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2011 Lexus IS250 F Sport Package: RideLust Review

Posted in Car Buying, Car Reviews, Featured, Import Review, Lexus, RideLust Review by Kurt Ernst | March 28th, 2011 | 4 Responses |

2011 Lexus IS250

Thumbs Up: It looks good and it’s put together well.

Thumbs Down: Needs more horsepower.

Buy This Car If: You want an affordable Lexus that’s entertaining to drive.

In the span of a week, I put over 800 miles on the 2011 Lexus IS250 with the F Sport Package. You’d think that it would be easy to write a review about a car after spending that much time behind the wheel, but it isn’t. In fact, I have to admit that the IS250 leaves me a bit stumped: the F Sport suspension is a bit harsh for long freeway drives and the car needs a serious infusion of horsepower to be competitive with it’s main rivals. The interior lacks the room of others in the class, and the rear seats don’t even fold to accommodate oversized cargo. Despite this, I’m actually going to miss the car, because I really did enjoy driving it.

2011 Lexus IS250

2011 Lexus IS250

Let’s start with the exterior design. IS models are perhaps the only cars in Lexus’ product lineup not cross-shopped against Buick; in other words, the Lexus IS is the only offering targeted at a younger, more sporting crowd. Nowhere is that more evident than in the exterior styling of the IS250. For 2011, the IS gets a revised front fascia to give it a more sinister and sculpted demeanor. Chrome is minimized (especially on the F Sport Package cars) and a high beltline is used to make the car look sleeker and more athletic. There’s even a Lexus homage to BMW’s “Hofmeister kink” at the C-pillar, a reminder of the car’s target audience. Outback, the dual exhausts and subtle lip spoiler of the F Sport Package remind you that the IS is built for something other than just comfort and luxury. I’m not really in Lexus’ primary demographic, but I have to admit that I like the lines of the IS series; in fact, I think they’re the best looking sedans in Lexus’ lineup.

2011 Lexus IS250

Inside, F Sport Package equipped cars get deeply bolstered sport front seats with microfiber inserts meant to simulate suede. They’re comfortable, even for hours behind the wheel, and really do offer more lateral support than the car needs. Driver and passenger seats are powered, and both get an adjustable lumbar support. Seats are heated, as you’d expect from Lexus, but not cooled.

2011 Lexus IS250

Rear seats also offer more lateral support than most competitors, and are finished in the same leather and microfiber materials as the front seat. Legroom isn’t great, but children and friends with short legs won’t complain loudly on short trips. Headroom is decent once you’re in the car, but the IS’ sloping roofline requires some acrobatics for those taller than six foot to enter. Surprisingly, the rear seats don’t fold but the car does offer a trunk pass-through to accommodate cargo such as skis. Less forgivable, given the car’s price point, is the lack of heated rear seats.

2011 Lexus IS250

One area where the IS excels is with interior quality, fit and finish. My tester came without the nav system, which is unusual for a press fleet car. Controls for audio and HVAC functions were completely intuitive and placed where you’d expect to find them, something I appreciate when driving a different vehicle each week. I admired the use of dark aluminum trim instead of the over-used faux wood or piano black, but feel that Lexus should have done just a bit more to dress up the interior. There’s an awful lot of soft-touch vinyl on top of the dash, which requires a bit more contrast than just matte plastic around the vents and center stack. The materials used were all high quality, but they were a bit bland given the IS’ target demographic. Even the steering wheel needed a little help; bigger thumb cutouts, thicker grips and a suede or microfiber surface would have made a huge difference in feel and perceived quality.

I’ll admit to loving the IS’ instrumentation, though. The original IS had what Lexus called “chronograph instruments”, and this version carries over the theme. Both the speedometer and tachometer are trimmed with a titanium colored outer ring, and the temp and fuel gauges form the illusion of an hour hand on a watch. The tach and speedometer have a center ring that lights in orange to warn you of redline or a pre-set speed (whoever had the car before me drives much slower on the highway, apparently). Top center above the gauges is the driver information display, which can be set to show distance to empty, overall fuel economy, tank fuel economy, gear position outside temperature or average speed.

2011 Lexus IS250

Under the hood of the Lexus IS250 is a 2.5 liter, 204 horsepower V6. That’s not a lot of engine to move a sport sedan that weighs nearly 3,500 pounds, and that shows in the car’s zero to sixty time of just under 8 seconds. Top speed is said to be 140 miles per hour, but it would take you a while to get there; on the other hand, the car is content to maintain 75 to 80 miles per hour with zero drama, returning some respectable fuel economy in the process. I saw just over 30 MPG (30.4, actually) on the highway, driving at speeds I’d rather not confess to. If you kept the IS at or below the speed limit, I suspect you could do quite a bit better than the EPA’s estimate of 30 MPG. My suspicion is backed by my combined fuel economy of 26.6 MPG; the EPA tells you to expect 24 MPG. Sure, you could do better with a hybrid, but I can’t think of a single hybrid that’s as entertaining in the twisties as the IS250.

2011 Lexus IS250

On the road, I only had two complaints on the IS250. I’ve already said it needs more power, so I won’t flog that particular dead horse; besides, that’s easily corrected by stepping up to the 306 horsepower IS350. My other complaint was the transmission, and this is true of all automakers, not just Lexus. If you’re going to put paddle shifters in a car with sporting intentions, at least make the effort to shorten shift times and improve drivability. The transmission in the IS250 had no “Sport” mode, so shifting manually was an exercise in frustration as you waited for the transmission to execute your intentions. If you’re going to build a car with a plain, shiftable automatic, that’s fine: don’t go to the trouble of adding paddle shifters. To me, they’re the equivalent of a giant rear wing or a grapefruit launcher exhaust, since they really don’t do a thing to make the car go faster. On the flip side, if you’re adding paddle shifters to your car, make sure they improve upshifts and downshifts compared to leaving the car in drive.

The F Sport suspension package goes a long way towards improving the handling of the IS-F (and the 18” graphite wheels are nice to look at), and the car feels very nimble when roads tighten up. Push the IS hard enough, and it will reward you with understeer; however, the limits of an F Sport Package equipped IS are definitely higher than a plain IS. The tradeoff is ride comfort on the highway; it’s not unpleasant with the F Package suspension, but it is considerably firmer than what you’d typically associate with Lexus.

Base price on my IS250 tester was $34,190, including a destination charge of $875. The only option on the car was the $2,440 F Sport Package (18” wheels with summer only tires, F Sport suspension, sport pedals, aluminum scuff plates, front and rear spoilers, sport grille, sport steering wheel sport seats), so the total sticker price came to $36,630. The pricing may be the car’s Achilles heel, since there are more than a few comparable models in this price range. A comparable Acura TSX, for example, stickers at $30,470, compared to the base IS250’s $34,190 asking price. On the other hand, a BMW 328i with the Sport Package would sticker at $39,025 and an Infiniti G25 Journey with the Sport Package would sticker at $40,435, so maybe the Lexus is priced where it needs to be. There are plenty on the road, which leads me to believe that I’m not the only one charmed by the Lexus IS.

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4 Responses

  1. JIm says:

    I hate the trend of automakers to put plastic all over the top of the engine. I want to see the engine when I open the hood. 204 hp from a V6, I admit is pretty weak. For a drivers Lexus, probably should step up to the IS F instead of this with the F package.

  2. J D Stadler says:

    “I’m not really in Lexus’ primary demographic, but I have to admit that I like the lines of the IS series; in fact, I think they’re the best looking sedans in Lexus’ lineup.”

    I’ll assume that I am, and I will say yeah, it’s pretty. I love the color. But the V6 is ridiculous. Even the Mazda6 gets 272hp what is this 204hp nonsense? But again, I remind myself Lexus’ demographic with these cars (or at least, who I see driving them) – youngish, female, want to look good in their car, don’t care how it performs. Pity.

    And, wait, $36k and they don’t even give you the OPTION of a NAV screen? Again, I don’t get it. I’d rather spend $25k on a 2008 Acura TL Type S, in the same color combo (right down to the graphite wheels). Oh, and I agree with Jim, this plastic all over the engine bay is getting ridiculous. Some of us actually DO enjoy looking at and even TOUCHING the components under our car’s hood (imagine that).

  3. PFULMTL says:

    I think that car is a daym shame. This is the first time seeing it and I was expecting a lighweight IS250 or just stripped of its luxury. 204HP on a heavy car is pointless. If it came with the IS350 side fenders, then it might have looked better.

    And yes, plastic covers on engines are retarded. How could you call that a sports car.

  4. Tate says:

    I’ve driven the IS250 with the F Sport package, the 328i with the M sport package, and the 335i with the M sport package. I agree with a few of these comments: the plastic over the engine is stupid, 204hp is kind of a joke. But upping it to the ISF is unrealistic when you compare the prices because you wind up being in a completely different class. Plus I’m pretty sure that 9 times out of 10, someone looking at the ISF ends up driving home in an M3 and chances are, if you’re reading this, you know why.

    You can definitely get a nav screen in the IS250 with the F package if you want it, so you should probably go to a dealership and check it out before you make assumptions and confuse people. Also, have you ever thought of the possibility that people might just want to be comfortable while they’re driving? Most people who knock the IS are usually BMW 3-series fanatics. Of course the car itself is unparalleled by anything in it’s class and there’s nothing like the purr of a 335, but I’m sure even they can agree that BMW interior is an absolute joke. It’s the cheesiest stuff you’ll ever see. It’s pretty tough to beat Lexus interior with anything else in this class/price range–some will argue Audi, but aside from the quality of the leather, I don’t think so–and maybe there are some people who prefer one of the smoothest rides you can get for the cost. There’s a lot that can be said for the driving atmosphere that Lexus creates with their cars, so I think that’s worth noting. We settled on the 335i ourselves because we are fortunate enough to be in a position financially to own one, but we’ve owned Lexus cars in the past and we surely miss that buttery feel. I don’t think it’s about wanting to LOOK good in your car, it’s about wanting to FEEL good in it. And that’s all that matters. Plus Lexus is Japanese made, so you have that reliability factor in there which is always nice.

    The IS looks great, drives great, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s extremely comfortable on the inside. If you’re interested, it’s definitely worth a look. If you want the comfort and the smooth drive, swing on by your local Lexus dealer. I actually plan on putting my daughter in one of these in a couple months. Safe, reliable, and it doesn’t go as fast as the 350, so I won’t have to worry about her lead foot. If you’re a real performance enthusiast, I would definitely suggest checking out the BMW 3-series. However, the 328i only gets 26hp more than the IS250 and if you ask me, it’s just not worth sacrificing that interior. I’d get the 250 over the 328i any day, but the 335i is an absolute game changer, even when compared to the faster IS350.

    I’m in love with all of these cars myself. If I could, I’d probably have one of each. I think they all have amazing qualities, so it really depends on driver preference. All I’m saying is, it’s probably best not to judge. You never really know why someone chooses what they choose. To each his own. Happy searching!