Photos by Rick Cotta
2014 Lexus IS 250 AWD F Sport
Dates tested: 3/17/2014-3/31/2014
Miles Driven: 308
Fuel Used: 16.3 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 18.9 mpg
Driving mix: 60% city, 40% highway
Base price: $38,485 (not including $910 destination charge)
Options on test car: F Sport Package ($2675), Navigation Package ($2085)
Price as tested: $$44,155
The great: Quick, accurate steering, plenty agile
The good: Smooth, responsive transmission
The not so good: Small door openings complicate getting into and out of this car, cramped cabin
With its F Sport credentials on display, the Lexus IS 250 suggests that it is a premium-compact sedan with a clear sporting character. It is, but on the B-team, not the varsity.
The F Sport comes with a standard Drive Mode Select feature that lets drivers choose from one of 3 engine-management programs: “Eco,” “Normal,” or “Sport.” Dial up the last through the console-mounted dial and you’ll experience a change in behavior that you can see on the tachometer and sense at the seat of your pants. Thus entailed, the 2.5-liter V6 feels more aggressive and quicker to respond than in the other modes, but even then, with a maximum of 204 horsepower, it can only do so much. Eco comes off as a little bland, while Normal more closely approximates Sport—perhaps raising the question of just how necessary the top setting really is. The 6-speed automatic transmission delivers smooth shifts with timely kick-down for passing or merging (though shifts in Sport seemed to this driver to be delivered with a little more palpable snap). A stint of 109.3 miles, 51 percent of it in city conditions, returned 21.18 mpg.
Unlike the variable performance-mode system in the more muscular IS 350 F Sport, the 250’s Drive Mode Select doesn’t affect steering behavior. However, even this one-size-fits-all approach is fine in the 250, which is crisply responsive and nicely weighted at the wheel without being ponderous. The car is well pinned down in corners, but road bumps leave an impression through the sport-tuned suspension with low-profile staggered-width tires on 18-inch alloy wheels. Prominent low-hanging front bodywork means enemies lurk in the form of every concrete parking bumper scattered about the land.
Aside from wrestling with the question of just how sporty they ought to be, cars in the IS class have to tackle the problem of roominess. This Lexus can be a little tight when sliding behind the wheel. (Some may wish the power-adjustable steering wheel swung up a little higher than it does.) Head and leg room are acceptable—just not abundant—in front, but less so in back. This sub-6-foot driver had to do a fair amount of bending to enter the rear seat, and even then after a doink! in the noggin.
A huge driveline hump effectively makes the IS a 4-passenger car. The backs of the front seats are deeply carved out to give rear passengers as much knee room as possible—and they’ll welcome every inch. Decent toe room under front seats helps maximize this fairly minimal space.
Interior storage spaces seem to be scaled down to match the interior. There are small pockets in the front doors and a small covered space under the narrow console arm rest. Cup holders reside far back on the console because they have to make room up front for the Remote Touch Interface mouse controller. The glove box is just so-so. There are no pockets in the rear doors, so back-seaters have to rely on pouches on the backs of the front seats. Their cup holders pop out of pull-down center arm rest. On the other hand, trunk space is good for this size of car, and it’s easy to access to through the low, wide opening.
Sport seats in the test car were comfy and appropriately confining for a car with sporty airs. They were clad in perforated leather with a nice feel. The cabin was quiet and seemed well put together, with some contrasting metal highlights here and there to lend a bit of tonal variety. However, there was some plain black plastic on view in forward part of console. Control buttons for climate and audio settings were close at hand for those who want to avoid using the mouse whenever possible. F Sport gauges and info displays in front of the driver are projected on a “thin-film transistor” display that’s legible and well organized for easy recognition.
High-end manufacturers can pack a lot of luxury into their compacts—they just can’t pack in any more room, which can make prices for such cars seem out of whack. The all-wheel-drive IS 250 we drove started out at $38,485, which buys things like a power moonroof; heated front seats; folding rear seats; Bluetooth connectivity; and an audio system with HD radio, MP3 player, USB port, and satellite radio. It takes another $2675 to turn an IS 250 into an F Sport inside and out, and a further $2085 added a navigation system with a back-up camera and Enform infotainment among other goodies. With all that and delivery, the bottom line reached $44,155—and this isn’t even the IS 350 (with an F Sport of its own) or the high-performance IS-F, which promise thrills the 250 isn’t quite equipped to deliver.
I have two problems with this car, and one is more my fault than the car’s. First, I simply don’t fit in this car. I’m ok once inside, but squeezing through what is one of the industry’s smallest door openings is hell for me, and kind of a deal breaker. Secondly, I am saddened that in small-engine 2.5-liter trim, this sporty Sedan doesn’t go further on a gallon of gas. Our roughly 19-mpg performance is disappointing, given the drop in power from IS 350 versions of this car. That said, this car is a joy to drive.
Despite being shod in F Sport rubber and suspension trim, our test car rode with sophisticated firmness. The payoff for the $2675 package is some pretty quick steering and slick cornering moves. The IS’s cabin is a classy place from which to conduct the business of commuting, and the controls easy enough to work with.
If you’re not a big guy, and you’re not expecting a big fuel-economy payoff for going with the smaller IS engine, this compact Lexus will likely make you very happy, just don’t invite any large friends along for the ride.