AUTO REVIEW: Lexus IS Lineup Offers Choice of Horsepower, Rear or All-Wheel Drive

(Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS) -
The third-generation Lexus IS 250 sedan for 2015 starts at $36,550. (Lexus/TNS)
The third-generation Lexus IS 250 sedan for 2015 starts at $36,550. (Lexus/TNS)
The 2015 Lexus IS has a 2.5-liter V-6 engine with 204 horsepower, and a six-speed automatic transmission. (Lexus/TNS)
The 2015 Lexus IS has a 2.5-liter V-6 engine with 204 horsepower, and a six-speed automatic transmission. (Lexus/TNS)
The F Sport package for the 2015 Lexus IS offers heated and cooled seats. (Lexus/TNS)
The F Sport package for the 2015 Lexus IS offers heated and cooled seats. (Lexus/TNS)

For 2015, the third-generation Lexus IS models continue to present an aggressive elegance with flowing dynamic bodylines.

Also included are L-themed LED lighting and a three-dimensional spindle grille with a darker-gray insert from top to bottom, surrounded by a chrome-plated frame.

An all-new V-6 lineup offers a choice of 204- or 306-horsepower engines and either rear- or all-wheel drive. To further sharpen the driving experience, an F Sport package is available.

Upgrades for 2015 include new LED fog lights, an available heated steering wheel for AWD and F Sport models, heated and cooled seats in the F Sport package, and dynamic guidelines on the standard backup monitor.

All IS models add Siri Eyes Free mode (licensed by Apple, compatible with iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 models forward). Siri plays music from iTunes, gets turn-by-turn navigation, makes calls, sends texts/IMs/emails, finds sports and stock information, locates POIs and much more, using verbal requests, allowing the driver to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Siri also reads calendar information and notifications, and adds reminders, notes and appointments.

Advanced Lexus Enform Remote mobile app (with a one-year trial subscription) is also added, and allows the driver/owner to use a mobile app for iOS and Android devices for remotely viewing and controlling some vehicle features such as door lock/unlock, engine and climate stop/start, status of windows and doors, fuel level, vehicle finder, and guest-driver monitor. Guest-driver (read: teen) monitor allows the owner to preset a speed or mileage limit, and alerts the owner if either is exceeded. Lexus Enform App Suite is upgraded to include Slacker and iHeartRadio 4.0.

Lexus IS offers five 250 models and three 350 models, with prices from $36,550 for the basic 250 to $47,640 for the fully loaded 350C – with three-piece retractable hardtop, personalized luxury, Mark Levinson Premium Audio, and hands-free control of climate, audio and navigation functions.

For this review, I drove the base IS 250 in Obsidian with Flaxen perforated leather seating, leather door inserts, and Linear Brown Wood interior trim, included in a $3,535 Premium Package.

The IS 250 offers seven exterior and four interior colors with two trim choices – brown wood or piano black. Piano black on window switches and the instrument panel are part of the revised interior for 2015. Also new for 2015, the Stratus Gray interior replaces Light Gray.

My tester had the base 2.5-liter V-6 with a six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The 204 horsepower was all I needed to merge and overtake quickly and confidently.

IS 350 models come with the 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 with an eight-speed, Sport Direct Shift automatic featuring advanced G-force Artificial Intelligence (G-AI) system to choose gears intuitively.

EPA estimates for the IS 250 are 21 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. For my 500-plus mile mostly highway test drive, using cruise control and the Eco drive mode selection, I averaged 29.7 mpg.

Drive Mode Select features up to five driving modes, depending on the model, and tailors the vehicle’s combination of handling characteristics, economy, performance and comfort.

Eco, Normal and Sport modes are standard on both IS 250 and IS 350. Adding a Sport package to the IS 350 brings Adaptive Variable Suspension, controlled with S and Sport S+ modes.

The $3,235 F Sport package is available for both models and brings distinctive exterior styling, sport suspension, sport bolstered front seats, perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum pedals, silver performance interior trim, high-friction brake pads and – last but not least – an intake sound generator to create a more-sporting engine note. Special F Sport 19-inch wheels are available for $3,995.

All AWD models have a standard Snow mode. The electronically controlled AWD is available for both IS models and helps enhance traction and grip in all driving conditions.

My tester’s Luxury Package included high- and low-beam LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming exterior mirrors with reverse auto-tilt; heated/cooled front seat, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, memory for driver’s seat, mirrors and steering wheel, and blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert.

A Navigation Package for $1,855 included the second-generation Lexus Remote Touch Interface multi-function control device, similar to a joystick or mouse, located on the front center console with a wrist-rest. It has a high-resolution display, allowing control of the phone, audio, climate and much more.

The Lexus Enform App Suite in the package brought apps from various social-media and other services, and information on fuel prices, sports and stocks, with a one-year subscription.

Lexus Enform with Destinations was included, also with a trial subscription. Bluetooth 3.0 with automatic phonebook sync, Lexus Insider (newsletter supplied by Lexus using the audio display) and a backup camera were included in the package, as well.

The navigation system shared the eight-inch touchscreen in the standard Lexus Premium display audio system. The audio system supplied a backup monitor, HD Radio with real-time traffic and weather, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio, automatic phone-book transfer, vehicle information display, MP3 player, USB integration, CD, SiriusXM (three-month trial), Gracenote Album Art, and cache radio to pause the previous 15 minutes of live radio.

My IS 250 had a high-efficiency dual-zone climate-control system, with touch-sensitive electrostatic temperature controls. A very light touch anywhere on the vertical control strip instantly changed the temperature setting. Quickly touching either end added or subtracted one degree. The controls were very sensitive and distracting at first, but with practice, adjusting the temperature was much easier.

Lexus Enform Safety Connect is standard (with a one-year trial subscription) and includes automatic collision notification, stolen-vehicle location, emergency-assist button (SOS) and enhanced roadside assistance.

My tester had 10 standard air bags: knee, side (new) and front for driver and front passenger; rear side (new); and full-length side curtain.

All IS models utilize the innovative Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system with antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, vehicle stability control with electronic power steering or, for the IS 350 F Sport, variable-gear-ratio steering.

A preemptive Pre-Collision System with Adaptive Cruise Control is available, as are several other advanced active safety features, such as Automatic High Beam headlights, Lane Departure Alert, Blind-Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (Luxury Package), along with a standard Auto Location Tire Pressure Warning System.

The Pre-Collision System activates Brake Assist to increase braking force in certain situations. High- and ultra-high-tensile-steel body construction adds to occupant protection.

My tester had an LFA-inspired, driver-oriented cockpit, with two distinct dashboard zones, a display zone and an operation zone. A 4.2-inch, full-color multi-information display on the instrument panel showed audio, trip, navigation, phone and temperature details. LFA is Lexus’s super car, with a 4.8 liter, 552-horsepower V-10 engine.

The quilted driver’s seat with lateral support was quite comfortable for my long road trip. The driver’s seat had lumbar support and adjusted 10 ways. Having everything logically grouped made interaction with the controls comfortable, intuitive and ergonomic.

A longer wheelbase and special front-seat design gave the rear passengers 1.6 inches more legroom, for a total of 32.2 inches. Front passengers had 44.8 inches of legroom, (why not give the rear a few more inches?) and 38.2 inches of headroom.

Rear passengers had only the seatback pockets for convenience. Two cupholders popped out of the front of the pull-down armrest, useful if there were only two rear passengers. The middle seat was hard and uncomfortable, suitable for a child seat – especially as there was no legroom.

The trunk had 13.8 cubic feet of space, and the rear seatbacks folded 60/40 for even more hauling capacity. My tester had an Accessory Package ($255), with a trunk mat, cargo net and wheel locks.

Intuitive Parking Assist added $500, and 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels in Liquid Graphite with summer tires added $935. One 17-inch wheel design and three 18-inch wheel designs are available.

With $7,080 in options and $925 freight added to the base price of $36,550, the total sticker price for my sleek, fun-to-drive IS 250 was $44,555.