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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
silky automatic transmission
corners with little body lean”
good overall control
Kelley Blue Book
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."
The 2009 Lexus IS earns strong marks for performance from road-testers around the Web and the luxury-car experts at TheCarConnection.com.