• Mar 31, 2011
A Vanilla Sport Sedan In Need Of Some More Sprinkles

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD – Click above for high-res image gallery

Your available options in the entry-level luxury sedan segment rival the variety found at your local Baskin-Robbins. Interested in all-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive? Nearly every automaker has you covered. Want to row your own gears, or sit back and let the silicon chippery do the work? The car of your dreams awaits. There's an option for all of us, and if you prefer a good vanilla to rocky road, then you're going to love the 2011 Lexus IS250 AWD.

Continue reading Review: 2011 Lexus IS250 AWD...

Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

The Lexus IS 250 is instantly familiar, yet ever-so-slightly different for 2011. The reason is that little has changed on the exterior, with a few minor exceptions. Some updates are hard to find, while others are immediately clear. The front bumper and grille have received slight tweaks, while subtle changes have been made to the foglight area and lower fascia opening, which benefit from sharper cutouts. In back, the IS 250 wears new taillamp lenses and redone exhaust tips.

By far, the most noticeable change has occurred out front, where a pair of bright LED eyelids have taken up residence under the swept-back headlamps. All of these changes give the 2011 Lexus IS 250 a smattering of sprinkles on an otherwise rather bland landscape of sheetmetal. The overall theme is conservative, but the new LED running lamps imbue Lexus' most affordable sedan with a bright flash of modern style, displayed brilliantly against our tester's Tungsten Pearl paintwork.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD side view2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD front view2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD rear view

That subdued exterior style continues on the inside, as clean lines perform in concert with the surprisingly airy interior cabin. The pleasing to the eye Light Gray color scheme hangs in the background like a briefly foggy coastal morning. Against the sea of gray sits a set of bright white-faced gauges, which are easy-to-read and rather sharp, with a thin blue line underlining the ambitious 160-mile-per-hour display.

Ambitions aside, we had no desire to press that speedo into serious use. Why? Because the seats were just too darn comfortable for us to care. The perforated semi-aniline leather front thrones of our tester offered both heating and cooling features, thanks to the $2,195 Luxury Package Value Edition. It may be a bit crass to call this option grouping a "value" when it costs over $2,000, but the package does include wood trim, the aforementioned LED running lights, power everything (that wasn't already), a rear sunshade and rain-sensing wipers.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD interior2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD front seats2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD speedometer2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD paddle shifter

Should you require the use of those intelligent water removers, fret not, because this particular IS 250 is equipped with all-wheel drive. Though the AWD gubbins add nearly 200 pounds to the curb weight (3,651 pounds), the IS 250's small, 2.5-liter V6 remains surprisingly entertaining. We expected a droning bore of an engine coerced into working far harder than it wanted. What we found was a mill that pushed the whole works up to speed more quickly than we anticipated.

The engine produces 204 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 185 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. Those numbers sound low in a world filled with 400-horsepower daily drivers (including the brand's own high-performance IS F model) yet the IS 250 AWD simply rears back and moves at a pace capable of holding our interest. Push it above 3,500 rpm and it even begins to clear its throat something approaching a sense of authority.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD engine

The 2.5-liter is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, which features steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting. This may be Lexus' entry-level car, but the shifts could be a few degrees smoother – even if the IS represents the brand's sportier side. While we were hoping for less I-just-got-my-license and more of a Sade-like smooth operator, the setup didn't oblige. The paddles only serve to nudge the drivetrain back into sporty, slightly roughneck territory, but unfortunately they don't respond quickly enough to make the leap entirely.

This baby Lex comes across as confused in a few other areas as well. A bipolar effort, the IS 250 suffers from overboosted steering and mushy brakes. When driving, those factors make us think the IS 250 is pining to be a true luxury sedan, yet the ride, while smooth, is stiffer than we'd expected it to be. Vigorously bouncing over a rough section of Southern California tarmac makes one think the IS has changed its mind, suddenly wanting to be a sports car. It's a little confused, and so are we.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD rear 3/4 view2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD headlight2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD wheel2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD taillight

At the end of the day, the slight redesign for 2011 doesn't help a conflicted vanilla offering stand out in a display-case full of capable entry-level luxury sedans. The Lexus IS 250 AWD's $35,775 base price is on par with its classmates, but fails to stack up as well in other areas. The Infiniti G25x is less costly ($34,900) and offers a more engaging driving experience, though its interior falls short. For $34,500, you might find yourself in a 2011 Audi A4 Quattro, with its top-shelf all-wheel-drive system, 7 more horsepower, 73 more pound-feet of torque available and better fuel economy ratings (21/31 miles per gallon versus the Lexus' 20/27 mpg). The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic starts at $37,900 and makes more power, but is only rated at 17/24 (an updated 2012 model is just around the corner). We could add the Lincoln MKZ, BMW 328i xDrive, Cadillac CTS and Acura TL SH-AWD to the list of competitors to further muddy the waters.

The entry-level luxury sedan category is chock full of viable options and the 2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD is a perfectly acceptable (if run-of-the-mill) choice. The styling is conservative, the driving dynamics are a mixed bag of sport and luxury, but the engine is better than we anticipated. It's priced exactly where it should be and, were you shopping in this segment, you wouldn't be embarrassed to put one in your driveway. And yet... while we'll happily concede that vanilla ice cream is enjoyable from time to time, we can't help but think that Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Cadillac buyers are paying about the same to enjoy all 31 flavors every single day.

Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      This car is out of date, out of style and needs to be redesigned asap. From the plastic interior, to the bland Toyota exterior, to the anemic engine, to the "I'm a fashion victim" LED "eyelids" this car screams fail. I guess it's ok for your average 20 year old Asian girl though.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Is it me or does this review say NOTHING good about the car ?? The only thing I really noted was how comfortable the seat are.... and "engine is better then we expected" ?

      Horrible review. AB is driving the BASE model like its an ISF and then complains about its performance... yikes.

      Any who I personal have done time in this car and its nicely built and comfortable which is the point of the IS250.. you want more performance the IS350 is a rocket and then you have the ISF which is on another level.

      Its seems to me as they took the car two blocks parked it and wrote this review.

        • 3 Years Ago
        We would expect you to be angry, Toyota fanboy.
        • 3 Years Ago
        That's the problem here... over bumpy roads the car behaved very un-Lexus like. Trust me, I know a s*&t road when i see it, I grew up on the east coast and I know what a frost heave is.

        The IS250 tries to walk the line between sporty and luxurious, it doesn't do either convincingly enough while I feel that other examples in this category do.

        Re: the engine power, I totally agree with you. If you go back and read what I wrote in that section, you can see that i was surprised at how well the Lexus moved despite being down in power to the competition.
        • 3 Years Ago
        But the IS250 is not made to be fun out of the gate (That is why Lexus produces the 350 and ISF).. so thanks for telling everyone something we already know. Comfortable is what alot of people look for and what sales the most instead of knocking a car for being comfortable you should look at it in a different perspective. I live here in NY and I would love to own a comfortable car for these horrible road and bumper to bumper traffic. This is where this car shines... and FYI doesn't matter how much how HP your car has... in bumper to bumper and from pot hole to pot hole and light to light.. how much fun can I car really be ?

        I hate it when people ( manly car enthusiast ) think if a car doesnt have 800 hp, get 12 mpg and doesn't ride like its on rails is no good... or "boring" Go ride in a darn spaceship if you want fun... because this review and many other reviews are not logical when it comes to real world performance.

        • 3 Years Ago
        I would expect ANY IS model to deliver sporty handling and responsive driver feedback, while still being able to ride well over worn roads.

        The IS is marketed as a luxury sport sedan. It should drive like one.

        Just because the IS 250 doesn't have the 3.5L V8 doesn't mean it can't deliver an engaging and driver-focused car.

        People who want the traditional Lexus insulated ride can buy an HS for just 3k more, or an ES for 3.5k more, or the CT for 2k less.

      • 3 Years Ago
      Call me when you can get the following all together.

      1: AWD

      2: REAL manual shifting, or at least an automated-clutch, rather than a power-sapping torque converter.

      3: a coupe roofline. The IS has such a small rear seat, why bother with the rear doors? The Convertible has coupe doors... why isn't there a fixed roof version that has echoes of the LF-A's roofline?

      4: the good engine under the hood, either the 3.5 V6, or the -F version's V8 with said AWD option available, and coupe roofline. (I'd consider RWD... but AWD would be great for the snow-belt weather.)

      That would be a car. Even if not an IS, at least an IS-based SC.

      For now, Audi A4 or A5 would get my money before Lexus IS250.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Oh, and by the way, My Subaru Legacy GT is MUCH more powerful than this Lexus, and it doesn't do damage to it's manual transmission.

        Even my 20 year old SVX that I bought for a thousand bucks is more powerful than this IS250. The only problem with that transmission is that the torque of the engine creates too much heat in the transmission, when the transmission fluid slips in the torque converter, and is overheated by the slow, slip-happy, "luxury" smooth shifting.

        Hydraulic automatic transmissions FTL, more than ever now that there is better technology that does the same and more with automated clutches. Either that, or I'll shift and clutch it myself, thanks.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I have that on my SUBARU. Audis have optional manual gearboxes with AWD, as well.

        Last I checked, Subarus are affordable.

        And I will continue to buy AWD with Manual gearbox shifting as long as I can.

        If it has to be computer controlled, and I obviously don't think that is a requirement, then it should at least be direct-drive clutch-engaged from the engine to the ground, even at low engine and ground speeds, and instantaneous shifting. Dual-clutch, Xtrac IGS with a single automated clutch, or whatever. I don't like torque converters and hydraulic high-latency hydraulic shifting.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The IS sedan one of my favorite cars being sold today.

      I would own one if I was in the market for a car like this. I love the car and adore the F version.

      An IS250 or IS350 kitted with F-Sport parts is a very fun car and everything is warranted. I want My IS in pearl white please :)
      • 3 Years Ago
      I don't understand why Lexus plays it safe with the IS. They already have the ES for customers that want a soft ride. If they're going to build a sports sedan they ought to get the performance right. The 250 doesn't need to win on power as long as the 350 is available, but it needs to handle well and engage the driver well enough to justify its existence. Buyers shouldn't be limited to the $60k IS-F in order to get something with proper handling.

        • 3 Years Ago
        Reviews say the new 5 series handles nothing like the previous model... correct ? But the M5 version to the new 5 is going to be a beast.

        You get what you pay for.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What's the good
      Of having a hood
      Under the hood?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Direct injection sounds are uncouth.
        • 3 Years Ago
        ...probably helps a bit with noise suppression? Just like how most Lexus owners won't open their hoods, many don't want to hear what's under it, either.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Most people won't open the hood no matter what car they drive.

        One more thing: the only car that I know of that didn't have a hood that could be opened by a driver in a normal way was an Audi A2.

        • 3 Years Ago
        It pops right off. I said the same when I saw the cover on my grandfathers LS460
        • 3 Years Ago
        +1. Most Lexus owners won't open the hood anyways, so at least make things accessible and nicer looking for those who do. Having a black box labeled engine doesn't make much sense to me.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I opened the hood on my IS350 to change the spark plugs this weekend. How many Audi A4 and BMW 3 series drivers did the same? I'd bet not many...
      • 3 Years Ago
      For the 2007 model year, why didn't Toyota upgrade the 'awd' version of the IS to the 3gr-fse 3.0 from the 4gr-fse 2.5?
      For 2007 the GS upgraded from 3gr-fse 3.0 to the 2gr-fse 3.5. [social order preserved]

      At the same time Toyota could have connected the 2gr-fse in the IS with an optional manual transmission. How many people want the base engine with a stick?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I remember reading that the 3gr-fse 3.0 was very expensive to produce per unit compared to the 2gr-fse 3.5.

        They likely didn't use it as a cost savings measure.
      • 3 Years Ago

      your review of this car makes you sound like a total german fanboy, just sayin.

      even though this car is 5 years old it's still sharp looking. How is it boring? because there's an "L" badge instead of a merc or bmw badge?
      • 3 Years Ago
      Id rather have an MKZ or CTS anyday. Lexus and Toyota products are either boring or ugly. This car could easily be something from last decade...
        • 3 Years Ago
        Things I could care less about....I live in the Houston area, where you never have time to have fun with a car anyway. Besides, I buy vehicles for purpose and looks, and a car shouldn't look like an appliance!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Maybe the reviewer is blind but not sure how anyone can call the IS bland. Its one of the sharpest and best looking sedans at any price. It drives perfectly fine, not every car needs to drive like a Z06 for crying out loud especially a base IS 250 AWD. If you want more sport get the F-sport edition or add F-sport parts. Then your non sporty issue is gone.

      I agree it needs a power bump but MPG is great.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Still lovin' those chronometer-styled gauges after all these years. I think the first IS's gauges looked better, though.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "If they could fix the steering feel, make it ride better over small bumps, make the engine sound less agricultural, and make the cabin feel a bit roomier and open, we'd have a true standout." In other words, start over.
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