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2015 Lexus IS: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2015

The 2015 Lexus IS 250 sedan and its buffer brother, the 2015 Lexus IS 350 sedan, face a difficult task. They compete against polished rivals such as the BMW 3 Series, Infiniti Q50 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in a segment that depends as much on brand image as on anything else. It's hard to get a seat at this table, but Lexus has been inching closer since the IS first came out in 2001.

The 2015 IS sedan lineup represents Lexus's strongest, most focused effort yet. Outside, the IS sedan's fresh lines give it a bold, purposeful look. Inside, it offers a list of standard features that arguably outshines the competition. The only thing missing is a convertible to match, as the retractable-hardtop 2015 IS C is a carryover, previous-generation model that lacks the sedan's panache.

Of course, some shoppers are looking for something more: a top-notch driving experience. For these enthusiasts, handling has to be razor-sharp, and a lot of power doesn't hurt, either. Fortunately, Lexus makes the IS 350 F Sport, which boasts 306 horsepower and a sport-tuned suspension that should satisfy all but the most demanding drivers. Lesser IS models, particularly the base IS 250 with its modest 2.5-liter V6, are more concerned with luxury and value, and if you don't care as much about performance, that may suit you just fine.

Overall, the 2015 IS faces its share of challenges, but we like its chances. This is a strong all-around car that every shopper should take for a spin.

What's New for 2015?

The IS lineup receives only minor detail changes.

What We Like

Stylish inside and out; upscale cabin; adult-friendly back seat; strong acceleration in IS 350; generous equipment list

What We Don't

So-so fuel economy; outdated engine in IS 250; convertible is an older design

How Much?

$37,475-$48,565

Fuel Economy

The IS 250 sedan is powered by a 2.5-liter V6 rated at 204 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway with rear-wheel drive, which is disappointing given the 250's modest output. Opting for all-wheel drive lowers those numbers to 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy.

The IS 350 sedan upgrades to a 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 306 hp and 277 lb-ft. Fuel economy doesn't suffer much, checking in at 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with rear-wheel drive and 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive.

Rear-wheel-drive sedans feature an 8-speed automatic transmission, while all-wheel-drive sedans get an older 6-speed automatic.

The IS C employs the same two engines but offers only rear-wheel drive and the 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy for the IS 250 C and 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy for the IS 350 C.

Standard Features & Options

The 2015 Lexus IS lineup consists of two trim levels: IS 250 and IS 350. All-wheel drive is optional on both (sedans only).

The IS 250 sedan ($37,475) includes standard perks such as 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, LED running lights, selectable driving modes that alter the car's feel, paddle shifters, dual-zone automatic climate control, synthetic leather upholstery, an 8-in central infotainment display, a color 4.2-in TFT driver information display and real-time traffic and weather with no subscription required. The audio system is an 8-speaker setup with Bluetooth/USB connectivity.

The IS 350 sedan ($40,990) adds the larger V6 engine but is otherwise similarly equipped.

Options include 18-in wheels (mesh-style for IS 250, 5-spoke for IS 350), a navigation system (which includes a rearview camera and the mouselike Remote Touch Interface), a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a lane-departure warning system, front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation.

There are also a few packages on offer. The Premium package adds LED headlights and heated/cooled seats. The Luxury package consists of the Premium package plus rain-sensing wipers, enhanced exterior mirrors, leather upholstery, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel (heated on all-wheel-drive models), driver memory functions and wood interior trim. The F Sport package starts with the LED headlights and adds 18-in staggered-width alloy wheels, unique front-end styling, a sport-tuned suspension (with adaptive dampers on the rear-wheel-drive IS 350), exclusive TFT instrument displays, heated and cooled sport front seats, an F Sport steering wheel (heated on all-wheel-drive models), aluminum pedals and optional variable-ratio steering (rear-wheel-drive IS 350 only).

The IS 250 C convertible ($44,285) gets some of the same standard features as the sedan, such as 17-in wheels and dual-zone climate control. However, its previous-generation interior does not offer the Remote Touch Interface, and it also lacks the sedan's standard xenon headlights and LED running lights (they're optional), upgraded instrumentation, nicer materials and various other elements.

The IS 350 C convertible ($48,565) gets the bigger V6 but is otherwise similarly equipped.

IS C options roughly mirror those of the IS sedan, though the optional navigation system is a much older version with a touchscreen display and different software.

Safety

The 2015 Lexus IS sedan comes standard with stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and no fewer than 10 airbags. The IS C convertible has four airbags. The available adaptive cruise control feature includes a collision-mitigation system that senses imminent frontal impacts and that can apply the brakes if necessary.

In government crash tests, the 2015 IS sedan scored a total of five stars out of five, including four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) deemed the IS sedan Good (its highest rating) in the two tests conducted (the moderate-overlap front and side tests). The IS C convertible has not been crash-tested.

Behind the Wheel

In our interior evaluation, we found the IS sedan's standard front seats to be exceptionally well-bolstered and comfortable. They could easily be the best standard seats in any entry-level luxury sedan. The F Sport's chunky sport seats are snugger, but they're not a huge upgrade. Thanks to a stretched wheelbase, the sedan's rear seats can actually accommodate full-sized adults, though several taller testers hit their heads on the sloping roofline. It's a mistake you'll make only once, but it illustrates the IS model's smaller size compared to the Lexus ES and GS sedans.

Materials and construction are significantly better than in the previous sedan, showing near-Germanic attention to detail. Overall, the IS sedan's cabin is one of the nicest you'll find for the money. The IS C's cabin is less impressive, since it dates back to the mid-2000s and lacks many of the sedan's contemporary features. Nonetheless, the materials are class appropriate, and it's still a nice car.

Under the hood, the base 2.5-liter V6 provides leisurely acceleration. This is an aging motor that should be more fuel efficient than it is. If you can swing it, the excellent 3.5-liter V6 in the IS 350 models is well worth the price premium, because it serves up authoritative acceleration at any speed.

On the road, it's true that the IS 350 isn't quite a dynamic match for segment leaders such as the BMW 335i in a high-performance, racetrack setting. But for most shoppers, it's real-world driving that matters most. To that end, the IS combines refinement that's close to the Mercedes C-Class with drivability that's close to the 3-Series. It's a pleasant mix of good handling and good ride quality, with a sport-coupe feel from the driver's seat that enhances the experience.

Other Cars to Consider

2015 BMW 3 Series -- The 3 Series is the dynamic star among the IS model's rivals. Pricing is generally higher, but some will happily pay the premium for its badge and handling prowess.

2015 Infiniti Q50 -- The Q50 doesn't offer an IS 250 competitor, but it now touts a hybrid variant that may interest environmentally conscious shoppers.

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class -- While it's not as sporty as the IS, some shoppers prefer the Mercedes brand cachet and its upscale interior.

Used Lexus GS -- Want to stay in the Lexus family? The midsize GS is a more capable car overall, and a certified pre-owned example is easy to find in the IS sedan's price bracket.

AutoTrader's Advice

The best IS really depends on your driving needs. For drivers who don't need power or performance, the IS 250 may be fine. Shoppers who need a little more muscle might upgrade to the IS 350, while those who want the ultimate in handling and performance might find the IS 350 F Sport to be an easy choice.

Find a Lexus IS for sale

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Lexus IS: New Car Review - Autotrader