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2015 Lexus IS 250 REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/4/2017

Con: Lackluster power and fuel economy; not as athletic as it looks; F Sport's stiff suspension; finicky Remote Touch electronics interface.

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Interior: The 2015 Lexus IS 250 has as nice an interior as you'll find in this segment, and it's identical to that of the IS 350, so you're not penalized for choosing the entry-level model. Supple leather and handsome wood and metallic accents are used liberally, and the quality of the plastics is hard to fault. As expected in a Lexus, everything seems to be screwed together exceptionally well, too. Notably, the F Sport's unique TFT-enhanced gauge cluster features a physical gauge with a motorized sliding function; it's a nifty parlor trick, even if it isn't particularly useful.

Basic controls throughout the cabin are intuitive and easy to use. However, the mouselike Remote Touch controller for the navigation system is an intriguing idea that needs more refinement. The controller and on-screen cursor are immediately familiar from computer use, but placing the cursor is difficult, and if you've incorrectly clicked, there's no convenient hard "back" button. Moreover, because all of the icons are the same dull colors, differentiating among them without taking your eyes off the road is needlessly challenging.

The IS 250's nicely shaped front seats provide exemplary comfort, though even the F Sport's extended bolsters could be more supportive during spirited maneuvers. As for the backseat, it's been completely transformed for this generation. Boasting ample legroom and surprisingly adequate headroom, it's now on par with the best in this sometimes cramped segment. The trunk can hold a maximum of 13.8 cubic feet of luggage, which is slightly above average, and the rear seatbacks fold down for additional load flexibility.

Body: The 2015 Lexus IS 250 is a compact luxury sedan offered in two trim levels: base and Crafted Line. The IS 350 is reviewed separately.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, LED running lights/foglights/taillights, heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, eight-way power front seats with driver power lumbar (and seat heaters in the all-wheel-drive IS 250), leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, a 8-inch color display with a console-mounted control dial, voice-command functionality and an eight-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a CD player, HD radio, iTunes tagging, satellite radio and dual iPod/USB inputs. The IS 250 also comes with Siri Eyes Free mode (compatible with select iPhones), which basically turns the car into a rolling iPhone. You can access iTunes, hear and compose text messages and e-mails, arrange your calendar and more, all facilitated by Apple's chatty digital assistant using the audio system's speakers and Bluetooth microphone.

Also standard is a new smartphone app, Lexus Enform Remote, which includes features like remote engine start, door and window status check (with remote operation capability), fuel level check and a vehicle locator in case you lose track of where you parked. Furthermore, if you loan your IS 250 to someone, Enform Remote can alert you when preset parameters like speed or distance are exceeded.

Many desirable IS 250 options are grouped into packages. The Premium package includes LED headlights and heated and ventilated front seats. The Navigation package replaces the standard infotainment control dial with Lexus' Remote Touch mouse-type controller and adds a navigation system, a rearview camera (with new dynamic grid lines for 2015), enhanced Bluetooth (with automatic phonebook download capability) and the smartphone-based Enform App Suite (integrating Bing, Yelp, Pandora and other handy Internet services). A 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system can be added to navigation-equipped IS 250s.

The Luxury package includes the Premium package and the rearview camera, and adds auto-dimming exterior mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery with contrast stitching, wood trim, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel (with heating on AWD models), driver memory functions, a rearview camera (with new dynamic grid lines for 2015), a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and a power rear sunshade.

The F Sport package features a full-mesh treatment for the grille, a revised front bumper (which loses the foglights), staggered-width 18-inch wheels (with either summer or all-season tires), a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brake pads, stainless steel door-sill inserts, heated and ventilated front sport seats with enhanced bolstering, aluminum pedals, a black headliner, perforated leather trim, a heated steering wheel (AWD only) and a special sport-oriented TFT gauge cluster.

Building on the F Sport's equipment, the Crafted Line is a limited-edition IS 250 that adds unique paint, a two-tone red and black interior, a two-piece set of Tumi luggage, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts and a navigation system.

Other stand-alone options for the base IS include a few of the above items as well as same-width 18-inch wheels (with either summer or all-season tires), adaptive cruise control (bundled with a collision preparation system), a lane-departure warning system with automatic headlights and front and rear parking sensors.

Driving: The 2015 Lexus IS 250 leaves little to be desired in terms of ride comfort unless you're talking about the F Sport. With that package's sport-tuned suspension, the IS rides harshly on rough pavement, and the rear end has a tendency to bounce around. Otherwise, the IS 250 is an eminently pleasant daily driver, and its stretched wheelbase relative to earlier IS generations gives it a more substantial feel on the highway. In keeping with Lexus' reputation, wind noise is minimal, though road noise can intrude if the summer tires are specified.

On curvy roads, the IS 250's steering is unexpectedly communicative and precise. In contrast to previous years, the IS feels more alive through its steering wheel than a BMW 3 Series. Great handling is about more than just steering, however, and the IS 250 ultimately lacks the grip and playfulness to compete at this segment's highest levels. That's particularly disappointing in the stiffly sprung F Sport model, where performance is supposedly a top priority. To be fair, the IS 250 feels suitably sporty unless you're really pushing it.

What’s New: The 2015 Lexus IS 250 is newly compatible with an Enform Remote mobile app that offers numerous handy features, including remote start, location finder and vehicle status check. A limited-edition trim level called Crafted Line with specialized paint and interior touches has been added to the lineup, and a heated steering wheel is now available on all AWD models.

The 2015 Lexus IS 250 is powered by a 2.5-liter V6 that produces 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission, and buyers can choose between rear- and all-wheel-drive variants. In Edmunds testing, a rear-wheel-drive IS 250 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, a tepid time for this segment.

EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 24 mpg combined (21 city/30 highway) with rear-wheel drive and 23 mpg combined (20/27) with all-wheel drive. On our diverse 120-mile evaluation route, the same rear-wheel-drive IS 250 test car returned 23 mpg. Rivals with turbocharged four-cylinders dust the IS 250 in both acceleration and fuel-efficiency, and even the explosive six-cylinder BMW 335i is a bit more frugal at the pump.

Safety: Standard safety equipment on the 2015 IS 250 includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags and rear-seat side airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, an IS 250 F Sport with 18-inch wheels and summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 118 feet, a lackluster showing compared to similarly equipped rivals.

Lexus Enform Safety Connect is also standard and incorporates automatic collision notification, a stolen-vehicle locator, an emergency assist button and roadside assistance. Optional safety upgrades include a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a lane-departure warning system with automatic headlights. The optional adaptive cruise control brings a collision preparation system that uses radar to monitor traffic conditions ahead; if a collision is deemed imminent, it automatically tightens the front seatbelts and increases initial braking power, though automatic panic braking is not included.

In government crash testing, the 2015 Lexus IS 250 received five out of five stars overall, with four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for side-impact protection. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the IS 250 its highest rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset and side-impact tests.

Pro: Upscale interior design with premium materials; excellent steering; smooth ride (except F Sport); edgy styling.

Edmunds Say: The 2015 Lexus IS 250 offers daring styling, excellent build quality and benchmark steering feel, but it trails most rivals in performance and fuel efficiency.

Introduction: Following last year's thorough redesign, the 2015 Lexus IS 250 essentially stands pat. We've applauded the current IS's much-improved interior with newfound rear legroom, and its head-turning style doesn't hurt, either. On the other hand, the IS 250 must make do with a relatively soft and inefficient V6 engine under the hood. Although it shares many strengths with its more powerful IS 350 sibling, this weakness clearly holds the IS 250 back.

That's not to say the IS 250 can't compete. If you're not fixated on acceleration or fuel economy, you'll find much to like about this compact luxury sedan. Standard features are generous, including xenon headlights, a sunroof and dual-zone automatic climate control. The upscale cabin design stands out, too, giving the Germans all they can handle in terms of both aesthetics and build quality. Out on the road, meanwhile, we've declared the car's steering to be class-leading for its natural feel and remarkable precision.

This is an extremely competitive segment, however, so the IS 250's aging 2.5-liter V6 sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. Despite putting out around 100 fewer horses than the IS 350's more modern 3.5-liter V6, the little 2.5 is barely better on gas -- and that's according to the official EPA ratings. In our real-world testing, the IS 250 actually trailed the IS 350 by a significant 3.1 mpg. Why? Partly because the smaller engine has to work a lot harder, and partly because it's paired with an old-school six-speed automatic transmission instead of the IS 350's fresh eight-speed unit.

If you're looking for alternatives, a perennial favorite in this class is the 2015 BMW 3 Series sedan, which offers a pair of potent and highly efficient four-cylinder engines. The other usual suspects include the 2015 Audi A4 and the completely redesigned 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, both of which enjoy performance and efficiency advantages of their own. For Lexus loyalists, the pricier IS 350 merits serious consideration due to its superior engine and transmission. The Edmunds "B"-rated IS 250 is a perfectly fine car in isolation, but given the fast company it keeps, it may leave you wanting more.

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