The primary virtue of the Lexus IS is handling. The steering is smooth and direct, and the suspension is pleasantly firm. The short wheelbase is a little less dependable on rough pavement, but it makes up for it with agility. The IS offers three distinct engine configurations, and two are strong. The IS 350’s 311-horsepower V6 is the best of the bunch, but the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the rear-wheel drive IS 300 is powerful enough for most.
Paired with the smaller engine, however, the eight-speed automatic transmission is easily confused. The all-wheel-drive IS 300 is worse, employing a detuned version of the V6 with 260 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque. It requires heavy revving, and the six-speed transmission is even less sophisticated. Fuel economy is disappointing as well – the rear-wheel-drive IS 300 is the cleanest at an EPA-estimated 21 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway, and 24 combined. Especially compared to rivals with hybrid and diesel options, the IS lags behind the pack.