2012 Lexus IS 250 AWD Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Twelve years after it was first introduced to North American shores, and six years after the current second-generation car debuted for the 2006 model year, the Lexus IS remains a competent and remarkably good-looking machine. Lexus gave the IS a mild styling refresh in 2010, and it carries over from 2011 to 2012 essentially unchanged except for some revised option packages and changes to the available colours (Mercury Grey Metallic replaces Smokey Granite Mica, the Deep Sea Mica exterior and light grey interior colours have been discontinued, there's a new Fire Agate exterior colour for some models, and Ultrasonic Blue Metallic is now available for F-Sport models).

My all-wheel drive, Dark Grey Mica IS 250 test car quickly reminded me why I rather like the IS series, although with an eye to what must surely be the upcoming third generation, I couldn't help but think of the things I'd have Lexus address for future generation models.

Part of what makes the IS good is that it has the basics well covered, with crisp bodywork, quality interior fittings, a refined ride and solid build quality that, over the years, has translated into an enviable reputation for reliability.

With its 2.5-litre, 24-valve V6 churning out 204 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, the IS 250 isn't the most powerful sports sedan out there, but it puts out plenty enough for comfortable everyday driving. Rear-wheel drive models get the choice of a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission, while all-wheel drive models come standard with the automatic. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes about 7.6 seconds, and the steering wheel-mounted aluminum paddle shifters in my test car offered an extra level of driver engagement when desired. Overall I found the test car's automatic transmission to be crisp shifting and enjoyable to flick through the gears with the paddle shifters, though it could sometimes be a little jerky at low speeds.

The IS 250 rides on a front double-wishbone and rear multilink suspension that works with the 17-inch tires and alloy wheels to offer good cornering grip and a secure, controlled ride, but the steering lacks a little in feedback, particularly in the AWD model. Those of us who frequently drive in inclement weather and poor road conditions will likely consider the slight loss of steering feel to be a reasonable tradeoff in order to gain the surefooted benefits of all-wheel drive.

Regardless of whether you choose the RWD or AWD version, the IS 250 features standard antilock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability control, all managed by Lexus's VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Control) to make the best of the available road grip, while passive safety is covered by a full array of airbags.

Inside, the IS 250 has a classy, slightly understated ambience with plenty of standard equipment including dual-zone automatic climate control, power locks and windows, keyless entry, pushbutton start, soft-touch heater controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, integrated garage door opener, multi-information display, Bluetooth capability and premium 13-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary inputs.

My test car added to all this with its inventively named "Leather with Moonroof and Navigation Package," which adds leather upholstery (instead of the standard sport fabric), heated front seats, a power moonroof, and hard drive based navigation system with backup camera.

What the IS 250 doesn't have inside is a whole lot of extra room, especially in the back seats. As a city dweller, I greatly appreciate the car's relatively compact exterior dimensions, but for the next generation I'd like to see Lexus carve out a little more space inside without bulking the car up on the outside. As it is, with our teenage kids in the rear seat my wife and I had the choice of either moving our seats slightly forward from our preferred positions, or putting up with a great deal of complaint from the back.

I'd also like to see Lexus squeeze a few more ponies from the IS 250's engine, without throwing fuel economy or reliability out the window (current estimated city/hwy fuel economy is 10.5 / 7.4 L/100km for the IS 250 AWD). Ford and BMW are two manufacturers that have already shown the way in this regard, producing smaller, turbocharged engines that offer big power and impressive fuel economy in a small, efficient package.

Finally, I'd like a little more steering feel, without spoiling the car's settled, easy-going nature when driven with restraint. The IS 250's steering is precise enough, but with competition like the Infiniti G sedan and the highly-regarded BMW 3 Series setting the bar in the segment with superbly dynamic, engaging handling, the Lexus needs to be more than just precise, it needs to be communicative.

Future wish lists aside, in its current guise the IS 250 continues to offer good value while treading a reasonable balance between easygoing luxury and true performance, and this makes it a very pleasant car to live with for day-to-day driving. Price-wise, the rear-wheel drive IS 250 starts at a suggested base price of $32,900 and the IS 250 AWD starts at $38,000 (the more powerful IS 350 starts at $44,950). With my test car's $7,250 option package it priced out at $45,250, plus $1,950 in destination charges, and for that money the IS 250 AWD delivers good looks, decent all-wheel drive performance, a full range of luxury features and a strong record for reliability, all backed by a 48 month / 80,000 km comprehensive warranty and 72 month / 110,000 km powertrain warranty.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Sport Sedan, Lexus, 2012, IS 250, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999, Compact,

Organizations: Lexus

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