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2011 Lexus IS 250 ReviewThe Good
The 2011 Lexus IS 250 offers impressive fit and finish as well as a suspension that offers a pleasant compromise between comfort and performance.The Bad
The 2.5-liter engine in the 2011 IS 250 is underpowered, and the conditions are far too cramped, even for a compact vehicle.
The CarGurus View
The AWD version of the 2011 Lexus IS 250 is the best bet here, with the six-speed shiftable automatic and added stability. Sadly, nothing is going to combat its lack of power or space, but these are shortcomings of the compact class that will have to be tolerated. That said, competitors offer better engines with more space, making them better options in the luxury compact class.
At a Glance
Lexus’ compact executive entry, the IS 250, gets a bit of a massage for 2011, with some visual changes and added features. Available in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations, the IS 250 offers V6 power from a 204-hp, 2.5-liter engine as well as the choice of a six-speed manual or shiftable automatic transmission. This four-door sedan has been in production since 2006, but the larger IS family of sedans has been in production since 1998.
For 2011, new front and rear bumpers adorn the IS 250, as well as new head- and taillights. LED daytime running lights are a new option here (and come standard for the IS 350 and IS-F models). Standing outside the IS, you’ll also noticed newly designed 17-inch alloy wheels, and there are new 18-inch wheels available as well. Inside, new black metallic trim freshens things slightly to match the outside changes.
Lexus utilizes the 2.5-liter version of the Toyota GR engine, with an all-aluminum block, head, and lower intake manifold. With dual variable-valve timing and direct injection, the 2.5 is capable of a pleasant blend of power and efficiency, although more power would certainly be welcome.
With 204 hp showing up at 6,400 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque not arriving until 4,800 rpm, the 2.5 takes a while to wake up, and even after having its coffee it’s still not exactly a potent performer. You’ll find yourself wanting when aggressive passing is attempted, but the 2.5 will get the job done eventually.
Lexus requires premium-grade gasoline for all engines in the IS line, which somewhat hinders the benefits of the mildly efficient characteristics of the 2.5. With the six-speed manual, you can expect 18/26 mpg, while the automatic with its steering-wheel paddle shifters manages 21/29. Choosing AWD will mean a drop for both, landing at 20/26.
Ride & Handling
While the IS 250 offers a wholly competent ride from its double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, some weaknesses do show up in certain conditions. Gaps and bumps can produce a small amount of wheel thump, which is especially annoying in a luxury vehicle, and there’s a bit of wallow exhibited over large dips.
Thankfully, these weaknesses show up almost exclusively in straight-line driving. Cornering is handled with ease, as lean is exhibited only minimally in hard turns. 17-inch wheels provide good grip without excessive harshness. Optional 18-inch wheels are only marginally worse in the comfort department, but do little to improve handling. The electronic steering is more than a pleasant surprise, with a neutral feel and precise input that should set an example to other systems out there.
Cabin & Comfort
Tight is the word of the day here, as larger drivers and occupants will have a tough time front or back. While seats are both comfortable and supportive, even for spirited driving, headroom is lacking in the front seat, and legroom is in short supply, especially if front occupants have moved the seats far aft.
Controls and gauges are also tight, with small but legible displays and faces that are mostly easy to read and reach. The screen for the optional navigation system is especially small, but again easy to read, and while it does take over certain climate and audio controls, it does so in a more intuitive manner than most nav systems.
Openings for both the rear seats and the trunk are frustratingly small, impeding occupant and cargo entry as well as exit, but not exceptionally so for the compact class, luxury or not.
Safety ratings from the NHTSA have yet to be released for the 2011 Lexus IS 250. New testing procedures have been developed for 2011 that the NHTSA has stated are more rigorous. With that in mind, 2010 test results were less than impressive for a car in this class, with only a four-star rating for all tests other than five-star ratings in side impacts involving the driver and rollover resistance.
What Owners Think
Overall the suspension and finish are the high points of the IS 250, offering a comfortable but still competent ride without sacrificing much of either characteristic. Sadly, the 2.5-liter engine is underpowered, and the cramped conditions are frustrating even for a compact car. Some owners have even complained about excess noise from the tires and the engine alike, also unforgivable in a luxury vehicle.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.