The 2008 Lexus IS earns strong marks for performance from road testers around the Web and from the luxury-car experts at TheCarConnection.com.
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.
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," according to ConsumerGuide. The larger, 3.5-liter version is "strong in all situations,” however. Nonetheless, Kelley Blue Book says the 2008 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."
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. 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 to be 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.
The 2008 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. Some more "traditional" drivers may prefer the standard, fully manual clutch-operated six-speed that comes as standard equipment on two-wheel-drive models for this reason, which can improve acceleration slightly--0-60 in under 8 seconds, according to Cars.com. 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.
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.
Handling is taut and balanced, while the Lexus IS's braking is unexpectedly responsive.
The Lexus IS 250's handling "trails the benchmark BMW 3-Series," according to ConsumerGuide, 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 2008 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 says 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."