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IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN'T?

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Jun 20, 2009

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Words and pictures by Doug Stokes I will now attempt to tell you something that you don't know about Lexus automobiles. Let's see, you know that they are very, very good at everything automotive; that they are generally handsome, often lithe, always reliable, and never flustered. You also know that Lexus automobiles are considered "luxury cars", and you know that you are well within your rights to have high expectations of the marque, whether you're taking a trip around the block or taking hold of the key (there's really no key, but more on that later) in preparation for a week in the main seat as we did a couple of weeks back.

Okay, you really do know a lot about Lexus automobiles, and I'm going to tell you a bit more. First of all my week-long watchword for this machine is "competency". Once behind the wheel all the inputs that this IS 250 sends to your personal set of sensors are excellent. I marvel at the levels of feedback available here, this car telling you every detail of road condition and without beating you up. Now don't get me wrong (because there are plenty of really great-handling front wheel drive cars out there) But ... maybe it's that here the front wheels are only asked to steer and stop. I haven't driven enough good rear wheel drive cars lately, I guess. LA Car Confessional: I have never driven (...er ridden) a horse. I was nonchalantly shrugged off of a mean little pony in boarding school at about 12 years old and never got on any kind of nag again. And, still I start to think about this machine in terms of a really great mount. This Lexus seemed so eager to please, you sit at the controls, and somehow know that the car is well under you, ready to take you wherever you want to go, in whatever fashion you choose. It almost seemed to be responding to a slight degree of knee pressure (rather than a tug on the reins). In fact, the steering is super-precise and perfectly integrated with a fully-transparent vehicle dynamics system that is neither overbearing nor underdone (both of which are easy to do when those slide-rule types start attempting to "help" a driver). And the same must be said for the brake force distribution system and brake assist system that's standard on this $38,031.00 automobile. This car stops like a race car using up the minimum number of feet all the while producing the maximum degree of confidence. (In fact, stepping away from this car and into my own, even though it has an uprated set of discs and pads aboard, required a bit of real getting used to.) I'm one of those people who really admire great brakes, I think that one can tour a lot faster/better with brakes that are, say 20 percent better than stock, than with a motor that has a like increase in horsepower. Everyone likes having some scoot under foot, but great brakes are wonderful confidence builders, believe me.

However that's not to say that the IS 250 is lacking anything whatsoever in the power department. Again, modern science gives us a wonderful combination of variable valve timing and an electronically-controlled 6-speed automatic transmission to make what seem modest power numbers (204 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque) work exceedingly well ... propelling this machine onward at very smart rates of knots. Yes, there's a set of the vaunted "paddle shifters" which are, I admit, great fun, at first. But simply leaving this one in "D" and asking it to do stuff with the ball of your right foot will get plenty done. This 2.5 liter V-6 engine is always at the ready ... just purring along waiting for a signal, a cue, a stage direction, just a knowing nod from the driver, and the second it's given, the command is obeyed and obeyed in spades. This is true, useable performance, matched engine and brakes, sharp handling that was never harsh, but always clean. "Tungsten Pearl" is Lexus' name for a great shade of soft silver, which has flat got to be the perfect color for LA soot. We flung this car around for the requisite week and, from anything more than about four feet away, it looked just as nice when we dropped it back at Lexus, with our thank you note. Ok, don't tell the Lexus people, but I took a right seat check-ride in this one with a good friend who just happens to be a fairly well-known vintage sports car racer (who we were able to recruit onto the LA Car staff at that moment). He (thought that I was going to say his name, didn't you?) was instantly simpatico with this machine... Pronouncing it "Perfecto!", in his case meaning balanced, straightforward, worthy. "This is a car that I could drive to the track and then enjoy lapping the circuit with" he allowed. When I told him there was a "350" version, he smiled and said, "... This one would be fine, gracias." (oops!) Maybe it was the seats. Good? Yeah, I'd say so. I'd also say if you can't get the driving position exactly right for you in this 10-way power-adjustable seat, you ain't built right. And, did we mention that the front seat were individually heated AND air-conditioned? This one attraction had my wife and myself sold right out of the box and using the full range of cooling (her) and heating (me) at the same time!

And then maybe it was the e-throttle (my word). Most new cars are "fly-by-wire" now, meaning that there's no mechanical linkage between the throttle pedal and the actual throttle on the engine. That works well in a complex underhood world. But in this case the Lexus throttle has an electronic "boost", an enhancement (they call it "intelligence") that improves engine response relative to what you do with your right foot. Ease the pedal down and the acceleration is so smooth you only know that you're moving by the scenery moving back past you. Kick the thing in the tail, and hang on, because you asked for it in the way that you moved that pedal. Again, totally transparent, you would never had noticed it if I hadn't pointed it out, but trust me, you'll begin to understand (and love) it in a few short hours behind the wheel in a Lexus IS250 like this one. The best news here is that all of the above tech-wonderment associated this machine really affords better control rather than usurping your command of the vehicle. Old school was that "automatic" or "power" took something out of the driver's hands (shifting gears crisply and at the right time, brake feel, control). That is no longer the case. Old Uncle EPA says 21/29 on the high test (this baby wants the 91-octane stuff), your mileage may vary, and I sure hope so; this is just not a car that one needs to get all puffed-up about over something as prosaic as gas economy. If there's any kind of a gripe here, its an offset one. The front door openings are somewhat tight. It takes a bit more of a sit-bend-forward-twist-in than older cars. Door apertures ARE getting smaller, and (up to a point) that's a good (safety) thing. Its reflected in the 5 side crash stars that this one gets. It takes a day or two, and getting into the right front seat (for people who are more used to driving than riding) is a bit vexing at first. But, once safely aboard, there's moderate/good people space for four adults.

Says "sedan" but the trunk is "coupe" ... Wherein we find the price of style. There's good room in the trunk, but the throat area that you must pass stuff through to use it is a little narrow. Again, perfection can only go so far, but where it slips in this car is in places where about 90 percent of the potential buyers could care a lot less. There's uncounted airbags and curtains (just pray that they all don't go off at once!) in this one, pretensioner-type restraints, and tire pressure monitors. There's also a list of standard extras that goes on to the next website. The only ups on the ticket was about $2,500 for the Bluetooth-enabled nav system, $500 for intuitive parking assist system (I tried to feel it working intuitively, but am obviously not sensitive enough ... the backup camera is nice, although the wide-angle view takes some spatial rationalizing), $880 for the heated and ventilated front seats and the great seat fabric which resembles MB-Tex, my favorite stuff (after bare fiberglass) to sit on/in, and $991 to delete a moonroof but add the cool 18-inch alloy wheels. Add $825 in transport charges to get it to you, and you've got the deal. Yeah, lots of money these days, but lots of car for the money and just huge amounts of authentic driving pleasure. Lexus has consistently delivered the full luxury expression, in that realm that's full value for money for me.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT Never mind the bollocks, the 250 is every bit worthy of the IS moniker. For more information about Lexus products, go to www.lexus.com

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2009 Lexus IS 250 Price (base): $31,305, with six-speed manual transmission $32,475, with six-speed paddle shift sequential automatic electronically controlled transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) $34,935, same as above, but with all-wheel drive EPA fuel ratings (mpg city/mpg highway) 18/26 (manual) 21/29 (automatic) Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC 24-valve V6 with dual variable-valve timing Horsepower: 204 at 6400 rm Torque: 185 pound-feet at 4800 rpm Drive configuration: Rear-wheel drive (all-wheel drive optional) Steering: Electronic power-assisted rack and pinion Suspension Front: Independent, double-wishbone with coil springs, monotube gas-pressurized shock absorbers and hollow stabilizer bar Rear: Independent, multi-link with coil springs, inverted monotube gas-pressurized shock absorbers and stabilizer bar Brakes: Four-wheel power-assisted discs with four-sensor, four-channel Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist Wheels and tires: 17 x 8.0-in 10-spoke alloy wheels with 225/45VR17 all-season tires front, 245/45VR17 all-season tires rear Dimensions Length: 180.3 inches Width: 70.9 inches Height: 56.1 inches Curb weight: 3,435 pounds Performance 0-60 mph: 7.9 seconds Quarter-mile: 16.1 seconds Top speed: 140 mph

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