both frontal crash protection and rear side-impact protection. Front-passenger side-impact protection received a five-star rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The IS 250 boasts a finely wrought interior, with top-notch materials and an attractively sporty design. Fit and finish is generally excellent. Lexus also offers one of the best electronics interfaces in the business, with easy-to-use controls all around. The optional navigation system and accompanying touchscreen are particularly user-friendly.
Most compact luxury sedans aren't generous with rear-seat legroom, and this is particularly true of the IS 250. Adults or even large children may not be happy in the rear seat on long road trips -- especially with a taller driver up front. Don't let the IS 250's four doors fool you; in terms of interior space, it's more akin to a luxury coupe.
The 2009 Lexus IS 250 looks like a sport sedan, but in this case, looks are a bit deceiving. The IS 250's high cornering limits make it a capable back road dance partner, but its uncommunicative steering will leave enthusiasts cold and there's too much body roll for a sporting car. The manual transmission extracts maximum performance from the 2.5-liter V6 engine, but the IS 250 isn't quick by any stretch of the imagination, and the V6 feels unusually reluctant to rev. Moreover, the manual shifter itself is decidedly subpar, with excessive lateral spacing between the gear slots and an unpleasantly notchy feel. On the bright side, the IS 250 rides comfortably and the plush cabin is a peaceful place in which to while away the rush hour.