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The Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 sport sedans are quick, responsive and fun to drive. Designed to compete with BMW 3 Series sedans, the Lexus IS models are built on rear-wheel-drive chassis tuned for sporty handling. They stick in corners and stop with authority, aided by high-performance brakes and tires.
The IS 350 is propelled with authority as well, benefitting from a 306-hp V6. These are enjoyable and easy cars to drive. The IS 350's VDIM electronic stability control steps in very early to keep the driver out of trouble. The IS 250 AWD model's all-wheel drive makes it a good sports sedan for the Snow Belt. The automatic transmissions are responsive and feature paddle shifters for semi-manual control.
All of them look sporty, with bulging muscles and a purposeful stance. All come loaded with features and are trimmed well, with leather upholstery. A full complement of passive and active safety features comes standard.
New for 2007 is the X-Package, which combines a sports suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels with a bold front spoiler, sport pedals, and illuminated door scuff plates. Also, the electronic stability programs can be disabled by turning off the traction control. Lexus says this might be useful when trying to extricate the car from snow, and in other situations as well.
The IS 250 AWD ($34,285) comes with the automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
The IS 350 ($35,705) powered by a 306-hp, 3.5-liter V6 with the six-speed automatic. More sophisticated braking and electronic stability systems augment its additional performance.
Leather is standard; the IS 250 AWD comes with special perforated leather and Bird's eye maple accents. Standard features: dual-zone climate control; SmartAccess keyless entry with pushbutton engine start; and a 194-watt, 13-speaker stereo with a six-disc in-dash CD changer. The audio system features digital signal processing, an electronic crossover network and built-in theft deterrence. It's satellite-ready and includes an audio input jack that accepts external audio sources such as iPod, Walkman, etc.
Standard exterior items are fog lamps, projector beam headlamps, puddle lamps on the underside of the outside rearview mirrors (which are also heated), dual polished stainless steel exhaust pipes, infrared and ultraviolet reducing glass on all the windows, and a color-coordinated front air dam. Also standard are 17-inch aluminum five-spoke wheels fitted with low-profile high-performance radials. The IS 250 AWD comes with all-season 225/45VR17s at all four corners. The IS 250 and IS 350 come standard with all-season 225/45VR17 tires in front and wider 245/45VR17s in the rear, a staggered setup to increase grip under acceleration. Optional 18-inch wheels are available for the rear-drive models only, fitted with summer-only 225/40YR18 tires in front and 255/40YR18s in the rear.
Options include the AWD model's perforated leather trim, wood accents, and heated/ventilated seats. The Luxury Plus Package adds outside mirrors with electrochromic, memory and reverse tilt-down, illuminated scuff plates, a power rear sunshade, memory seats, HID headlamps with AFS (they steer with the front wheels), rain-sensing wipers, and a power tilt/telescope steering wheel with memory. The Sport Package ($2956) adds a sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, sport pedals, and metal scuff plates.
The navigation system ($2168) includes voice activation, a rear backup camera (a great safety feature), and Bluetooth wireless technology; buy it with or without the Mark Levinson audio, which employs advanced discrete amplifier technology with 300 watts, and 7.1 channel speaker architecture. The Pre-Collision System ($2280) with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control is optional.
Safety features for all IS models include driver and front-passenger knee airbags. The brakes are large and effective four-wheel discs, clamped at the front by aluminum four-piston calipers. Augmenting the big brakes are ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and Brake Assist. Vehicle Stability Control and traction control (TRAC) come with every IS 250, while the IS 350 gets TRAC as well as a more sophisticated stability program Lexus calls Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM).
The Lexus IS in both rear- and all-wheel-drive forms is quick and easy to drive. It can pull serious Gs in the corners and it stops with authority. In short, these cars are serious sports sedans that rival the BMW 3 Series cars.
The IS 250 AWD is the best choice if winter weather invades your neck of the woods, when the all-wheel-drive system's increased grip is most welcome. The AWD model is heavier than the two-wheel-drive versions, but the IS 250 AWD hauled us over the San Gabriel Mountains on Angeles Crest Highway above Los Angeles without exposing any dire penalties due to its weight.
The IS 350 is the quickest model. Its muscular torque and free-revving engine delivers strong acceleration performance, something we saw driving one at Willow Springs raceway.
We drove several examples of the IS models at competition speeds relentlessly in temperatures that rose above 110 degrees and not one of them stumbled or misfired. Because of the hot, slippery track surface, the tires constantly fought for grip, but the advanced chassis electronics made it easier to keep the cars on the pavement. The inherent balance of the IS models made it easy to push it to the limit, causing the electronic aids to step in and dampen the thrill.
We prefer the automatic over the manual. The automatic is very responsive and offers the driver the ability to shift semi-manually using paddles on the steering wheels. The IS 250's manual six-speed isn't quite good enough to make us opt for it in lieu of the optional automatic. The automatic offers the driver more control over shifting when desired, but the computer steps in to protect against potentially damaging mis-selection of gears.
The Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 are true rear-wheel-drive sports sedans. They're quick and fun to drive. The IS 250 is a very enjoyable car. The IS 350 adds abundant power to the equation. And the IS 250 AWD boasts winter weather capability. Regardless of model, this is an easy car to drive quickly as it bonds with the driver, benefits of its balanced chassis and advanced electronic stability control systems. In fact, this bond that the car establishes with the driver is a key element for a great sports sedan.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Greg N. Brown filed this report from Southern California.