Redesigned Lexus has some real cosmetic zing

In its redesigned Lexus IS250, Toyota put some pizzazz in its interior/exterior styling, making it look and feel luxurious.
In its redesigned Lexus IS250, Toyota put some pizzazz in its interior/exterior styling, making it look and feel luxurious.
Posted: July 13, 2014

Since Toyota's Lexus luxury line debuted 25 years ago, no one has accused the brand of wild and crazy styling. Conservatism has been its designers' North Star, typically resulting in bodywork as forgettable as it is well-crafted.

In recent times, the brand's brain trust has apparently come to the conclusion that stylish, distinctive design is part of what makes a luxury car special. As a consequence, it seems to have made a serious effort to put some pizzazz in its styling, to make a Lexus look luxurious.

A case in point is the redesigned 2014 Lexus IS250 that I just tested. This compact, luxury sport sedan, which Lexus fielded in 2006 to joust with the king of the genre, the BMW 3 Series, has spent its life wearing sheet metal as bland as it was unchanging. The new IS250, however, has some real zing in its sculpting and wasp-waisted signature grille opening. The car's interior design is also interesting business.

In addition to the fresh exterior and interior, the new car is built on a new platform that makes me want to say: Look, dear, we shrank the platform of the larger Lexus GS sedan. The redesigned IS also borrows the GS's electric steering unit and its nifty rear suspension design. (The front suspension is carryover, but with a thicker antiroll bar.)

The engines are also carryover from the previous model. The 2.5-liter V-6 in the tester is still rated at 204 horsepower, and the 3.5-liter V-6 remains 306. The rear-drive 250 model I drove employs the previous model's six-speed automatic gearbox, as do the all-wheel-drive cars. The exception is the rear-drive IS350 and the sportier F model, which use an eight-speed transmission.

Consumer Reports was not at all happy with the new IS250, a rather eyebrow-arching development given its long love affair with Japanese sedans. It said the car was neither sporty nor luxurious, had vague steering, "elevated" road noise, puny acceleration, and a cramped interior.

I would agree on some counts. For openers, a number of the features one associates with luxury cars, like leather and a backup camera, were options on the test car. It's also true that its rear-seat legroom is not a high card, and neither is its acceleration. While it gets out of the chute rather smartly, thanks to fairly low gearing, the show's over after that.

(One solution would be for Lexus to replace that little, normally aspirated V-6 with a turbocharged, direct-injected 2-liter four, which would afford more torque and fuel economy. Another, more probable answer is for the customer to simply buy the 3.5-liter F model, which vaults from zero to 60 in well under five seconds!)

But I don't agree with the magazine on the matters of steering and road noise. The road noise was not excessive, in my experience, and the steering, while a tad heavy, was pretty sharp and responsive for an electrically assisted system.

And while the engine is not a boon to spirited driving, it hardly nullifies the considerable enjoyment derived from this nicely balanced rear-driver's behavior on a twisty back road. The car feels planted in ambitious corners, and maintains its composure during sudden changes in direction.

I liked the drivers' lot in IS250. The optional perforated leather seats were comfortable and supportive, visibility was good, and the instruments and controls were advantageously placed.

Backseat passengers were not necessarily as well off. When I set the driver's seat to fit me, I played kneesies with that seat when I sat behind it.


Good

2014 Lexus IS250

Base price: $35,950.

As tested: $44,030.

Standard equipment: 2.5-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission,

rear drive, and

such equipment

as 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, power front seats, and a power moonroof.

Options: Include 18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, leather, veneer trim, heated and ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescopic steering, memory for seats, steering and windows, navigation, backup camera, parking assist.

Fuel economy:

21 city and

30 highway (premium gas).

Engine performance:

Very ordinary.

Styling: Grabby.

Ride quality: Average.

Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.


alhaasauto@aol.com

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