2009 Lexus IS 250 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
April 24, 2009

The 2009 Lexus IS gives BMW, Benz, and Infiniti a real challenge, though it's still a little softer than those sedans.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Lexus IS in order to give you an expert opinion here in this Bottom Line. TheCarConnection.com also researched available road tests on the new Lexus IS to produce this conclusive review and help you find the truth where other reviews might differ.

Both the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 feature improved handling, revised styling, and an upgraded interior for the 2009 model year. Already standard on the IS 350 model, the 2009 IS 250 receives Lexus’s Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system, which integrates the car's dynamic-control systems to improve handling and traction. VDIM is available on both the rear- and all-wheel-drive IS 250 models.

Both models also receive new suspension and steering tuning updates, as well as revised front and rear bumper covers and grille. IS wheels feature new designs, and new turn signals are now integrated into the exterior mirrors.

The rear- or all-wheel-drive 2009 Lexus IS 250 is propelled by a 2.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 204 horsepower, while the rear-drive Lexus IS 350 is moved by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine good for 306 horsepower. Every IS 350 and all-wheel-drive IS 250 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 the aforementioned transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.

Review continues below

TheCarConnection.com's editors prefer the rippling engine note of the bigger V-6 in the 2009 Lexus IS 350, not to mention the extra power—especially since there's such a low penalty on fuel economy. Fuel economy ranges from 18 mpg city, 26 highway with the smaller engine and manual transmission to 18/25 mpg for the larger V-6 with the automatic. Handling is taut and balanced, while ride quality is good, and the Lexus IS's braking is unexpectedly responsive.

With an interior that has nice aluminum-look trim on the console, the 2009 Lexus IS is more mild than wild. The basic exterior shape is sleek and reasonably attractive, mimicking the style of Lexus's larger flagship, the LS. It's part of a new design theme for a brand that has woken up its snoozy reputation for looks. 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.

The Lexus IS isn’t at the top of its class from all safety angles; it gets four-star ratings for front and passenger-side impact—in a class with mostly five-star results—with five-star protection for driver side impacts. It also gets a five-star rating for rollover protection. Stability control, six airbags, and anti-lock brakes are standard.

An optional Pre-Collision System is available on the 2009 Lexus IS; it anticipates when a crash is imminent and reacts accordingly, applying the brakes more strongly if the driver cannot respond quickly enough. 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.

The high-performance 2009 Lexus IS-F sedan is covered separately.

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2009 Lexus IS 250

Styling

The 2009 Lexus IS bears the styling hallmarks of larger Lexus sedans.

According to the firsthand impressions of TheCarConnection.com’s editors and reviews from around the Web, the 2009 Lexus IS wins with styling that reminds everyone of larger, more expensive Lexus sedans.

For 2009, styling upgrades include revised front and rear bumper covers, as well as a grille. IS wheels feature new designs, and new turn signals are now integrated into the exterior mirrors.

The Los Angeles Times reports “the luxury division of Toyota has managed, not quite consciously, to build the 3-series that Munich would have built if they hadn’t gotten a straitjacket on design chief Chris Bangle” and dubs the look “crowded and turbulent.” The Orlando Sentinel calls this 2009 Lexus a "BMW Series-3 fighter," while Car and Driver sings its praises: "the styling Lexus gave the new IS line turns the car from sharp to stunning." Cars.com points out that the 2009 Lexus IS's styling this year "bears a strong family resemblance to its larger, GS series of sport sedans." Kelley Blue Book also comments on this, calling this 2009 Lexus "visually reminiscent of the larger GS." This vehicle's visual attractiveness seems to be a matter of personal taste; Kelley Blue Book, comparing the Lexus IS to its rival BMW 3-Series, finds it lacking.

ConsumerGuide describes the Lexus IS's interior in glowing terms: "decor is the Lexus-typical mix of rich-looking upholstery, soft-touch surfaces, and high-grade plastics." In addition to the Lexus IS's "athletic poise [and] impressive build," the Edmunds reviewers are very impressed with its interior, deeming the cabin "impeccably finished." Car and Driver reports that the interior "has a more luxurious look, and the leather and plastic seem even better than those in the original model."

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2009 Lexus IS 250

Performance

The 2009 Lexus IS earns strong marks for performance from road-testers around the Web and the luxury-car experts at TheCarConnection.com.

The 2009 Lexus IS doesn’t handle with the confidence of the BMW 3-Series, but the bigger of the available two V-6 engines produces competitive—and thrilling—acceleration.

For the new model year, both the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 feature improved handling. Already standard on the IS 350 model, the 2009 IS 250 receives Lexus’s Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system, which integrates the car's dynamic-control systems to improve handling and traction. VDIM is available on both the rear- and all-wheel drive IS 250 models. Both models also receive new suspension and steering tuning updates

The Lexus IS 250 comes propelled by a 2.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 204 horsepower; it's available in rear- or all-wheel drive. At 204 horsepower, the smaller engine is "taxed a bit," according to Orlando Sentinel. Despite the "silky automatic transmission," the smaller V-6 is "sleepy on takeoff, strained up steep grades, and…shy on midrange passing power," warns ConsumerGuide. Kelley Blue Book says the 2009 Lexus IS 250 feels fairly "quick around town" and, despite its relatively low horsepower rating, "easily copes with the cut-and-thrust of daily commuting as well as freeway passing moves."

The rear-drive Lexus IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine good for 306 horsepower. The larger, 3.5-liter version is "strong in all situations,” says ConsumerGuide. 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. EPA estimates range from 18/26 mpg with the smaller engine and manual transmission to 18/25 mpg for the larger V-6 with the automatic.

The rear-drive Lexus IS 250 is available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automatic with F1-style paddle shifters that are standard on IS 350s and all-wheel-drive IS 250s. The 2009 Lexus IS's six-speed transmission offers fully automatic mode as well as manual mode, so if necessary for a passing maneuver, the driver can throw it into a lower gear by hand. For this reason, more "traditional" drivers may prefer the fully manual clutch-operated six-speed that comes as standard equipment on two-wheel-drive models; it can improve acceleration slightly—0-60 in under eight seconds, according to Cars.com. The "silky" six-speed automatic comes standard with the Lexus IS AWD model, and according to Cars.com, it's an option to the six-speed manual on the rear-wheel-drive version. The Orlando Sentinel declares this a "good thing," since the Lexus IS 250 is on the heavy side, forcing this relatively smaller 2.5-liter V-6 engine to work that much harder.

According to ConsumerGuide, the Lexus IS 250's handling "trails the benchmark BMW 3-Series" but "corners with little body lean, secure grip, and an agile feel." However, this source states that the optional sport suspension and 18-inch tires "furnish little cornering advantage, nor does AWD on dry roads," but its electrical power steering is "quick and informative." Edmunds describes the 2009 Lexus's handling as "capable." Braking is "swift" and free of "drama," but ConsumerGuide says, "pedal action was slightly grabby in some test cars." ForbesAutos remarks that it "strikes a balance between ride comfort and cornering abilities that will appeal to more casual motorists," noting that "enthusiasts will prefer the X [sport suspension] Package."

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2009 Lexus IS 250

Comfort & Quality

The comfort and quality offered by the 2009 Lexus IS are exceptional, except in the backseat.

The 2009 Lexus IS sports great front seats, slightly tight rear seats, and an ample dose of Lexus build quality inside.

The Auto Channel points out, "Since the [Lexus] IS wants to be a performance sedan, it has excellent front and rear seating...[offering] very good side support, to hold the driver and passenger in place if the driver gets too energetic." They note, though, "rear legroom is tight." Edmunds similarly advises "adults or even large children may not be happy in the rear seat on long road trips." Headroom is also at a premium. The Orlando Sentinel expresses similar sentiments: It's "comfortable up front, a little cramped in the rear." Kelley Blue Book agrees with the other reviews on this issue: "Comfortable and supportive power front seats are a welcome home for those up to six feet tall, but modest head and leg room make the three-across fixed rear bench seat best suited for sub-adolescent passengers." Cars.com reports that the 2009 Lexus IS can carry up to five passengers in relative comfort. Ventilated seats and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel make for greater driver comfort on longer trips.

According to MyRide.com, "new [Lexus] IS takes the next step toward finishing the thought with touchy-feely surfaces, comfortable seats and—though the test vehicles were pre-production—a level of quality you would expect." Edmunds calls the interior materials "impressive," with "handsome design [and] impeccable fit and finish." In terms of what's new this year, "marginal improvements" for the 2009 Lexus include scooped-out front seatbacks.

"Coarse-surface tire thrum is noticeable but not intrusive. Wind noise is modest. [The Lexus] IS 250's engine is louder than the IS 350's at high rpm, but both V6s are subdued and relaxed in highway cruising,” comments ConsumerGuide.

MyRide.com reports that storage space in the 2009 Lexus is at a premium, with a mere 13 cubic feet of cargo room. This is probably only because "the lid aids aerodynamics and also increases trunk room," as detailed by The Auto Channel.

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2009 Lexus IS 250

Safety

The 2009 Lexus IS 250 gets good—but not great—marks for safety from reviewers consulted by TheCarConnection.com.

The 2009 Lexus IS has good crash performance and plenty of standard safety gear. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rates the Lexus IS at four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the anti-lock brakes provide brake-force distribution and assist, and the 2009 Lexus offers side and side curtain airbags, as well as knee airbags. The reviewer adds, "very BMW-like, there's a first-aid kit." Edmunds reports that these and the "full complement" of airbags are standard equipment on the 2009 Lexus IS, in addition to traction and stability control.

Safety protocol on the 2009 Lexus IS includes accident-avoidance features such as the Lexus IS's Pre-Collision System; it's packaged with the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control feature, which uses radar to detect obstacles out in front. If the onboard computer determines an unavoidable collision is imminent, the system stiffens the suspension, tightens the seatbelts, and pre-initializes the brake assist in preparation for impact. According to Cars.com, a backup camera is available as well.

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2009 Lexus IS 250

Features

Every review read by TheCarConnection.com heaps praise on the 2009 Lexus IS 250 for its many useful and high-tech features.

The 2009 Lexus IS has plenty of standard features as well as cutting-edge options.

The Orlando Sentinel is especially complimentary regarding Lexus IS features: "Instruments and controls are thoughtfully designed, and the navigation system is very easy to use, one of the best offered." Edmunds's opinion is in line with that of the Orlando Sentinel, calling the Lexus IS's electronic interfaces "one of the best...in the luxury game, with easy to use controls all around." The navigation system of the 2009 Lexus, which can be a bugbear on many vehicles, is "particularly friendly," declares Edmunds. According to Cars.com, features include "a standard Smart Access keyless entry system with a push-button engine starter."

Audiophiles will enjoy the 13 (count 'em, 13) speakers in the sound system; a retractable moonroof is also available. According to the Orlando Sentinel, both of these features are standard on the IS 2009 Lexus.

Cars.com reports the following options for the 2009 Lexus IS 250: "ventilated front seats, dynamic radar cruise control, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a navigation system that incorporates a backup camera."

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