In the game of Monopoly you only get $10 for winning a beauty pageant, in real life you can cash in much more. Toyota is aware of this and demonstrates it most through its luxury Lexus brand. Now in its second generation and with a mid-cycle refresh for 2009, the IS250 still has the same raw visual appeal it did when NZ saw the first generation shape 10 years ago. Badged as the Altezza/IS200 back then, its Toyota reliability mixed with smooth modern styling attracted men like a siren’s song. But real beauty lays deeper than steel and glass, and even $10 beauty pageants take account of talent and congeniality. So is the face-lifted IS 250 the complete sports sedan package or will European competitors like the BMW 328i and Mercedes-Benz C-Class leave the Lexus wanting?
At first glance, looks are all that matters and the IS250 has more swimsuit sex appeal than evening wear elegance. A wide-track, coupe-like roofline and raked back windscreen give the Lexus a muscular stage presence. Bespoke light clusters front and back wrap into bold character lines adding to uncluttered clean-cut styling. The face-lift model has received some subtle styling tweaks including new side mirrors housing indicator repeaters, new front and rear bumpers and an updated grille. Optional 18″ wheels packed the flared guards on the tested model and finished off the 2009 update with a dash of bling. Exterior quality is excellent the IS250 feels as solid as it looks, panel join lines are tight and everything that opens closes with a comforting thud.
Slide inside the Lexus and what’s noticed initially is the driving position. The Coupe roofline and raked back windscreen has resulted in a reclined seating position for front seat occupants.The high shoulders and low seating position would make reversing a problem were it not for the optional camera which displays in the dash-mounted screen.
Once the memory seats are adjusted to suit, head and legroom is adequate but a little confined for driver and front passenger. However, in the rear seat space is restricted and while still capable of fitting three adults this is an area where the IS250 drops some points. The leather seats offer a grand level of luxury and firm lateral support. The IS250 cabin has an understated atmosphere that doesn’t feel consistent with the bold exterior design. Hard dark plastics blend in well with a marble-look centre console and chrome touches, but it looks somewhat dated. The instruments are nicely-illuminated and the touch-screen control unit functions well (the interface is tricky to learn), but the basic digital clock and the gear selection display both look like they were lifted from an older model. While the ergonomics and interior fit and finish are excellent, some short cuts were taken with the finer details. That said, cabin ambience and a long equipment list confirm the IS250 as a true luxury vehicle. Standard equipment includes adaptive HID headlights, front memory seats that can be heated and cooled, Smart Key Access, an electric rear sunshade and cruise control that is enabled with a radar pre-crash detection system. The tested model had a premium package upgrade that added Sat Nav, a reversing camera, Bluetooth phone capability and a booming Mark Levison Audio System. Overall, the cabin is comfortable for front occupants and well appointed, but suffers from looking a touch bland and dated.
At a beauty pageant sexy styling is expected, in the automotive world it’s like boasting and does the IS250 have the performance to back up its good looks? Well¦ almost. Packed under the bonnet is a 2.5L quad-cam direct injection V6 powerplant putting out 153kW of go-ahead and 252 Nm of torque. While the engine is refined, quiet and offers smooth linear acceleration it’s no fire-breathing monster. Buyers in this segment may not be looking for massive power but just a touch more would make a lot of difference. Ultimately, the IS250 is a solid performer but remains unable to cash the winner’s cheque its exterior styling has written.
When it’s talent section time the Lexus shines bright with an excellent blend of focused handling and direct steering. The 2009 model upgrade has seen updates to the suspension and steering with exceptional results, the IS250 grips hard on turn-in and the rear driving wheels create almost no oversteer even at a hasty pace. On windy roads quick changes of direction seldom unsettle the vehicles serene balance and body roll is near non-existent. Electronic steering is an area that many carmakers get wrong making it too vague, but on the IS250 the steering has strong feedback and enriches the driving experience. The handling is good enough to cancel out engine shortcomings and provide the driver with the confidence to corner quickly making the IS250 a sporty drive.
As expected in a luxury model ride quality is excellent with the updated suspension cancelling out any bumps or dips in the road. Wind and road noise are impressively minimal and engine noise is only present when the driver’s right-foot desires.
Safety features are good enough to impress the judges with Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) all standard. A Pre-Crash System (PCS) is optional which detects a potential accident, tightens the seatbelts, primes the brakes in anticipation and prepares the other safety systems for emergency stopping. Front, side, curtain and knee airbags are ready for driver and front passenger if things turn ugly.
When it’s tears and tiaras time, the IS250 may not take the $10 pageant title but can keep its chin up knowing that it has a fantastic body and handling so well balanced it would never slip on even the most towering of stilettos. Overall the IS250 is an impressive vehicle, high quality materials have been used all round and a top level of comfort and refinement is evident. The dashing exterior styling means the Lexus will always get free parking at Mayfair and once the interior is updated and if the motor is gifted more power the IS250 is a potential class-leader.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications
Price: from $86,990, tested model $96,490 with the Premium Package upgrade.
What we like:
- Exterior Styling
- Handling and ride quality
- Safety features
What we don’t like:
- Cabin space for rear passengers
- Underpowered motor
- Some of the interior is dated
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
Lexus IS250 Limited (2009) – Specifications
Engine type Petrol
Engine capacity (cc) 2500
Engine description 6cyl/DOHC/4v
Maximum Power 153kW @ 6400rpm
Maximum Torque 252Nm @ 4800rpm
Note: Power and Torque test standards differ. Ensure comparisons use same test standard.
- Variable valve timing Intake and Exhaust
Fuel system EFI
- Fuel type 95 or higher
Fuel economy ADR 81/01 Test standard
- Combined (L/100km) 9.1
Note: Fuel economy varies with driving conditions/style, vehicle condition, options and accessories.
Driven Wheels Rear
Transmission description Six speed automatic sequential shift, electronically controlled with lock-up torque converter
Steering type Rack and pinion
Steering operation Power assisted
Turning Circle at Kerb 10.2
Front Brakes Ventilated discs
Rear Brakes Discs
Anti-Skid Brakes (ABS)
- Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD)
- Brake Assist (BA)
Traction Control (TRC)
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
Vehicle Dynamic integrated Management (VDiM)
Front Suspension Independent, double wishbone type, upper A-arm, lower L-arm, coil springs, gas dampers and ball joint mounted anti-roll bar.
Rear Suspension Independent, multi-link type, with castor locating rod, coil springs, gas dampers and ball joint mounted anti-roll bar.
Tyres & Rims
Front Tyre size 225/40 R18
Rear Tyre size 255/40 R18
Front Rim size 18 x 8J
Rear Rim size 18 x 8.5J
Rim type Alloy
Space saver spare STD
Warranty / Service
Vehicle in years 4
Note: Warranties here are in addition to implied warranties under the trade practices act. Conditions apply. See warranty booklet for details.
Paint in years 4
Perforation in years 6