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2012 Lexus IS 250 ReviewThe Good
The 2012 Lexus IS 250 compact luxury sedan features a high-end cabin outfitted with quality materials and comes with available all-wheel drive for optimal traction in all types of driving conditions.The Bad
The 2.5-liter V6 engine fails to deliver a sporty driving experience, and taller passengers will find headroom and legroom tight in the 2012 IS 250's cabin, especially in the rear seat.
The CarGurus View
While it's not a perfect car, the IS 250 should appeal to couples or singles looking for a well-equipped, upscale ride. The cabin remains tight, with limited headroom and legroom, and critics say the IS 250 doesn't perform as well as its competitors, but with such features as standard leather upholstery and available all-wheel drive, it delivers the goods at an entry-level luxury-vehicle price.
At a Glance
After receiving a number of exterior and interior updates for the 2011 model year, the Lexus IS 250 compact luxury sedan rolls into 2012 virtually unchanged. Lexus adds new Nebula Gray Pearl and Fire Agate Pearl exterior colors as the only new features for 2012.
Introduced in 1998 and now at the end of its second generation, the 5-passenger IS 250 comes in base rear-wheel drive (RWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD) trims. With either drivetrain, power comes from a base 2.5-liter V6 engine, which provides adequate but hardly sporty performance. Prospective buyers seeking a more performance-oriented sedan should consider the IS 350, which Lexus equips with a larger 3.5-liter V6 engine, capable of pushing the sedan from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, as opposed to 7.9 seconds for the 250. Other competitors in the IS 250's luxury sedan market segment include the BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Acura TL, the Cadillac CTS and the Infiniti G, many of which offer sportier performance.
However, reviewers and owners like the IS 250's well-equipped, luxury-oriented cabin. Although tight on headroom and legroom, it offers a long list of upscale standard features, including leather upholstery and 10-way power-adjustable front seats, as well as a premium audio system. Outside, the IS 250 displays a low, sporty profile, with a clean, classic front end and grille, a sculpted hood, rising sidelines, aerodynamic side lower body panels and dual chrome exhaust pipes. New exterior features added in 2011, including new front and rear bumpers, headlights, LED taillights and 17-inch wheels, give the IS 250 a freshened appearance. An available F Sport Package adds 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and a number of exterior upgrades, including a unique grille and front-lip and rear-deck spoilers.
A 2.5-liter V6 engine continues to provide power for the IS 250. Featuring direct injection and dual variable valve timing, the V6 delivers 204 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. While providing a good balance of power and efficiency, it lacks in sporty performance, according to a number of testers, since peak power doesn't show up until 6,400 rpm and peak torque doesn't arrive until 4,800 rpm. The V6's limitations are evident not only during acceleration off the mark, but at passing speeds or when climbing steep inclines as well.
In the base IS 250 with RWD, the V6 links to either a 6-speed manual transmission or an optional 6-speed automatic with available paddle shifters. On the AWD trim, the automatic transmission comes standard and includes steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. For the RWD trim, fuel economy numbers check in at 19/28 mpg with the manual transmission and 21/30 with the automatic. The AWD trim with the automatic transmission posts numbers of 20/27 mpg. While about average for the class, the IS 250's V6 requires premium fuel, which negates any cost savings of a fuel-efficient powerplant. Most reviewers report that the automatic provides smooth shifting, although sometimes the shifts come a little later than expected.
Ride & Handling
Like its performance, the IS 250's ride and handling receive some dings from reviewers, who find the handling a little mushy and the ride a little too harsh on rough road surfaces. Cornering capabilities receive mixed reviews. Some testers note too much body lean, while others find the IS 250 generally capable in tight corners. Most agree that the ride and handling, while not sport-oriented, are acceptable for around-town driving.
The Lexus IS 250 rides on a 4-wheel independent suspension, with a double-wishbone configuration with coil springs, gas-pressurized shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar in the front, and a multi-link setup in the rear, also with coil springs, gas-pressurized shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar. Electric power steering comes standard, although some reviewers find the feedback from the steering system a little numb. Four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes, with ventilated discs in the rear, provide good stopping power. Both RWD and AWD trims come standard with 17-inch wheels.
The available F Sport Package adds sport-tuned steering with greater driver feedback and a sport-tuned suspension with stiffer shocks and springs, designed to decrease body sway. The package also includes 18-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels with a Dark Graphite finish.
Cabin & Comfort
While the 2012 Lexus IS 250 might come up a little short in the performance and handling categories, it excels inside the cabin, thanks to its solid list of standard upscale features, as well as its extensive use of high-quality materials and soft-touch surfaces. Reviewers give the IS 250 top marks for its interior fit and finish, and some call the cabin one of the best in the class. Seats are comfortable and well-bolstered, and controls are easy to read and use. However, some testers find the navigation system somewhat complicated to use, and most reviewers find fault with interior headroom and legroom, especially in the rear seat, which can be tight for taller passengers. Cargo space remains tight as well, with the small trunk offering just 13 cubic feet of storage space.
In addition to leather upholstery and 10-way power-adjustable front seats, standard luxury features include a power tilt/slide moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat vents, push button start, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and an illuminated entry system. The AWD trim adds heated front seats. Black metallic trim throughout the cabin also lends an upscale feel. The leather-wrapped tilt/telescopic steering wheel features audio, cruise, phone and display controls, while the center console has a USB port and audio auxiliary input jack, as well as a sliding armrest and power outlet. Lexus also includes a 13-speaker, 194-watt Premium Audio System with a 6-CD changer, Bluetooth, automatic sound leveling, music streaming and SiriusXM satellite radio.
The available F Sport Package adds heated front seats to the RWD trim, as well as unique front seats with a microfiber insert and leather side bolsters, silver metallic interior trim, aluminum pedals and unique badging on the steering wheel, shift knob and doorsill scuff plates. Owners can also add an available Luxury Plus Package, which includes wood trim, perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated seats and a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel. A navigation system with a 7-inch display and a 14-speaker, 300-watt Mark Levinson audio system are available as options for both trims.
The IIHS awarded the 2012 Lexus IS 250 a top safety rating of Good for protecting passengers during frontal and side-impact crashes, and an Acceptable rating for protecting passengers during rear-end and rollover crashes. While the NHTSA has not rated the IS 250 in all categories, it gave the vehicle 5 out of 5 stars for protecting passengers during rollover crashes.
Standard safety features for the IS 250 include the automaker's Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system, which integrates Vehicle Stability Control, traction control, braking and steering to help minimize loss of traction in a turn. The 4-wheel antilock brakes include electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. In addition, Smart Stop Technology reduces engine power in emergency situations to assist in braking the vehicle quickly. Hill Start Assist also comes standard, along with such additional safety features as daytime running lights and 8 standard airbags, including side-curtain airbags and knee airbags for both the driver and front passenger.
What Owners Think
Owners are drawn to the IS 250's sporty exterior looks and comfortable cabin, which appear to be its two biggest selling points. In addition, a number of owners note that they're pleasantly surprised by the vehicle's fuel economy, with some owners reporting numbers into the low 30s. Although some owners would like to see more power out of the IS 250's V6 engine, others are happy with the performance of their vehicles. The smooth-shifting automatic transmission was singled out by a number of owners for its operation. Most owners realize that the compact car's cabin is tight on space, especially in the rear seat, and note that the vehicle works best for couples or individuals without families. Many owners also give good marks to the IS 250 for its build quality, although others have reported isolated problems with their vehicles.
The harshest criticism leveled at the IS 250 focuses on its ride quality, with a number of owners reporting a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. In addition, some owners report that wind noise intrudes into the cabin at higher speeds. At the far end of the scale, a few owners express their dislike of the car after having driven it for awhile. But the majority of owners say they are satisfied with their vehicles.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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