The third generation of the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 is a car that I was prepared not to like because the brand’s once cautious styling has gotten bolder with each passing year, and the yawning spindle grille that is the Lexus corporate face seems overwrought.
Much to my surprise, I felt perfectly at home the moment I slipped into the well-formed seat, almost as if the car were tailor-made for my size. That caused me to give the exterior a close examination, and as I did, I began to warm to the styling. Styling is a matter of personal taste, and mine is generally more conservative which is why I find some of the newest Lexus models a bit over the top. But this is more subtle. Its grille is a little smaller, and the softly contoured sides are cleaner. The upswept line that runs from the lower rocker panel to the rear wheels adds interest without being too intrusive.
So, like Cinderella’s slipper, the IS 250 was just right for me. It is roughly the same size as a BMW 3-series. The balance of power, size and handling are exactly what I like in an everyday sedan. The 2.5-liter V-6 delivers a modest 204 horsepower but it was more than enough for spirited driving and it is rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway. Prices start at $36,550. Given our climate, I would choose the all-wheel-drive version, and its base price is $39,085.
Folks in search of a more stimulating drive might want the IS 350 and its 3.5-liter, 306- horsepower V-6. The 350 starts at $40,065 for rear-wheel drive and $42,300 for all-wheel drive. The 250 has a six-speed automatic transmission while the 350 gets an eight-speed.
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The IS 250 has Eco, Normal and Sport drive modes plus a button marked Snow that lets the car start in a higher gear with reduced power. A more aggressive F Sport package ($3,235) has a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels with performance tires, 10-way power driver seat, leather steering wheel, unique front fascia and a thin-film-transistor (TFT) LCD instrument display. The F Sport package for the IS 350 also includes a variable suspension and two additional Sport driving modes.
The front seats have excellent lateral and lumbar support. Rear-seat legroom is rather tight, however.
The center console is fairly tall and creates a distinct cockpit feeling. Simple gauges reside in a pod behind the steering wheel along with a programmable LCD screen that can show numerous functions. The thick steering wheel has paddles for shifting the automatic transmission and buttons to control audio, cruise control and hands-free telephone.
A mouselike controller on the console is used to manipulate many of the car’s navigation, audio, climate and phone functions through a central eight-inch LCD screen.
The test car, from the Lexus press fleet, was equipped with a blind-spot monitor, rear-view camera with cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning, all of which were most handy. Blind-spot monitors are become so ubiquitous that it feels weird to drive a car without one.
A one-year trial subscription to Lexus Enform Remote lets the driver view and control via smartphone items such as remote door lock/unlock, remote start, vehicle finder and guest driver monitor.
The base price of the test vehicle was $36,550. Options included rain-sensing wipers, LED headlamps, leather-trimmed interior with wood trim, heated and cooled front seats, tilt steering wheel, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning); navigation system, backup camera, Lexus Enform subscription, cargo mat, trunk mat and 18-inch aluminum wheels. The sticker price was $44,420.
Four years or 50,000 miles with a six-year or 72,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
2015 Lexus IS 250
Engine: 2.5-liter, 204-horsepower V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,461 pounds
Base price: $36,550
As driven: $44,420
MPG rating: 21 in the city, 30 on the highway