- Much-improved interior design
- Bold exterior design
- Strong V-6 engine
- No manual transmission
- Hybrid unavailable in the U.S.
- Spindle grille can be overpowering for some
The 2015 Lexus IS offers a good blend of comfort, style, technology, and driving dynamics.
The 2015 Lexus IS was fully redesigned just last year, but for 2015 gains a handful of updates. LED fog lamps sharpen the look; Siri Eyes Free from Apple adds to the interface; and there are more choices inside with newly available piano black trim.
The IS is a compact sport sedan that fits below the GS models on the more performance-oriented side of the luxury brand's lineup.
We still haven't seen a refreshed version of the IS C convertible, which carries over again into the 2015 model year. But the new 2015 Lexus RC Coupe has replaced the IS C in the lineup.
As for the four-door IS, it returns, with all the style and panache associated with its German sport sedan rivals, thanks to its edgy good looks, improved performance, and unmatched reputation for reliability.
The most noticeable piece of design on the Lexus IS is the "spindle grille" at the front of the car. F Sport models get an all-black mesh grille inside the spindle shape, creating a gaping, aggressive maw. Standard IS sedans get a slightly more normal look with horizontal bars filling the upper two-thirds of the spindle opening. Sculpted sides and pointed tail lights give a dynamic feel to the profile, while the simple, clean rear end finishes the new look on a tight and tidy note.
Inside, goes mostly unchanged for this year, with exception of a new shade of gray interior, and optional piano black trim. A tiered dashboard adds an upscale feel to the design, while the center stack's controls are simple and cleanly laid out. The steering wheel shape continues the upgraded look and feel, and in F Sport models, an LFA supercar-inspired digital instrument display takes the IS to the next level.
On the comfort and quality front, upgrades do much to improve the IS. Interior materials look and feel more refined and high-quality; the seats are well-bolstered, particularly in F Sport models, yet still comfortable; the rear seat offers more space thanks to slight revisions in the car's size; and while the trunk is still on the small end of the spectrum for the class at 13.8 cubic feet, it's big enough for most purposes.
Under the hood, you'll find the same engines as in the last-generation IS. That includes a 2.5-liter V-6 rated at 204 horsepower for IS 250 models and 185 pound-feet of torque and a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque for IS 350 models. F Sport trim levels get no additional power, but do get other performance upgrades. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. No manual transmission is offered, but an eight-speed automatic is offered on rear-drive IS 350 models, including F Sports. The new eight-speed is smooth and quick-shifting, improving both performance and daily-driving comfort.
Gas mileage is good, not great. The rear-drive IS 250 scores 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for 24 mpg combined; adding all-wheel drive brings that number to 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for 23 mpg combined. In the IS 350, rear-drive models score 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for 22 mpg combined; all-wheel drive models score 19/21 mpg and 26 mpg combined.
Other upgrades from the last generation include a re-tuned suspension and stiffening of the chassis to improve handling and dynamic capability. In practice, the result is a car that drives very much like the previous IS, but with just a bit more precision. It's definitely an incremental improvement to the IS's sport-sedan chops, rather than a revolutionary upgrade. However, these changes all applied for last year's 2014 model as well. Steering precision and feel is good for an electric-boost system. The optional variable-ratio steering in IS 350 F Sport models sharpens the car's responses noticeably, but doesn't improve feedback.
The 2015 Lexus IS' overall dimensions place it firmly in the subcompact car class at 90.2 cubic feet of passenger volume, despite the 183.7-inch overall length and 110.2-inch wheelbase. Curb weights range from 3,461 pounds for the IS 250 up to 3,737 pounds for the IS 350 with all-wheel drive. Weight distribution is 54:46 front-to-rear for rear-drive models and 55:45 for all-wheel-drive cars.
Standard safety equipment in the 2015 Lexus IS includes a full complement of airbags, with driver's and front passenger's knee airbags; front seat-mounted side airbags; front and rear side curtain airbags; and the usual side and frontal airbags. LED daytime running lights are standard, as is vehicle stability and traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and an energy-absorbing crash structure. Optional safety features include blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dynamic radar-based cruise control, lane departure warning, park assist, and a back-up camera.
The 2015 Lexus IS offers a strong set of standard equipment, including an audio system with eight speakers, a seven-inch screen, CD player and radio with HD Radio capability, MP3/WMA/USB and iPod handling, voice recognition, and streaming audio via Bluetooth 3.0. Other standard features include power accessories, manual-tilt steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seats, programmable electronic settings memory, and electrochromic mirrors.
Many optional upgrades are available, including standalone options like 18-inch wheels, an all-weather package, and a range of safety features. Package upgrades include a navigation system which brings GPS navigation, traffic/weather/news updates, a backup camera, and access to Lexus' Enform telematics system. A Mark Levinson audio system can be added, bringing with it 15 speakers and 7.1-channel surround sound. A premium package adds twin projector LED headlamps and heated/ventilated seats, while the luxury package adds those features plus rain-sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring, leather-trimmed interior elements, and wood trim among other features.