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Since the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 sedans were last completely redesigned, six years ago, much has changed among compact sport sedans. All of its rivals have seen more recent redesigns, and this year BMW and Mercedes-Benz have turned to turbocharged four-cylinder engines in their base models of 3-Series and C-Class, respectively. Except for the IS-F high-performance version and IS C hardtop convertibles that have been added in the meantime, there's not all that much to differentiate a 2012 from a 2006.
All considered, the 2012 Lexus IS sedans still look great, with a sleek, low, and attractive silhouette; the rather low hoodline and rising beltline altogether gives it a wedge-like appearance from some angles--and an undeniable go-fast look compared to the more luxury-oriented (and Camry-based) ES 350. The IS models got a light touch-up last year in front and in back, including new exhaust tips, HID headlamps with LED running lamps on the IS 350, and a new 17-inch wheel design. An F-Sport Package gives the IS an even more serious performance look. Inside, the IS sedans arguably show their age the most, with a rather tight, cockpit-like layout--although trims feel upscale and high-quality.
Lexus positions its cars along two tracks--one plush and detached, the other more visceral and sporty--and the 2012 IS sedans fit into the latter. If you want to make the most of that performance feel, though, just don't go with the base 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6; it's smooth but remarkably short on power, especially with the automatic transmission. IS 350 models come with a much more enjoyable 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 but unfortunately only come with the six-speed automatic. They're a good, responsive team, and overall the IS feels quite agile but never quite on the same high dynamic ground as the BMW 3-Series or Infiniti G37. Rear-wheel drive IS models have a better steering feel than AWD versions.
Inside, the 2012 IS 350 and IS 250 models are true luxury sedans in that they come with leather upholstery, top-notch materials, and a long list of standard features, even in base versions. But as with most compact sport sedans in this class, there's quite a bit of tire thrum and road coarseness. Front seats are well contoured and firmly padded, bit the IS sedans are tight inside; adults trying to ride in back will find a severe shortage of headroom and legroom, and some taller than six feet might find headroom tight up front.
The 2012 IS Sedans are completely up to snuff with respect to features. Bluetooth hands-free capability is included across the model line, and upgrades include a nav system, retractable moonroof, ventilated front seats, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and a backup camera. The base sound system includes 13 speakers and 194 watts of power and has iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming. A 300-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system includes ten separate amplifier channels and also has the capability to play audio DVDs and DVD movies.