Lexus, Road Test Reviews

2006 Lexus IS 250 – Road Test

The last Lexus I drove was a GS430 about 6 or 7 years ago. I liked it but didn’t love it. I’d been looking forward to driving the 2006 IS 250 for several weeks and when that day arrived I was like a kid with a new bike! I loved the look of this car from the second I saw it sometime last year. I’ve always been impressed with Toyota and Lexus vehicles, but I’ve never actually looked at any of them with lust – until now. Toyota seem to be on a roll of late, we’ve got the Corolla XRS, the all-new Camry and Lexus ES350 – even the all-new Yaris is a pretty good looking car.

First Impressions
Imagine my disappointment after spending an hour in the IS 250 and being less than impressed by it. At $32,000+ [$43,000+ Cdn] and it’s just ok – nothin’ special? Fear not. This is one sweet car, the trouble is you need to have it in your possession for more than just an hour or two before it really impresses you with it’s talents. Seriously – if I’d been test-driving it with the viewpoint of purchasing it, I’d have taken it back to the Lexus dealer and told them to keep it. I hated the seats, the stereo system, the climate control, the flappy-paddle gearbox, and the dash layout was completely illogical and confusing. I was stumped – here was the perfect Lexus to lust after, and it was like a soggy cracker.

There was only one thing to do…take it for a spin around my usual driving loop and see what was wrong with it. First up, why the uncomfortable seats? When I first got in the IS 250 and set it for me, it was quite comfortable, but after ½ an hour it actually became uncomfortable to sit, the lumbar was halfway up my back. After fiddling around with the seat for 5 minutes I finally got it just right and that made the world of difference. For some reason raising the seat up all the way aligned the lumbar in the proper area of the back and it was perfect. From that point on I’d have to say the driver and passenger seats were very comfortable.

Out on the road in my usual test loop, I put it through its paces and it started growing on me. I still wasn’t sold on the benefits of the paddle-shifters, but playing with them exclusively without letting the 6-speed transmission shift for itself made me warm to it, although I still can’t fathom why someone would want this type of system over a manual transmission. It still completely kills any fun you would otherwise enjoy with a manual. I’ve always been a big fan of manual transmissions over automatics, but this gives people that are either scared of manuals, or just too lazy to use one, the next best thing.

When you use the row-your-own option on this transmission you make the car come alive – to an extent. When you floor the throttle and then up-shift before the red line, it waits to up-shift when it’s ready – not when you decide. If you hold the gear until the revs rise there’s a yellow/orange light that lights up the tachometer ring which turns red as you near the redline. If you don’t shift, the transmission will shift for you so you don’t break it. One thing I found while terrorizing the neighborhood was, that when I was in 4th gear and went to overtake someone I floored the pedal and the transmission dropped down a gear, then changed back up to 4 and held it there. That’s very helpful if you’re in the wrong gear and you need the giddy-up to pass. Another time I left the transmission in 6th gear when coming to a full stop. I thought I’d be pulling away from the stop sign in 6th, but the transmission actually geared down to 1st and went through the gears up to 6th – why give people the option of choosing the gears they want when the car chooses for them? There’s absolutely no point in this type of transmission, it might as well have been left in automatic.

The steering on the IS 250 is razor-sharp. It’s instantaneous, giving you an almost go-kart feel. I’m sure the low-profile 225/45R17 tires on the front and the 245/45R17’s on the rear help in that regard too. The suspension is perfectly matched to this car. It’s firm but not jarring when riding over bumps and imperfections on the road. There is an even more sport-tuned version of the IS 250 with the Sport Package, and there’s also the IS350 with the bigger engine, more power and an available Sport Package for those that crave more and have the budget to do so. There’s also an AWD version available for the IS 250.

The IS 250 is rear wheel drive and comes with a direct injection, duel VVT-i 2.5 liter V6 engine putting out 204 hp. @ 6,400 rpm and 185 lb/ft torque @ 4,800 rpm. A 6-speed manual comes standard, with the 6-speed sequential shift automatic with the paddle shifter option. Available packages include: Leather with Moonroof, Premium Leather, Premium Leather with Moonroof and a Sport. If you step up to the IS 250 AWD the only transmission available is the automatic and the choice of two additional packages: Luxury and Luxury with Navigation.

Special features on the IS series are: Electronic Throttle Control System (drive-by-wire), a flat underbody to reduce wind noise and create a low drag Cd of .274. The automatic transmissions come with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) – especially useful for those living in cities like Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

The Lexus IS 250 is a car loaded with safety and luxury features that you’d expect from a car of this caliber. Luxuries such as dual-zone automatic climate control, soft-touch controls, leather seats, tire pressure monitoring system, tilt and telescopic steering, ABS, EBD, Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). More standard features are: power windows with auto up/down on all windows, anti-theft system, AM/FM/MP3 stereo with an in-dash 6-CD changer and 13 speakers, audio controls on the steering wheel and a mini-jack for connecting an MP3 player or iPod. In addition to the front seats being heated, they were also cooled.

Also standard is the SmartAccess keyless entry – the best keyless system I’ve found on any car thus far. This is one time where you can actually leave the fob in your pocket or purse and never need to take it out. When you walk up to the car you hear a little beep and the driver’s door is unlocked. Get in and put your foot on the brake. Push the big button that says start/stop and you’re off. When you reach your destination, push the button again and the engine stops. Get out, close the door and on the door handle there’s a little black rubber button. Push it, the car locks with a chirp and that’s it. If you want the doors unlocked and the windows down as you approach the car push and hold the unlock button on the fob and it’s all done for you. If you need to get into the trunk it’s the same thing, stand at the rear of the car and touch the button beside the license plate light.

One thing I’ve found in various cars from all the different manufacturers is this: increase the price and luxury levels of the car and you get more buttons with more confusing sound system and heating systems. This is a blanket statement that I’ve found to be absolute. Why is it that the simplest of things can only be in the cheaper cars? Why do luxury cars have to contain a myriad of buttons instead of a dial? Why do I change the radio station when all I wanted to do was turn up the fan speed? If I’m travelling at 90 mph, the last thing I want is to have to take out the owner’s manual to figure out why the heat is blazing instead of the A/C. Arrgh!

The center console housing the stereo system and climate control is very confusing until you start to use it on a regular basis. That being said – it’s still very easy to turn the A/C on when all you wanted was increased fan speed. Or while changing the radio station you accidentally turn the whole climate control system off. Now you have to figure out which button you pushed and which one you wanted to push, and hope you don’t forget about the 18-wheeler that’s coming up fast. Without a doubt the climate control system on the Suzuki Grand Vitara looked and worked perfectly, why can’t all cars just use the same type of system?

The top of the dashboard and the top of the doors are covered in a flat-black rubberized type of material. It works great giving the doors and dash a very solid feel, while at the same time there are no reflections bouncing up onto the windshield. I liked it, it was soft to the touch and certainly wasn’t out of place in a near-luxury car.

No matter the roads or highways, the IS250 was always a pleasure to drive. The engine growled when you floored it, but the sound was never intrusive in the cabin. In fact this is one of the quietest cars I’ve ever been in, but it’s not like a Cadillac or Lincoln where it makes you feel completely detached from the world outside. Cruising at well over the speed limit was effortless for the IS250, and on back roads it was right at home too.

The sound system is unbelievable. It’s crystal-clear with plenty of bass when needed. There’s a Mark Levinson stereo available as an upgrade, and I can only imagine how good that must sound – it includes 14 speakers and a powered subwoofer. I’m really surprised how far manufacturers’ stereo systems have come – there’s no need for after-market systems when they sound this good.

The rear seats are snug and comfortable with average foot, leg and knee room. When I climbed in and out I kept kicking the front seat and thought it was a little bit of a tight fit. Others told me it was perfectly fine and had no problem getting in and out. I’m shorter than average, so the drivers seat doesn’t come back too far into the rear cabin, but I’d hate to be stuck back there if the driver was over 6’. This is definitely not a 5-seater car. In the rear – anyone unfortunate enough to draw the short straw for the middle seat is going to be very uncomfortable. The seat sits too high in the center position, it’s uncomfortable and there’s no headroom. Other than that there’s nowhere to put your feet – even straddling the hump, there’s just not enough room left for 3 shoes in the available floor space. Two adults will fit somewhat comfortably, but trying to squeeze three children in would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

Trunk space is quite good for a car of this size. Although the rear seats don’t fold forward, there is a small pass-through for long skinny items like golf clubs – minus the bag. I couldn’t find the cupholders for the rear passengers, but I’m told they are in the fold-down armrest – you pull them out from the front of the armrest.

Safety
Safety features include the aforementioned tire pressure monitoring system, tilt and telescopic steering, ABS, EBD, Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). Also included are front seat mounted side air bags, front and rear side curtain air bags and driver and front passenger knee air bags. Available and optional are Bi-xenon HID headlights with AFS (the headlights turn in connection with the steering input).

Pricing for the 2006 Lexus IS 250 (Premium Leather Package)
As tested: $ 32,040 [$42,900 Cdn]
Base price starts at: $29,990 [$36,300 Cdn] The AWD starts at 34,285 [$41,900 Cdn] and tops out at $36,835 [$53,700 Cdn] for the AWD with Luxury and Navigation package.

Fuel Consumption: [Premium Fuel]
The V6 is rated at 20 mpg City [11.7 L/100 kms] and 29 mpg Highway [8.1 L/100 kms]
I averaged 22 mpg [10.8 L/100 kms] wearing lead-weighted diving boots!

+ PLUSES:
Exceptional fit and finish (gorgeous paint – white pearlescent)
Loads of fun to drive
A sports car with 4 doors
Great fuel economy
Looks that would kill
The BEST keyless entry/start combination I’ve found thus far
Fantastic stereo system

– MINUSES:
Useless flappy-paddle gearbox
Climate control and stereo controls are confusing and horrible – the location of the clock, temp and audio controls
Only the driver gets to know what the temperature is outside

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
No – sorry Lexus. I love this car, but the minuses above are too much for me. A standard transmission would eliminate one of them, but the biggest culprit would still be there

Back Seat Driver Test: 8 out of 10
Very comfortable, nice amount of space as long as the front seat is set for short people ie: kids

Immediate Competition:
Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type, Mercedes C-Class, Saab 9-5, Volvo S60

By The Numbers…
Interior
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
8 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
6 – Special Features (Heated AND Cooled Seats / No Sat Nav / No Sunroof etc)

Ergonomics
9 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
7 – Rear Roominess
9 – Driving Position/Controls

Exterior
10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

Performance
8 – Engine
6 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
9 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy

131 Total / 150

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Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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Also Published at: PaddockTalk.com