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Old 09-08-2005, 07:14 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle

The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle-34337003-.jpgAs an avid autocrosser, I was especially anxious to put the new Lexus IS250 and IS350 through its paces and feel how the new generation compared to their IS300 predecessor. First, though, we had the preliminary “meet and greet” with Brad Nelson and the rest of the Lexus crew. Since we had some decent sunlight, we took the opportunity to take some pictures of the cars. We opened the hood on the IS350, but, much to our dismay, the engine was all was covered by plastic shrouding. John (DasGalloway) removed some of the pins holding parts of the plastic panels to see if he could get a closer look. The Lexus representatives were kind enough to remove the main silver plastic cover to reveal the engine.

The intake runners are now plastic à la BMW. There are individual coils for each spark plug. The throttle body is now fully electric; there is no cable as the current version. There are two servos controlling the throttle body (I am assuming that one is the main and the other is there for backup). The engine bay is really tight. Supercharging or turbocharging will be a challenge, but not an impossibility. We asked why there was so much plastic hiding the engine. Aside from making the engine look tidy, we were told, it serves the purpose of directing airflow and minimizing drag and lift. The airbox is on the same side as the current IS, and it has a similar air scoop as well. Access, however, is difficult as it is covered by plastic panels.

Afterwards, we had a technical presentation led by Charles Hubbard of Lexus College. He went into quite of bit of detail regarding the new engines, suspension, lighting, safety features, wheels, colors, braking system and basically all that we needed to know about the vehicle. Even small details were covered, such as why the taillights have small flares on the sides (to help decrease wind noise and drag). The presentation was followed by a short yet informative Q&A session.

Once we were done, we got some general instructions on our drive (basically, DO NOT CRASH THE VEHICLES!) With that, we were turned loose with the cars, which consisted of five IS350s and five IS250s covering all 3 versions (all wheel drive, manual, and auto). In each, there were printed directions for five or six different loops around Tarrytown and the neighboring towns. Out of the box, we were warned about two of them, as rush hour traffic would have made it difficult to test the vehicle. The loops were all between 11-16 miles long with a combination of two lane roads, and highways. The two lane roads comprised of nice sweepers, sharp right angle turns, and decreasing radius turns. All the routes allowed you to test the vehicle’s handling capabilities, acceleration, and the ride quality. I wish we could have had more time to enjoy the area more, but we were running out of daylight rather quickly.

My plan was first to drive the IS250, then the IS350. At the time of choosing a vehicle, though, all the IS250s were taken, so I took an IS350 with the Performance Luxury Plus (sport) Package. This package stiffens the suspension a bit, lowers the suspension by ½” and includes 18 inch wheels and grippy Dunlop SportMaxx performance tires. Tony (Webmaster) rode along with me since he wanted to take some rolling shots, and the usable light was going away fairly quickly.

The car’s interior is very luxurious and very well built. Fit and finish is topnotch and has Lexus written all over. The front seats are very comfortable and offer plenty of support for spirited driving. I was able to adjust the seat rather quickly. The controls for the seat are very intuitive and are nothing like the BMW 5-Series I drove at last year’s Taste of Lexus, which took me a couple of minutes to adjust! The steering wheel has both height and reach adjustments, and in no time I was ready to drive. The thickness of the steering wheel felt just right, as well as the size. Though it was my first time inside the car, I quickly felt comfortable with the vehicle and all the controls.

Once we started driving, the feel of the car is all Lexus. There is hardly any engine noise at idle, and once under way the NVH are “LS”-like. The car is very smooth, silky shifting, and the steering effort is just right. As we drove around, we saw that the ride was very supple, not jarring at all like the current version, even when going over rough pavement, potholes, cracks on the pavement, and the like. The suspension just absorbed all the bumps. The feel of the controls again, is very luxurious, nothing like the current version. Yes, I know, some of you might be thinking Lexus took all the fun and sharpness out of the car. I was a bit worried myself, to tell you the truth, but that was until I pushed the gas pedal to the floor. Once I mashed the pedal for the first time, and was nailed against the seat of the car, I realized that this car meant business! The acceleration is fierce and tons of fun! From the seat of the pants, the 0-60 figures Lexus claims for the IS350 seem pretty accurate. I found myself downshifting for no reason and nailing the throttle just to feel the rush of acceleration, though, the car, in any gear will pull hard all thru the RPM range. Having driven the new 3 series and G35 recently, there is no comparison, hands down the IS will beat them in a straight line.

The way the loops were set up, we had to take some very short on-ramps onto highways/parkways. In one instance, we were basically stopped, and had to merge onto a parkway. As I merged onto the parkway, there was a car going about 50-60 miles per hour on the left lane. I merged, and hammered the throttle, to my surprise, the car on the left lane did not leave me behind, and in no time I had passed him. Pretty impressive! I did not have a chance to launch the car, but with the VDIM controlling the vehicle dynamics, I do not think there will be too much of a science to properly launch the car, just mash the throttle and go. The only way you can break the tires loose will be most likely to rev it in neutral and drop it into gear, and then again for just a bit, because once the VDIM realizes what is going on, it will bring the traction control into play. Heating up drag radials will be a challenge, unless someone comes up with a way to defeat the VDIM. For the casual drag racer, this will most likely not be a problem. As for the hardcore straight line racers, yes, the VDIM will be a challenge. But, then again, just like the first generation IS300, this car was not designed to be drag racer. In brief, the IS350 has plenty of power out of the box to bring smiles to all.

The car really shines when the road becomes twisty. Though I could not explore the handling limits of the vehicle (since we were on public streets and in the middle of rush hour traffic), I was able to put the car through its paces, I’d say at 6/10ths [Tony: That was 6/10ths?!?!]. Through the two-lane back roads, I was able to push the car to some extent. Having Tony by my side, almost as a rally co-pilot reading off the upcoming turns and their degree of sharpness, it allowed me to set up properly for the turns even thought neither of us had ever driven on these roads. This allowed me to push harder through the turns.

One would think that having such a supple ride, the car would not behave well. On the contrary, the new IS is a very capable handling vehicle. The first thing I noticed is the high level of grip the car has. I was able to push very hard through low and medium speed turns, in some instances, pulling some very uncomfortably high G’s. A couple of times Tony and I started grunting from the high G’s we were pulling! Body roll was remarkably minimal. The new IS definitely has less body roll than the current generation IS300 yet at the same time providing a better ride. Keeping the body roll in check gives the driver a high sense of security and inspires confidence to push the car further. The car’s behavior is very neutral, with no tendencies toward understeer or oversteer. Much of this has to do with the multi-link suspension in the rear. There is a new link to control the toe of the rear tires. A couple of times I nailed the throttle out of a turn and was waiting for the tail to step out and for me to use a bit of countersteer, but that never happened, the car just stayed true to its intended course. Also, I was waiting to feel the VDIM kick in intrusively, but that never happened, either. If the VDIM kicked in, I did not feel it whatsoever. Overall the car felt very nimble, surely planted, yet light on its feet. The steering feel, for my taste, is a bit numb and lacking. I did not feel the steering communicating enough of what is going on up front. The current IS300’s steering is better in this regard. Tony, on the other hand, said it felt just right. By no means did I feel uncomfortable, or isolated, but I just wished for a bit more communication.

I opted to use the paddle shifters for most of the test. The paddles are very easy to operate and intuitive to use. They are just the right size and their user-friendly placement and perfect length make clicking off fast shifts a cinch. The shifts are very smooth, not abrupt like the current IS300’s E-shift. A downside, though, is that upshifts lag a bit. I was very annoyed at first by it, as I kept bouncing off the rev-limiter! They do not lag as much as a regular shift in an auto transmission, but they are not as crisp and lightning fast as in the current IS model. Once I adjusted to actually shifting about 400 rpm before the redline, I found that this translated into smooth redline shifts. Downshifting, again, was very smooth, not jerky whatsoever, and the lag was not as perceivable. Oh, and yes, it will shift to first gear, and hold it! Yes!

I did try the full-auto mode a couple of times. In this mode, the car behaves just like any other Lexus. The shifts are very smooth and barely noticeable. The car’s behavior changes dramatically, though. I tried a couple of times to drive it in a spirited manner in full-auto mode, but I was not very smooth as the transmission would upshift as soon as I would ease off the gas and, once I would nail the throttle, it would have to downshift once again. In summary, if you’re going out on a date, use the auto mode, but if you’re going auto-xing, drag racing, or any sort of spirited driving, use the paddles.

I also drove the IS250 with the manual six-speed transmission. Handling-wise, the car behaved pretty much like its bigger-engined sibling. For some reason, the car did not feel as sure-footed as the IS350. I cannot put my finger on it as to why; it may be a byproduct of its inferior power-to-weight ratio, or the lack of VDIM or the pseudo- limited-slip differential offered on the IS350. At first, I thought it was because the car did not have the Dunlop summer tires, but I later remembered that all sport package-equipped IS250s and 350s use these tires. Maybe the tire pressure was different. I just did not feel as comfortable pushing it to the limit. Maybe it was just my head playing tricks on me. Even so, I found some nice right-angle turns to push the car, and explore the handling capabilities of the car. The car is pretty balanced, and offered plenty of grip. The chassis felt very solid, with no flex whatsoever, similar to the IS350. On the IS250, you have the option of turning the TRAC off, which I did, of course. With the traction control off, I was able to induce some nice, very controlled oversteer slides. With the throttle I was able to modulate the degree of the slide, and it was certainly tons of fun.

As far as power, well…it leaves a lot to be desired. It would have not been as noticeable if I had driven the IS250 first, but, after driving the IS350 with gobs of power, and torque, the IS250 feels inadequate by comparison. Compared to the current IS300, the difference is not huge, although, by the seat of the pants, it certainly feels a bit slower. This may be aggravated by the lack of torque. Compared to the current vehicle, which at any speed just seems to take off, the new IS250 Manual just felt sluggish at higher speeds. On the other hand, the transmission was a nice surprise. The shifts were solid and crisp, an improvement over the current offering. Also, the throws felt shorter than in the current IS300, though I still wish for even shorter throws. A nice touch is that hardly any vibration is transmitted via the shifter. Reverse is on top, besides first gear. You pull a ring around the shifter in order to engage it. The clutch is nicely weighed, maybe a bit on the light side. It is very easy to engage and modulate.

Now, having driven both models, and recently driven the new 3-series, the question begs to be asked, which is a better car? Well, it depends. The new IS, is a grown up version of the current version. It offers a superior level of refinement, luxury and sporty feel. Fit and finish are unparalleled, almost jewel-like. Performance wise, the IS350 offers more than enough performance out of the box for the average enthusiast. The IS250, aside from straight line performance, it is very similar. The new IS does not make any excuses for what it is, or for its character. It is not a 3-series by any means, nor intends to be one. It has its own personality, like it or not. For the hardcore enthusiasts, the BMW offers more communication, almost like the car is an extension of you, and if that is all you are looking for, it may be a better choice. But if you are looking for a complete package with the utmost in quality and reliability thrown in, the IS250/350 is a better alternative.

©2006 my.IS
Photographs by Tony Schreiber
Attached Thumbnails
The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle-34336213-.jpg   The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle-34336269-.jpg   The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle-34336486-.jpg   The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle-34336825-.jpg  

The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle-34337003-.jpg   The New IS: A Ride, Drive and Handle-34337394-.jpg  
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Want to know what I think about the New IS 350/250....read about it.
http://my.is/forums/f43/new-ride-drive-handle-265815/

Last edited by jruhi4; 08-09-2009 at 02:26 PM. Reason: Fixed paragraph breaks
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Old 09-08-2005, 07:30 PM   #2 (permalink)
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very nice, i'm looking forward to driving the 350 in the near future.
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Old 09-09-2005, 09:42 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Another review that makes me even madder that I missed out !

Everything I expected out of the car, from a true racing enthusiast... the grip and lateral G's were something I had questions about, but those have been answered .....

Care to explain a bit more about "Lexus College" ??

Maybe we should pick a few people from here to go tour the facility? Brad N. should be able to help us on that one, with Tony and Joaquin's intervention

Back to College time

Waiting to go drive the new IS in DC in 3 weeks!

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Old 09-09-2005, 09:43 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Excellent article, Rudy! VERY thorough and informative. As always, Tony's pics are topnotch. The engine shot is especially revealing (pun intended).
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Old 09-09-2005, 10:35 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Lexus College.....This is where Lexus brings all the staff from dealers to learn about their new vehicles. Charles basically gave us the same presentation and materials that would be given out to Lexus Salespersons and Managers.
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Previous - 2002 IS300 Solar Yellow
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Want to know what I think about the New IS 350/250....read about it.
http://my.is/forums/showthread.php?t=265815
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Old 09-09-2005, 10:44 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Tony,
That was 6/10ths!!!! well for the most part...lol. Ok, some of the turns were a bit more....
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Want to know what I think about the New IS 350/250....read about it.
http://my.is/forums/showthread.php?t=265815
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Old 09-09-2005, 10:57 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Burning out by neutral dropping in an automatic? uh.

The second throttle servo is likely for cruise control or the traction system.
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Old 09-09-2005, 12:08 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Do we know where the oil filter is located or how easy it would be to do our own maintenance?
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:17 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Superb! Very balanced review. Can't wait to see what aftermarket products there will be when TRD and HKS etc. get their hands on these. I'm sure they'll pioneer ways to fit things into the engine bay with relative ease and reliability...
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:17 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Well said! Especially on the VDIM...people don't seem to understand it in real world situations.
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Old 09-14-2005, 07:41 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Jay,
I did not look for the oil filter, per se. We did look extensively thru the engine bay, and I do not recall seeing it. As such, it may be placed for bottom access only.
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2006 IS350 Blue Onyx|Black Interior|Navigation|18" wheels|6000K HID|Joe Z Intake|HKS Drop In Filter|Tanabe Cat Back|OEM Rear Spoiler|PIAA Superrozzas
Previous - 2002 IS300 Solar Yellow
'04 & '05 SEFL SCCA Solo II -D Stock Champion

Want to know what I think about the New IS 350/250....read about it.
http://my.is/forums/showthread.php?t=265815
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