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Lexus IS 250 F-Sport Automatic

Click to view picture gallery“While some will find it bland and
  lacking in image and ‘boy/girl racers’
  will go for street-cred BMWs and
  Audis, the Lexus IS 250 F-Sport is
  classy, beautifully made and refined
  in all areas — a hidden gem

CONSIDERING A PREMIUM BRAND, sporty four- door saloon? The most logical choice might be the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and perhaps the Jaguar XF or even the award-winning Volvo S60.

But there is another option for buyers wanting something different that doesn't suggest they are driving a volume-selling company car. The Lexus IS range of four-door, five-seater saloons and the two-door, four-seater IS convertible are all perfectly good alternatives.

Likely to appeal more to retail customers and business user-choosers, the IS models might be Lexus's top-selling sports models, especially the saloon, but they are relatively rare on UK roads. All are beautifully if conservatively styled, the quality is superb, the standard equipment levels are very high and the exclusivity is appealing.

The IS sports saloon was first introduced in 1999 and the second generation came along in November 2005. Now, the latest 2011 changes have reached the UK market. Joining the line-up is the IS 200d (2.2-litre four-cylinder) 148bhp diesel version. The 2.5-litre, 205bhp, V6 petrol IS 250 models have the latest Euro 5 emission engine and a six-speed automatic transmission as standard. Also joining the IS saloon range as well are the F-Sport specification models, offering the choice of both engine options. Depending on which engine is chosen, specification levels are SE, SE-I and SE-L.

The IS models might be
Lexus’s top-selling
sports models,
especially the saloon,
but they are relatively
rare on UK roads
In addition, if you fancy more muscle, the IS saloon is available with a 5.0-litre, 417bhp V8 petrol engine. All IS convertibles, incidentally, use the 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine.

Prices for the mainstay IS 250 saloons range from 25,620 to 30,485 — the V8 costs 56,540. Diesel IS 200d versions are priced between 24,350 and 29,975. IS 250 convertibles range from 35,630 to 44,520.

My test model was the 29,700 IS 250 F-Sport automatic which, for retail and business user-chooser customers, is the pick of the bunch. High-mileage fleet and company car drivers will, quite likely, find themselves behind the wheel of the diesel.

The IS is marked out by the design language that has shaped the appearance of the current generation of Lexus models: sweeping coachwork lines of contrasting convex and concave surfaces flow into a signature arrowhead shape. Although a four-door saloon, the IS has that increasingly popular 'coupe side silhouette' and coupled with its wide and low stance it looks every bit a sporting saloon.

In addition, the F-Sport model has a lowered suspension for enhanced handling and reduced air-drag. High speed stability and low wind noise levels are aided by the deep front spoiler and side skirts, while beneath the vehicle front and rear tyre fairings and covers to the cabin floor, transmission, fuel tank and rear suspension create the smoothest and flattest surface possible.

The engine undercover is designed to create a venturi effect, which generates downforce for a zero lift coefficient at high speeds. A rear floor diffuser with twin vertical fins is also fitted, like a racing car undertray, to reduce the rear lift coefficient and bolster high speed handling stability.

The IS is relatively compact in length (4,585mm) but it is 175mm longer and 75mm wider than its predecessor. The track widths are increased by 40 and 50mm front and rear respectively. For driver and passengers, this translates into greater front and rear leg and shoulder room, and improves the handling qualities.

A compact saloon
the IS might be but it is
a very good example
of what Lexus
does best — quality
and refinement
Lexus has focused on delivering class-leading low noise intrusion with the use of the world's first sound-absorbing sun visors, acoustic glass in the front screen and exceptionally close panel fit.

Under the skin, detailed work has taken place to refine the engine and transmission installation and improve the suspension location bushes to further minimise road noise intrusion and limit any running gear vibrations. A compact saloon the IS might be, but it has the composure and silky smooth, low noise ride of a much larger executive car. It is a very good example of what Lexus does best quality and refinement.

Inside it is the same story. Build quality and perceived quality are of the highest order throughout, with attention to detail witnessed by the careful matching of wood trim sections, 'invisible' seam stitching on leather upholstery and improved fit and finish that reduce gaps to new low levels and eradicates some altogether.

As standard the IS is fitted with eight airbags, 6-CD autochanger with eight speakers (upgraded to 13 speakers for the F-Sport), keyless entry and push-button start, climate control A/C, electrically-operated windows and mirrors, alloy wheels and front and rear armrests. As you move up the range then the equipment becomes even more comprehensive and includes larger wheels, parking sensors, Bluetooth, heated front seats, leather upholstery, rain sensing wipers and cruise control.

The F-Sport version features an exclusive mesh front grille, rear bootlid spoiler, scuff plates, unique 18-inch wheels, aluminium pedals, sports seats finished in Alcantara with leather bolsters, titanium-effect interior trim details and a leather-trimmed sport steering wheel. In addition, this model is also equipped with HID headlights with LED daytime running lights. The interior is superb and the quality of the sound system is amazing especially when you consider this car costs a shade under 30k; it sounds a lot of money but in this class it isn't.

Also of worthwhile note is the power unit which is a 2.5-litre, V6 petrol with VVT-i variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder. It develops 205bhp at 6,400rpm and 186lb ft of torque at 4,800rpm and delivers zero to 62mph in 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 141mph.

“A real joy to drive —
not as cut-and-thrust
as a similar
BMW or Audi, but just
plain nice
The 2011 model year changes to meet Euro 5 emissions standards have resulted in lower CO2 figures and improved fuel economy but with no reduction in performance. Combined cycle emissions fall from 209 to 194g/km, while the official average fuel consumption has improved from 31.7 to 33.6mpg.

In financial terms this now means a First Year rate road tax cost of 425 which drops to 235 for the second year onwards and a BIK company car tax of 31%. The insurance group rating is 29E.

In real life my test car returned 31.9mpg overall but on a motorway journey at the legal limit it impressed with 36.4mpg. Mated to the standard fit, silky smooth six-speed auto gearbox this six cylinder petrol unit is a real joy to drive not as cut-and-thrust as a similar BMW or Audi, but just plain nice. And it is not slow.

While it lacks the agility and sharp handling of a BMW 3 Series, this Lexus does have many advantages. For quality, refinement and a considerable amount of exclusivity, it is a desirable car. True, some will find it bland and lacking in image and 'boy or girl racers' will go for street-cred BMW/Audi models, but that is their loss. Classy, beautifully made, refined in all areas, the IS 250 F-Sport is a hidden gem. David Miles

Lexus IS 250 F-Sport Automatic
| 29,700
Maximum speed: 141mph | 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 31.9mpg
Power: 205bhp | Torque: 186lb ft | CO2 194g/km