The 2006 Lexus IS is all-new, with new sheet metal and a new powertrain. Designed in the south of France, the build follows in the footsteps of the recently introduced GS, and is based on the LF-A design concept introduced earlier at the 2005 North American International Auto Show. The IS is built on a new platform, and Lexus officials claim that the new IS shares no parts with the outgoing model.
What it is
As the Lexus entry-luxury sedan, the IS is designed to attract the eyes of youth - those who are young and those who think they are. This is a car for people who can't afford a GS, or want a more sporty driving experience. As such, performance and style is at a premium, and the new 2006 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 should deliver both in spades. Along with its stunning new design - courtesy of the Lexus LF-A design language and concept supercar introduced at the 2005 North American International Auto Show - the IS will offer a driving experience centered on feel and fun. All told, the IS will be available in four trims: the IS 250 and IS 350 with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The difference between the IS 250 and the IS 350 is largely power, with a more robust engine - a V6 displacing 3.5-liters - offered in the IS 350.
Why it matters
Sure, Lexus fans may be a bit put off by the smaller, 2.5-liter V6 engine offered up in the IS 250. Lexus officials, however, claim that the smaller engine will be a better performer than the current 3.0-liter inline six, so we'll see. Those fans - and many more - are sure to love the new design of flowing lines, action and taut pressure in specific areas. With a 3.5-liter V6 engine in the IS 350, the new sedan should hold its own on the track, and technology such as a retuned stability control system - for greater feel and control - will add to its appeal. It is larger than the outgoing model - 3.5 inches longer and 3 inches wider - an increase that looks like it has significantly improved interior space. Watch out, BMW - here is a car that goes right to the heart of your core demographic. The difference between today's IS and the 2006 IS goes deeper than just the car - Lexus has added four models from which to choose, and has embellished the sedan with a variety of uptown features. Here is a car that offers American luxury sedan buyers a choice and other luxury competitors a real dilemma. Given Lexus' track record of making and breaking benchmarks, competitors' slide rules are surely out and in use.
When you can buy it
The new 2006 Lexus IS 250 and 350 will be available in the fall of 2005. Pricing has not been announced, but sales goals are ambitious - Lexus would like to sell 45,000 units or more annually, a 600-percent increase over the current IS. So expect competitive pricing, especially for the base IS 250.
How much it costs
Pricing for the Lexus IS has not been announced, but officials estimate that the price of the IS 250 rear-wheel-drive model will be very close to the existing model, with the IS 350 more as it is considered the IS "halo" trim. This is thanks to its powertrain upgrade and technology add-ins, such as a Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management System (VDIM). For that price, you get an IS that is larger all the way around, faster than the preceding model, and one that offers more technology, such as a radar-controlled Pre-Crash Safety system (PCS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Intelligent Adaptive Front Lighting System (I-AFS). There will be 10 airbags, including a double knee airbag. The IS 350 will also have a "sport tuned" version of the Lexus VDIM, which Lexus claims is the most complete and intuitive stability control technology available today.
How quick it is
Zero-to-60 acceleration in less than six seconds should make many an import luxury sedan buyer smile out loud. For those keeping score, that's a bit faster than the BMW 330i, and a lot faster than the preceding IS. According to Lexus, that's what you get with the 3.5-liter V6 that's tucked between the wheel wells of the IS 350. Horsepower ratings for the IS 350 are 300 at 6400 rpm, with the IS 250's 2.5-liter V6 producing 201 horsepower. Torque, according to Lexus, comes in at 184 lb. ft. at 3800 rpm for the IS 250, and 0-60 times are expected to be plus-seven seconds. That sounds like the making of a spunky little beast, to be sure - one helped by either a manual or automatic six-speed transmission choice. The automatic gets paddle shifters on the steering wheel, and comes standard on IS models equipped with all-wheel-drive.
What it looks like
Based on the LF-A supercar's edgy style, the IS is the second Lexus model to don the company's new direction in design. More of the same from Lexus is hopefully close behind, as the look retains its sporty, edgy appeal yet adds a swooping line and a dramatic beltline. This new Lexus is much more emotive than past generations. On the inside, the expanded room is handled simply, with clean lines and well-organized controls. Of course, the value of the interior will be spelled out after a thorough drive, but a look from the show floor indicates that Lexus, in typical fashion, has kept things as simple as possible. Interior highlights include Optitron gauges and either metallic or maple trim. All IS trims will get Lexus' Smart Access entry with push button start system. A telescoping steering wheel and a backup camera are also available.
What we think
Matching the stride of a fierce competitors such as the BMW 3-Series is among the toughest tasks in the automotive business, and the 2006 IS seems to measure up to the challenge. With its new, exciting, emotive design, more model choices, two new powertrains on an all-new platform, and a plethora of virtually transparent technology, the IS has tossed down the gauntlet to its import rivals. We'll see who, if anyone, picks it up with a ready answer to this intriguing new luxury sports sedan.
Wheelbase: 107.5 inches
Length: 180.1 inches
Width: 70.9 inches
Height: 56.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,450 lbs.
Transmission: Six-speed manual and six-speed auto
Fuel economy: High 20s, not officially rated
Emissions: ULEV-II, not officially rated
VDIM: Not available on IS 250, standard on IS 350
Heated seats: Optional on all models
Pre-collision system: Optional on all models
Radar cruise control: Optional on all models
MP3 capable: Standard on all models
Wheels: 17-inch and 18-inch
Photos courtesy of Erik Hanson