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Lexus IS250 2006 review: road test

Ultimately, it fell short on cabin space, outright performance and a manual gearbox that was nowhere near good enough.

Even so, it was good enough to outscore the all-new BMW 3-Series with our judges and picked up points for design, value, equipment and driving enjoyment.

No matter how you score it, the new IS250 is the best thing yet with a Lexus badge.

Its style and techno tweaks will give it showroom appeal to the thirtysomethings who are expected to dominate sales.

The starting price of $53,890, just below the critical luxury tax cut-off that is essential with many leasing customers, makes sense.

You can spend closer to $80,000 on a new IS, but the starter car is expected to dominate sales in Australia.

The IS250 comes after Lexus first entered the compact prestige class in the 1990s with an IS200, which was too small and gutless to stand out in a field dominated by the 3-Series BMW.

But this time around the brief was different.

The IS was set for a best-in-class development. And that meant 500 individual targets for everything from safety to comfort and equipment.

"This car is brand new, and my child. The new IS is most like me," Sugayo Fukusato, one of the first Lexus-specific engineers, says proudly.

And that's good news because he drives a Porsche 911, rides a one-off mountain bike and has a costly custom-made sound system in his home.

The result is a V6 engine, rear-wheel drive chassis with big brakes and fully-independent suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, tilt-and-slide steering adjustment, six airbags, anti-skid brakes with brake assist and "light sabre" pointers on the instruments.

Lexus lists a total of 18 IS250 models, from the basic car to a Sports Luxury model with automatic transmission.

The flagship comes with all the fruit: leather seats, a moonroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, six-speed auto gearbox and Mark Levinson sound system.

But Lexus does not have the IS350 sold in America. It says the car cannot be certified for local sales, though that could be a stalling excuse to get the 250 out of the blocks and leave space for the 350 — and eventually the IS500 with V8 power — to slip in above the current car.

The new IS has definitely killed the Camry-cloned GS300, which looks anything but special in the current Lexus family.


On The Road

The new baby Lexus is a top drive. It is much tighter, more together, and more rewarding than the earlier IS.

It even felt good after the Audi S4, which is one of the best cars we have had through our test garage in a while.

The IS is responsive and youthful, two things BMW has lost with the growth and extra refinement in the latest 3-Series.

The German car is still very, very good but falls short of the Lexus when you want to play.

Not that you have to flog the IS to enjoy yourself.

Our test car, admittedly with all the gear and that $80,000-ish price, had almost everything you could want in a new car: great sound, top-drawer quality, plenty of luxury touches.

But the basics are the best. The seats are comfortable and supportive, the touch-change paddles for the automatic gearbox are well placed and made, you can get the wheel where you want it, and the dash is clean and user-friendly.

The car could still do with more rear-seat space, even though it's better than the original IS and there is room for two adults, but the cabin is an excellent place.

The IS250 also gets along pretty well, though its V6 engine needs encouraging to give its best. It's not a stop-light star, and taxis can take it, which is a big failing.

Lexus says 153kW is plenty for the car, but its the torque — only 252Nm in a heavy car — that lets it down, even with the six-speed gearboxes.

The manual change is plain awful, with too much slop in all directions, and we would recommend the IS only as an auto.

But it is easy to talk up its ride and handling, which is as good as anything in the class: more responsive than the 3-Series, more taut than an Audi A4, and more youthful than a Benz C-Class. And it makes a twisty road fun.

The car is just about neutrally balanced, with great turn-in and feel through the steering, which makes it easy to push.

It also has great brakes, and the paddle-change auto gives you plenty of options and a gear for every situation.

Lexus set tight targets for the new IS and got a bullseye on most of them.

It is a terrific car that will do a lot better than the original and make life much, much tougher for the Europeans and more enjoyable for owners.

The Bottom Line

The best Lexus yet is a top car and a responsive drive, but only with an automatic gearbox.

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

IS250 Prestige 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $5,940 – 8,360 2006 Lexus IS 2006 IS250 Prestige Pricing and Specs
IS250 Sports 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $8,580 – 12,100 2006 Lexus IS 2006 IS250 Sports Pricing and Specs
IS250 Sports Luxury 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP SEQ AUTO $7,480 – 10,560 2006 Lexus IS 2006 IS250 Sports Luxury Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide


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