If you're looking for an entry-level luxury sedan with a sporty disposition, consider the compact Lexus IS 250. Although modestly powered for a premium-brand sport sedan, the IS 250 offered all the virtues of the Lexus badge like a high-quality interior and high-tech features along with precise steering and nimble handling.
The Lexus IS 250 bowed out of the market after the 2015 model year, since replaced by the IS 200t. But the 250 still makes a fine pick for a used luxury sport sedan. The third, and final, generation lasted just two model years, but differed from preceding generations with revised styling, more rear-seat and trunk space, and improved handling performance. Second-generation models are still desirable, although this was a highly competitive class. It's worth checking out the German (Audi and BMW) and American (Cadillac) alternatives. The IS 250's lack of serious speed may deter more hard-core enthusiasts.
First-generation cars, called IS 300, found a loyal following with Japanese car enthusiasts, as it was the same car as the compact, rear-drive Toyota Altezza produced for the Japanese market. While it was a fun performance car, the IS 300 suffered from a cramped rear seat and mediocre amounts of front headroom.
Used Lexus IS 250 Models
The third-generation IS 250 was redesigned for the 2014 model year and then dropped at the end of the 2015 model year. Highlights included new exterior and interior styling, increased rear-seat room and trunk space, revised suspension and steering tuning, and new safety features.
The IS 250 came in a single trim level, with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. For power, the 250 was equipped with a 2.5-liter V6 rated to produce 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic was the sole transmission (drivers looking for more power could opt for the more potent IS 350). Standard equipment included 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition/entry, power front seats, leather upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system. Heated seats were also standard on the IS 250 AWD and optional for the rear-drive IS 250.
Major options included LED headlights, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and ventilated front seats. The optional navigation system offered the Remote Touch infotainment interface, which used a computer mouse-inspired controller that was at once familiar and infuriating (placing the cursor isn't easy when you're on the move), Lexus Enform telematics and smartphone app integration.
The other major option group was the F Sport package, with 18-inch wheels (with available summer tires), special exterior and interior styling details, a sport-tuned suspension, an intake sound generator (enhanced the sound of the V6 engine), heated sport seats and upgraded instrumentation.
Changes for 2015, the final model year before ending production, included a limited-edition Crafted Line trim with unique exterior paint and interior touches, an optional heated steering wheel for all-wheel-drive models, and compatibility with the Lexus Enform Remote mobile app, which offered several handy features like remote start, location finder and vehicle status check.
On the move, the Lexus IS 250 was smooth-riding and quiet, but light on emotion. Handling was sharper when the car was equipped with the F Sport package, but you paid dearly for that extra measure of capability, as the ride becomes quite stiff over bumps while road noise is excessive with the available summer tires.
The second-generation Lexus IS 250 was introduced for the 2006 model year and lasted through 2013. Although it used the same 2.5-liter V6 engine as the current IS, it was a significantly smaller car and passenger quarters were quite snug.
This IS 250 had either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Its 2.5-liter V6 produced 204 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Rear-drive models could be had with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic, while the AWD car was only available with the automatic.
Standard equipment varied over time but typically possessed 17-inch alloy wheels, power front seats, leather upholstery and a premium sound system. Major options included xenon headlights, heated and ventilated front seats, a Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system, a navigation system and an F Sport package that has a sport-tuned suspension and sport seats.
In reviews, we found this Lexus IS 250 was smooth-riding and quiet but not very involving to drive due to merely adequate acceleration and lifeless steering. Inside, the leather-lined Lexus IS 250 felt luxurious even in standard spec. But taller drivers often took issue with the lack of headroom up front, while the backseat offered considerably less legroom than most competing luxury sport sedans of the same time period.
There were a few notable changes during the car's seven-year run. For 2009, Lexus restyled the grille, retuned the suspension and added a two-tone interior option. For 2010, there were a number of technology upgrades like a new iPod interface, enhanced Bluetooth and a hard-drive-based navigation system (a change from the earlier DVD-based unit). After 2012, the manual transmission was no longer available. Tech fans should note that these IS 250 models lack much of the current car's available tech features, including HD radio and smartphone app integration.
The first generation, known as the IS 300 was sold from 2001 to 2005. This car was quicker and more involving to drive than today's IS 250, but it was even smaller than the second-generation Lexus IS. It wasn't particularly refined or luxurious either, as its cabin design was more reminiscent of a Toyota than a Lexus.