Best New Entry Luxury CarBack in 2000, Lexus took its first step into the entry-luxury segment with the IS 300, a Smart sedan that boasted 215 horsepower, rear-wheel-drive, and a $30,000 price tag. It was the first car to raise the eyebrows of the BMW 3 Series, though not enough to make the German sweat.
Fast forward to the introduction of the 2006 Lexus IS, and you’ll notice the 3 Series sporting more than a few beads of perspiration – the new Lexus is that good. The drastic style change, inside and out, is obvious and makes the baby Lexus look like a lesson in cohesive, aggressive design. Two models are offered, the 250 and the 350, with 204 and 306 horsepower, respectively. Available with either rear- or all-wheel drive, the Lexus IS 250 comes stocked with climate control, a six-disc CD changer, stability and traction control systems, and front side-impact, side-curtain, and front knee airbags for a starting price of about $30,000. Plus, the 250 achieves up to 32 mpg on the highway. The 2006 Lexus IS 350, available only as a rear-wheel-drive model, sells for $35,000. Adding a bit to the bottom line yields perforated leather seats, a 300-watt Mark Levinson audio system, a navigation system, wood trim, or a sport suspension that results in a capable sport sedan.
For ultimate fun, shoppers will want to consider the 2006 Lexus IS 350 with its bountiful 306-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6. That’s a good dose of power for the 3,500-lb. sedan, and with standard paddle shifters, thickly-bolstered seats, and grippy 18-inch optional performance tires, as well as that optional sport suspension, the IS 350 makes for a good weekend spent on curvy canyon roads. And for more routine drives along the freeway, the interior features intuitive ergonomics that are within easy reach and quality materials throughout. You know, like you’d expect from a luxury car.
In terms of comfort, refinement, and more than a pinch of thrill, nothing beats the 2006 Lexus IS, our pick for Best New Entry Luxury Car of 2006. – Thom Blackett