Full 2011 Lexus IS 250 Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Lexus IS 250 receives a slight styling update for the front and back, minor interior trim changes and a new F Sport package option for rear-wheel-drive models. Two optional features, adaptive front xenon headlights and adaptive cruise control (with the pre-collision system) have been discontinued.
The 2011 Lexus IS 250 looks the part of a sport sedan, and this year's minor face-lift adds to its athletic appearance. The new oblique front fascia strakes and optional LED daytime running lights definitely increase the sense of visual aggression. But are appearances enough, or is the IS 250 a weakling in a letterman's jacket? With only a 2.5-liter V6, the IS 250 is a bit like a bench warmer on the junior varsity team. But hey, it still gets to wear the jacket, right?
Beneath its edgy exterior, the IS 250 is as refined as your typical Lexus. Comfort and luxury take priority over performance, and the car gets your attention with a top-notch cabin and solid workmanship. On the highway, the IS 250 is nearly silent in its operation and isolates occupants from the harsh outside world.
This focus on comfort comes at the expense of athleticism, however. When you're trying to have fun, there's plenty of body roll, and the lifeless steering does little to encourage exuberance. This is further compounded by a 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V6 that achieves good fuel economy but lacks the oomph to stir the soul.
In its defense, Lexus IS 250 does offer some performance upgrades through the new F Sport package and dealer-installed accessories. Then again, if buyers really are that interested in a sportier Lexus IS, they can always upgrade to the more powerful IS 350 or raucous IS F. Unfortunately, all of these IS variants suffer from a lack of interior space. A cramped backseat and limited headroom might deter those who frequently shuttle multiple passengers.
On either side of the comfort/performance scale, the 2011 Lexus IS 250 remains a second-stringer among star athletes. Buyers who lean toward comfort will find similar luxury and more space in alternatives that include the 2011 Acura TL, 2011 Audi A4, 2011 Cadillac CTS, 2011 Mercedes C-Class and 2011 Volkswagen CC. And if you want real performance to go along with sporty appearances, we suggest checking out the BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G Sedan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Lexus IS 250 is a compact luxury sedan that is offered in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive trim levels, which correspond to drivetrain choices. The other IS models, including the convertibles and high-performance IS F, are reviewed separately.
Standard equipment on the IS 250 includes 17-inch wheels, foglamps, heated mirrors, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats (includes two-way lumbar control), leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Also standard are the Safety Connect telematics system; Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; and a 13-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and iPod/USB interface. The IS 250 AWD adds all-wheel drive and heated front seats.
The Navigation System package adds a hard-drive-based navigation system, Bluetooth phonebook downloading, a rearview camera, voice commands, real-time traffic and other information, and Lexus Enform enhanced telematics features. A 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system can be added to the navigation system. The Luxury package adds xenon headlamps, auto-dimming outside mirrors, automatic wipers, a power rear sunshade, driver memory functions, ventilated front seats, a power-adjustable steering wheel and wood trim. RWD models gain 18-inch wheels.
The new F Sport Package (available on RWD models with an automatic transmission) adds dark-finish 18-inch F Sport wheels, grille inserts, front and rear spoilers, a sport-tuned suspension, and heated F Sport seats with microfiber inserts and leather bolsters. Front and rear parking sensors are a stand-alone option. Additional F Sport options include 18-inch wheels for AWD models, 19-inch wheels for RWD models, a performance air intake, a sport clutch (manual transmission only), a performance exhaust system, upgraded brakes, sport suspension components, a quick-shift kit and a carbon-fiber engine cover and shift knob.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Lexus IS 250 is powered by a 2.5-liter V6 that produces 204 hp and 185 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can choose between rear- or all-wheel-drive variants. Rear-drive models can be had with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, while the AWD is only available with the automatic.
In a recent Edmunds test, an IS 250 with a manual transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds -- the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37 are quicker by a full second at least. Estimated fuel economy with rear-wheel drive and the automatic is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. The manual returns 18/26/21, while all-wheel drive gets 20/26/22.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and Safety Connect. The latter is a traditional telematics service with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator and emergency assistance button.
In Edmunds brake testing, an IS 250 with 18-inch wheels and all-season tires came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 113 feet.
In government crash testing, the IS 250 managed four stars (out of a possible five) in frontal impacts for the driver and front passenger as well as side impacts for rear passengers. Driver side-impact protection garnered it five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the IS 250 a perfect "Good" rating for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Lexus IS 250's sporty interior is as good as you'll find in this segment. Supple leathers and wood or metallic accents are top-notch, with soft-touch plastic materials covering most every other surface. All of these elements are well assembled for an overall excellent fit and finish. Controls throughout the cabin are intuitive and easy to use, as is the optional touchscreen navigation system. The iPod interface, on the other hand, can be a bit frustrating.
The IS 250 is a bit short on rear-seat legroom and feels very cramped overall compared to other compact luxury sedans. Even with an average-size driver up front, those relegated to the rear will likely find their quarters as unaccommodating as that typically found in a coupe. The trunk can hold a maximum of 13 cubic feet of luggage, which is about average for cars in this class.
As a sport sedan, the 2011 Lexus IS 250 is notable for its high cornering limits -- even higher if you opt for the F Sport performance enhancements. Other aspects of the IS's driving dynamics will likely leave enthusiasts a bit disappointed, however. The uncommunicative steering does little to give the driver a feel for the road, while the noticeable body roll and lackluster acceleration further dilute the sense of performance. Otherwise, the IS 250 presents a comfortable ride in a tranquil although very capable setting that will insulate you from the distractions of the outside world.