Both the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 feature improved handling, revised styling, and an upgraded interior for the 2009 model year. Already standard on the IS 350 model, the 2009 IS 250 receives Lexus's Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system, which integrates the car's dynamic-control systems to improve handling and traction. VDIM is available on both the rear- and all-wheel-drive IS 250 models.
Both models also receive new suspension and steering tuning updates, as well as revised front and rear bumper covers and grille. IS wheels feature new designs, and new turn signals are now integrated into the exterior mirrors.
The rear- or all-wheel-drive 2009 Lexus IS 250 is propelled by a 2.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 204 horsepower, while the rear-drive Lexus IS 350 is moved by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine good for 306 horsepower. Every IS 350 and all-wheel-drive IS 250 transfer power to the wheels through a six-speed automatic with F1-style paddle shifters; the rear-drive Lexus IS 250 can be had with the aforementioned transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.
TheCarConnection.com's editors prefer the rippling engine note of the bigger V-6 in the 2009 Lexus IS 350, not to mention the extra power--especially since there's such a low penalty on fuel economy. Fuel economy ranges from 18 mpg city, 26 highway with the smaller engine and manual transmission to 18/25 mpg for the larger V-6 with the automatic. Handling is taut and balanced, while ride quality is good, and the Lexus IS's braking is unexpectedly responsive.
With an interior that has nice aluminum-look trim on the console, the 2009 Lexus IS is more mild than wild. The basic exterior shape is sleek and reasonably attractive, mimicking the style of Lexus's larger flagship, the LS. It's part of a new design theme for a brand that has woken up its snoozy reputation for looks. Four grippy bucket seats are split by a console covered in aluminum-look trim. The backseats don't offer an excess of head- and legroom.
The Lexus IS isn't at the top of its class from all safety angles; it gets four-star ratings for front and passenger-side impact--in a class with mostly five-star results--with five-star protection for driver side impacts. It also gets a five-star rating for rollover protection. Stability control, six airbags, and anti-lock brakes are standard.
An optional Pre-Collision System is available on the 2009 Lexus IS; it anticipates when a crash is imminent and reacts accordingly, applying the brakes more strongly if the driver cannot respond quickly enough. A rear backup camera, a voice-activated navigation system, ventilated front seats, and a 14-speaker surround sound Mark Levinson audio system are among the options.
The high-performance 2009 Lexus IS-F sedan is covered separately.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Lexus IS gives BMW, Benz, and Infiniti a real challenge, though it's still a little softer than those sedans.