The IS sedan has always been the odd man out in the Lexus lineup. Too edgy for older buyers, yet not enticing enough to get most younger buyers to forget their BMW mind-think. So, the second generation IS is an all-out effort to correct all of the above.

With just enough edge and lure, the 2006 Lexus IS-Series is reinvented and ready for some serious sport sedan competition. And with BMW’s 3-gunner clearly in its sights, the IS also packs more punch than the model it replaces.

Indeed, under the hood go two new high-tech, all aluminum, twin-cam, 24-valve V6’s. The previous 3.0-liter I6 is out, replaced by a 2.5 liter starter for the IS 250 with 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, or the IS 350’s 3.5-liter pouring out a hardy 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque.

The base 250 is closest to the classic 3-Series formula with a standard 6-speed manual. Or opt for the 350’s 6-speed automatic with manual mode shift lever and paddle shifters. Though all-wheel drive is an option on the 250, our test 350 is proper sport-sedan rear-wheel drive only. Lexus claims the 350 will sprint from 0-to-60 in a not-too-shabby 5.6 seconds. The IS 250 takes a bit longer at 7.9 seconds.

The stiffer unitized chassis, like the suspension, was drawn from the larger GS. Though still somewhat softly sprung, the IS 350 is a very responsive handler. Turn ins are quick, the chassis well balanced, and the new electric assist steering told us it was eager through the corners. There was only moderate body roll, and the 350’s upgraded electronic stability control was careful not to spoil the fun.

The power of the 350 is, in a word, smooth. The 6-speed auto shifts quickly, and four-wheel discs with standard ABS also proved to be up to the task. Fuel economy is also worth noting. 20 city and 29 highway for the performance-geared IS 250 manual, and 21 city and 28 highway for the IS 350.

IS styling looks powerful as well. Its new Lexus family visage is wider, longer and more substantial. Wheels are stock 17’s, or 18’s with the performance package, while dual exhausts flank the wedge-shaped rear.

Inside, the IS is now pure Lexus. Shying away from the original boy-racer look, the new 350 is far more subtle with its sporty cues. Out are the chrono gauges and gimmicky trim that did draw a modest number of younger buyers to the brand. In are easy-to-read, Optitron gauges and very-Lexus soft touch surfaces that mix well with wood trim or a satin-faux metal on the sport package.

Up front, seating is well supported in standard cloth or optional leather with 10-way power adjustments. The center stack is user-friendly and houses the optional Nav system with backup camera, climate controls, and available 14-speaker Mark-Levinson audio system. New too is standard Smart Access keyless entry and push button engine start.

At the back, passengers are less cramped than before, but it’s still tight. There is an armrest and trunk pass-thru to reach the good 13.0 cubic feet of cargo space. 

Like its rivals, safety measures include lots of airbags, face protecting twin-chamber front, knee, front side impact and front and rear curtain. Lexus’ optional Pre-Collision system uses radar-guided cruise control to prepare for an imminent collision. 

So, if you’re ready to pass up that Beemer for an IS, be prepared to shell out about $30,000 for the IS 250, and about 35-grand to start for an IS 350, or within the range of both its European and Asian competitors.

Lexus has set a high goal for the IS-Series. Keep the prowess of a serious sport sedan without compromising the Lexus image. And we think they have achieved that goal, and they might even meet their sales target of 40,000 a year. The 2006 IS-Series is very well done, completely solid, and fun to drive fast. It’s a new world class sport sedan well worth a serious look.




  • Engine: 3.5-Liter All Aluminum, Twin Cam, 24-valve V6
  • Horsepower: 306
  • Torque: 277 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.6 Seconds
  • EPA: 21 City/28 Highway MPG