- Stylish new shape
- Supple handling
- Available all-wheel drive
- Tight rear seat
- Crash-test scores
The 2008 Lexus IS gives BMW, Benz, and Infiniti a real challenge, though it's still a little softer than those sedans.
The 2008 Lexus IS returns for the new model year in two versions. The Lexus IS 250 comes powered by a 2.5-liter V-6 engine that's rated at 204 horsepower; it's available in rear-drive or all-wheel drive. The rear-drive Lexus IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine good for 306 horsepower.
All IS 350s and all-wheel-drive IS 250s transfer power to the wheels through a six-speed automatic with F1-style paddle shifters; the rear-drive Lexus IS 250 can be had with that transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox. Fuel economy ranges from 18/26 mpg with the smaller engine and manual transmission to 18/25 mpg for the larger V-6 with the automatic. TheCarConnection.com's editors prefer the rippling engine note of the bigger V-6, not to mention the extra power--especially since there's such a low penalty on fuel economy. Handling is taut and balanced, while the Lexus IS's braking is unexpectedly responsive.
The basic IS shape, sleek and reasonably attractive, mimics the style of Lexus's larger flagship, the LS. It's part of a new styling theme for the brand that has woken up its snoozy reputation for looks. Still, the Lexus IS is more mild than wild, though the interior has nice aluminum-look trim on the console. Four grippy bucket seats are split by a console covered in aluminum-look trim. The backseats don't offer an excess of head- and legroom.
A rear backup camera, a voice-activated navigation system, ventilated front seats, and a 14-speaker surround sound Mark Levinson audio system are among the options. An optional Pre-Collision System is available as well; it anticipates when a crash is imminent and reacts accordingly, applying the brakes more strongly if the driver cannot react quickly enough.
Stability control, six airbags, and anti-lock brakes are standard. The Lexus IS gets four-star ratings for front and passenger-side impact, with five-star protection for driver side impacts. It also gets a five-star rating for rollover protection.
The high-performance 2008 Lexus IS-F sedan is covered separately.