2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD
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Review and photos by Paul Williams
Cover photo by Bill Petro, Toyota Canada.

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Longer, wider, taller: these three words seem to apply to just about all the vehicles introduced for 2006, and the fully re-styled and re-engineered 2006 Lexus IS 250 is no exception.

You’ll remember the Lexus IS line from 2001-2005 as the 3.0-litre, 215 horsepower, IS 300 sports sedan with the funky looks and “tuner” aspirations. Distinctively (for a Japanese car) it had an inline six-cylinder engine under the hood.

It was the un-Lexus.

This year, the IS concept has been refined with the introduction of the IS 250 and IS 350. The “tuner” styling has made way for something that would look at home on a German Autobahn, merging in the fast lane (or the middle at least) with that country’s indigenous road rockets.

The straight-six has gone as well, along with the distinctive instrument panel of the outgoing model.

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD
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Although the IS 250/350 comes standard with rear-wheel drive, our tester was a $50,200 (base $41,900) IS 250 with all-wheel drive (not available on the IS 350) and the Luxury Package. Surprisingly (given that everything else is bigger), its 2.5-litre V6 makes less horsepower (204 @ 6,400 rpm) than the engine it replaces. If you think you need more power, the 306 horsepower IS 350 takes a very big step upwards and is the subject of a separate Autos review.

As I say, there’s a modest 204-hp in the IS 250 V6, and 185 lb.ft torque, which gets high marks for smoothness to offset losses in sheer grunt you would notice from the bigger engine. While the rear-wheel drive IS 250 comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, the all-wheel drive version features a slick six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD
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That gearbox, by the way, features what Lexus calls “Super electronic transmission controls,” or Super ECT, which adjusts hydraulic pressure for optimally smooth shifting. The ECT computer also has a limited ability to adjust for transmission wear, and to learn and respond to a particular driver’s style.

Standard equipment in the base IS 250 AWD also includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with traction control and anti-lock brakes, ten airbags (front, side, side curtain and knee) and electronic brake force distribution. Climate control is automatic and dual-zone, steering is electric power assist with a tilt/telescoping steering column, and a premium six-disc in-dash CD with MP3/WMA player and 13 speakers provides entertainment. Being a sporty model, the IS 250 features front sport seats with power assist for the driver. Fabric upholstery and power windows, power auto door locks, heated mirrors, a multi-information display and fog lamps complete the list of “basics” for this model.

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD
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Lexus offers you a choice of four upgrade packages for your IS 250, including a $3,600 Premium Leather package, a $4,900 Premium Leather Package with Moonroof, our car’s $8,300 Luxury Package and an $11,800 Luxury Package with Navigation system.

I have to tell you, the black exterior with cashmere premium leather interior was absolutely striking in our tester, but if it’s just looks you’re after, you can get a black IS 250 without paying more for a package. However, the $8,300 added to our tester gets you just about everything Lexus has to offer, and really moves you into the Lexus sweet spot of luxury.

Without going through the full list, highlights of the Luxury Package include the premium leather interior; power rear window sunshade and power moonroof; 10-way power, heated and ventilated driver and passenger seats; adaptive bi-xenon lighting; power tilt and telescoping steering column; rain sensing windshield wipers and auto-dimming mirrors (including the side mirrors).

As far as exterior styling goes, it seems to me there is resemblance to the IS 250’s BMW 3 Series competition. The bevelled hood, the rear deck and lights, the overall stance of the IS 250 all recall that German model. Indeed, they are almost exactly the same size, give or take a few millimetres.

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD
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That being said, the Lexus seems a little fuller in the flanks (perhaps due to the lack of a swage line down the side like the BMW), but still cuts a dramatic profile. The 17″ wheels of the IS 250 AWD are well chosen, and the big, stylized “L” on the front leaves no doubt that this is a “Seiko” and not a “Sinn.”

Inside, the car really shines. The black/beige combination is a favourite of mine, and in the Lexus IS 250 AWD it’s beautifully executed. The interior of this car may set a new standard for fit, finish and feel. Front seat occupants will be very comfortable although rear legroom at 777 mm is not particularly generous. Likewise, the 378 litre trunk capacity is on the small side.

On the road, the IS 250 AWD is as sure-footed as you can get. I found its steering, braking and traction to be sharp and completely predictable. The push-button start on the dash is not just there to be different — it’s part of the power auto door lock system that enables you to unlock the door by touching the handle, and then start the car by pressing the button. The key can stay in your pocket for these operations, which is a great help if you’re carrying something while approaching your car. Even if you’re not, you don’t have search for your keys until finding them in the last pocket you check.

2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD
Click image to enlarge

The outside rear-view mirrors on the IS 250 AWD are huge, and afford great views of the road behind and beside you. The auto-climate control does a fine job of keeping the windows clear of condensation without having to continually re-set them.

As far as the power is concerned, I found acceleration and passing power to be very smooth and sufficient from the 204-hp V6. It’s an engine that, granted, doesn’t offer more horsepower than some four-cylinder competitors. But it’s a very refined engine, and will get you from 0-100 km/h in about 8.5 seconds. The six-speed automatic transmission gets the best out of the engine, and always seems to be in the right gear when you accelerate.

All in all, a fine effort from Lexus that may have some Canadians looking to Asia, rather than to Europe for their next luxury sports sedan. Competitors for the IS 250 AWD include the BMW 325xi, Audi A4 and Infiniti G35x.

Technical Data: 2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD

Base price $41,900
Options $8,300 (Luxury package)
Freight $1,675
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $51,975 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type Four-door, five-passenger sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
Engine 2.5-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 204 @ 6400 rpm
Torque 185 lb-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Transmission six-speed automatic
Tires P225/45R17 all-season
Curb weight 1,656 kg (3,651 lbs)
Wheelbase 2730-mm-(107.4-in.)
Length 4575-mm-(180.1-in.)
Width 1800-mm-(70.9-in.)
Height 1440-mm-(56.7-in.)
Trunk space 378-litres-(13-cu.-ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.6 L/100 km (24 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 7.6 L/100 km (37 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Premium
Warranty 4 years/80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 6 years/110,000
Assembly location Kurokawa-gun,-Japan

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