Lexus IS saloon (2005 – 2012) expert review

By Stuart Milne, 24th October 2006

The verdict

The Lexus IS is a competent, comfortable compact executive saloon with superb safety kit and first-class reliability. It's also a pleasant alternative to the more established German offerings.

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Expert rating:

4.0

Pros

  • Impressive reliability
  • Long-distance comfort
  • Five-star Euro NCAP rating

Cons

  • Lacks kudos of rivals
  • Cramped rear
  • Small luggage capacity

Full Review

1. Exterior

Some buyers of small executive cars want immediate presence in the company car park, but the Lexus IS is far more restrained than that. It’s a far cry from the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-Class and maybe a little too Japanese, but offers a pleasant diversion from the norm. The front end is framed by two angular headlights from which a number of styling lines emerge, tying together the front, back and sides of the car. The original IS had the most radical rear lights for a long time, kicking off countless copycats. The new model’s rear elevation just looks bulky.
Our rating: 4

2. Interior

The interior looks more like a posh Toyota than an executive car with a premium badge, but it still manages to raise itself above the Bauhaus-look Audi cabins which are still in vogue. The illuminated dials are remarkably easy to read, with simple clear, white markings and a useful multi-function display between them. Compared to this, the dated green LCD digital clock and radio displays are disappointing. There’s plenty of space for the driver and front seat passenger, although the rear legroom isn’t among the best in the class.
Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

Saloon cars can be frustrating – the small bootlids limit the size of luggage which can be carried, and the Lexus IS is no exception. At 378 litres, the boot isn’t huge and is compromised further by the rear wheelarches encroaching far too much. A hidden storage area can be accessed by flipping up a cover, and this can be handy for storing rarely used tools. Space in the front of the car is excellent, with plenty of room for the tall, wide or broad of shoulder, but the restricted legroom in the back means rear-seat passengers will soon be complaining of aching legs.
Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

The wheels on the new Lexus IS saloon sit further apart than on the previous model, making the car feel wider, and improving stability. This means it can turn into corners harder because it has less inclination to roll from side to side. It’s not as much fun as a BMW 3-Series, but it is exceptionally comfortable and quiet.
Our rating: 4

5. Performance

The IS250 is a brisk, if not quick, machine. It can reach 62mph from standstill in 8.5 seconds, and will go on to a top speed of 140mph. It’s certainly no rival for fast BMWs or Audis; the range-topping hot IS-F version fills that role. What the cooking models offer is decent refinement, especially with the automatic gearbox. The engine emits little more than a whisper when cruising, and only a muted roar under heavy acceleration, although the amount of road noise is rather more disappointing.
Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

With the IS powered only by petrol engines, fuel economy could be an issue: on a mainly urban commute, the IS struggles to return 20mpg, while you’re unlikely to ever see more than 30mpg. Insurance costs are about average, but the car’s 213g/km carbon dioxide emissions place it in high bands for both road tax and company car tax.
Our rating: 3

7. Reliability

Lexus, like its parent company Toyota, has a legendary reputation for reliability. Doors shut with a reassuring clunk, and the quality feel of the interior underpins Toyota/Lexus’ success in the Reliability Index.
Our rating: 5

8. Safety

The Lexus IS250 received five stars for occupant protection in the Euro NCAP crash tests. The safety body praised its knee airbags for protecting passenger’s legs and gave it top marks for side impact tests. This was complemented by a four-star rating for child occupant protection and an average two stars for pedestrian protection. The SE-L we drove came with a huge amount of safety kit, including front, side and knee airbags for both front seat passengers, while all occupants benefit from curtain airbags.
Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

There are plenty of toys throughout the IS range. Our SE-L featured everything bar the racy accoutrements which the top F-Sport model boasts. Naturally it has electrically adjustable leather seats, fancy 17in alloy wheels, climate control, a 13-speaker audio system with a six CD changer and door mirrors which fold when the car is locked using the remote central locking system. Chrome sill plates which feature Lexus logos and glow blue and a start button both fall on the right side of tacky, thankfully.
Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

The Lexus IS is the first Japanese car to truly rival Germany’s best compact executive saloons. Incredible refinement coupled with an excellent reputation for reliability makes it a great choice for drivers covering lots of miles. What it lacks in badge kudos, it more than makes up in class.
Our rating: 4

Expert review 4.0stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance4
  • Running costs3
  • Reliability5
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:
IS250 2.5 SE
The budget SE model is well-equipped.
Best-seller:
IS250 2.5 SE-L
Most popular model adds uprated audio and leather trim.
Blow the budget:
IS-F
High-performance IS is  worthy rival to the BMW M3.

The Lexus IS is the first Japanese car to truly rival Germany’s best.