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A welcome redesign provides the 2014 Lexus IS 250 with class-leading build quality and benchmark steering feel. But it still trails its German competitors in pulse-quickening performance.
Upscale and well-built interior; communicative steering; smooth ride.
V6 engine's lackluster power and fuel economy; not as sporty as it looks; finicky electronics interface.
Available IS 250 Sedan Models
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For 2014, the Lexus IS 250 has been fully redesigned. Highlights include new exterior and interior styling, increased rear-seat room and trunk space, revised suspension and steering tuning, and new safety features.
Since its introduction, the Lexus IS 250 luxury sport sedan has played second fiddle to its European counterparts. In past reviews, we found it to be a likable car but criticized it for its meager rear seating accommodations, merely adequate V6 engine and busy, small-car ride. For the redesigned 2014 IS 250, Lexus is aiming to address at least a few of these shortcomings.
This year, Lexus lengthened the IS 250's wheelbase, and that has freed up a bit more interior room, particularly rear-seat legroom. Another benefit of pushing the front and rear wheels farther apart is a more stable and comfortable ride quality. Even with the increased emphasis on comfort, the IS remains Lexus' sport-oriented entry-level luxury car, as Lexus is happy to sell the ES 350 to buyers who favor a plush ride above all else. To that end, the IS is still rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, and the driver's feel of the car through the steering wheel is now one of the best in this segment.
In keeping with the trend of electronic devices proliferating among luxury automobiles, the 2014 IS 250 sees its share of upgrades. Lexus has added its optional, computer mouselike Remote Touch electronics interface to the IS this year, for instance. There are also new safety features, including lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.
Unfortunately, one area Lexus left fundamentally unchanged for 2014 is the IS 250's powertrain. The six-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic are smooth and quiet, but the recent increase and success of equally potent turbocharged four-cylinder engines in other sedans has made the aging Lexus engine seem weak and inefficient in comparison. Add in underwhelming handling and braking performance, and there's no denying that the IS 250 falls short of what its sporty styling promises.
As before, comfort, luxury and outright refinement take priority over performance and headlines on the 2014 Lexus IS 250. This car will please Lexus loyalists, but if you're not devoted to the brand, you owe it to yourself to shop around. Our favorite in this class remains the 2014 BMW 3 Series given its multitude of talents. Other desirable entry luxury sport sedan picks include the Audi A4, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The 2014 Lexus IS 250 is a compact luxury sedan offered in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive trim levels. The IS 350 is reviewed separately.
Standard equipment on the IS 250 is generous and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, foglamps, heated mirrors, sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats (includes two-way lumbar control), leatherette premium vinyl upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Also standard are the Safety Connect telematics system, a 7-inch infotainment display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice commands and an eight-speaker sound system with in-dash CD changer, HD radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and dual iPod/USB interfaces.
The IS 250 AWD adds all-wheel drive and heated front seats.
The Navigation System package adds a navigation system, Lexus' Remote Touch electronics interface, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phonebook downloading and Lexus Enform enhanced telematics (with smartphone app integration, including Bing, Yelp, Pandora and iHeartRadio). A 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system can be added to the navigation system.
A Premium package adds LED headlamps and heated and ventilated front seats. The Luxury package bundles the Premium package with automatic wipers, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, auto-dimming side mirrors, leather upholstery, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column and driver memory settings.
The F Sport package includes LED headlamps, 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 LFA supercar-inspired instrumentation.
Individual options include 18-inch wheels, headlamp washers for the AWD model, front and rear parking sensors, a lane-departure warning system and adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision brake-priming system.
The 2014 Lexus IS 250 is powered by a 2.5-liter V6 that produces 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission, and buyers can choose between rear- and all-wheel-drive variants.
In Edmunds testing, a rear-wheel-drive IS 250 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, a tepid time for this segment. Lexus-estimated fuel economy stands at 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive. The all-wheel-drive version rates 20/27/23. Rivals with turbocharged four-cylinders surpass the IS 250 in acceleration and fuel mileage.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags and dual rear-seat side airbags. Also included is Safety Connect, a traditional telematics service with automatic collision notification, stolen-vehicle locator and an emergency assistance button.
A rearview camera is available or packaged with the optional Navigation System package, and front and rear parking sensors are a stand-alone option. A blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alerts is part of the Luxury package, or you can buy it à la carte. Other stand-alone options include a lane-departure warning system and radar-based adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision system that utilizes warnings followed by brake-system priming and seatbelt tightening to lessen the severity of a crash.
In Edmunds brake testing, an IS 250 F Sport with 18-inch wheels and summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 118 feet, which is long for its class. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the previous-generation IS 250 a perfect "Good" rating for its performance in frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
The 2014 Lexus IS 250 has as nice an interior as you'll find in this segment in terms of quality and aesthetics. Supple leather and handsome wood and metallic accents are lavished throughout, and even the quality of the plastics is hard to fault with. As expected of a Lexus, fit and finish is excellent as well.
Basic controls throughout the cabin are intuitive and easy to use. However, Lexus' Remote Touch controller for the optional infotainment systems is a good idea that needs more refinement. The mouselike controller and on-screen cursor are very familiar in a PC computer sort of way. But placing the cursor is difficult and if you've incorrectly clicked, there's no convenient hard "back" button. Further, because all of the icons are the same dull colors, differentiating among them without serious eyes-off-road time is difficult.
One immediately noticeable benefit to the 2014 IS's newly elongated wheelbase is improved rear-seat comfort and access. Once the chief complaint of the compact sedan, the IS 250's backseat is now on par with its main competitors. The trunk can hold a maximum of 13.8 cubic feet of luggage, which is above average for cars in this class.
The F Sport package's new motorized-pod instrument panel (borrowed from the LFA) is a nifty parlor trick that adds only marginal utility and information.
The 2014 Lexus IS 250's longer wheelbase and new suspension design have paid big dividends in terms of ride comfort. It's no mistake that the IS now rides more like its larger sedan sibling, the GS, and that's a good thing. Overall, the newest IS 250 presents a far more comfortable and quiet ride that will serve commuters and road trippers well. That said, that just-right ride quality is diminished with the firmer-riding F Sport package that should be sampled prior to ordering.
On curvy roads, the IS 250 is more of a mixed bag. Steering feel and effort levels are appropriate and unexpectedly excellent. In contrast to previous years, the IS feels more alive through its steering wheel than a BMW 3 Series. But the sum of these improved qualities is largely a letdown. Even with the F Sport's taut suspension and summer tires, the IS 250 lacks the true handling prowess and high dynamic limits we expect of a sport sedan.
Finally, there's the matter of the IS 250's V6 engine. It's smooth, but acceleration is definitely lacking compared with most other base-engine competitors. The 102-hp jump to the more powerful Lexus IS 350 costs little in terms of fuel economy and nets a noticeable improvement in throttle response and acceleration.
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