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Before signing the papers I was given a run down of how to lock, unlock, start and stop the car – who would have thought it would be so hard!
We head inside to get the papers signed and I receive a challenge from the fleet manager. He tells me that he would be surprised if I returned the car with any more than 10L/100KM fuel average. I happily took that challenge to heart, grabbed the keys and headed out to jump into the Graphite coloured Lexus IS250 Sports. The exterior hadn’t been cleaned and was dirty – just the way cars should be. Just looking at the car made me salivate; the sleek lines and gorgeous styling can’t be disputed.
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When you pop the door open you are greeted with an interior that was built to entice the driver in you. The steering wheel is of perfect dimensions and the Midnight Alcantra Seats hug you in ever so tightly.
As always, I never listen to instructions. So starting the car was a challenge in itself. You see, the Lexus doesn’t have a ‘key’ as such. It has a fob and this fob will make the car work as long as it’s somewhere inside the vehicle. Once the fob has been detected a tap on the starter button brings the dashboard to life. The LCD touch-screen fires up with a huge Lexus symbol, lovingly reminding you that you are driving something that is a class above the rest. Hit the start button again and the speedometer and tachometer do a lap to their respective maxima and come back to rest at their minimum values – it’s gimmicky and pointless but I liked it none the less.
One last brief stab of the starter button brings the 2.5ltr V6 engine to life. At low revs it doesn’t inspire you all that much, give the go pedal a stab and the twin exhausts emit a noise that is probably illegal in most states of the U.S.A. It makes a noise that your average Aussie-6 could only ever dream to reproduce. The V6 engine produces 153kW at 6400RPM and 252Nm of torque at 4800RPM. The power is nothing to write home about but the way it delivers it is breathtaking. The IS250 exerts the power in smooth and luscious dollops, simply begging to be revved.
Trying to get out of the parking spot turned out to be a hit and miss type affair. All Journo’s seem to prefer the automatic version of the IS250 over the manual. The 6-speed manual gearbox feels very tight and changes are quick and precise but the clutch dynamics leave a lot to be desired. The friction point is too high and it’s just a pain in the bee-hind to live with. It takes at least a few hours of driving to get in touch with the clutch, from there on it’s relatively smooth sailing.
I have no doubt that all of the IS250s in the parking lot were parked facing forward so the first thing drivers would see is the reverse camera. At first I slotted the gear lever into reverse and tried to look out the back window – I thought to myself, good luck with that – as the back window is about the size of a porthole and trying to see anything out of it is an impossible task in itself. But, not all hope was lost. Within moments of grabbing reverse the LCD screen lights up with an image of everything behind the vehicle. It also contains lines that are used as guides with respect to steering input. At first I was quite apprehensive using the reversing camera but – as ashamed as I am to admit it – it’s a fantastic driver aid and made things such as running over children and bins more avoidable.
If you’re not particularly good at parallel parking the IS250 also has that base covered. Hit the parallel parking assistance button and you are greeted with a seemingly complex matrix of grids and lines. After some practice, the ingenious system actually worked very well. It measures the distance between cars and also takes into account the amount of steering input, constantly varying the suggested path that should be taken to get your IS250 into that seemingly impossible parallel park on Chapel Street. After a while, when you become accustom to using the reverse camera, parking sensors and good ol’ fashioned looking around, you get a chance to master the system and use it to its full advantage.
One thing that I carry with me in all the vehicles I drive is a set of Melways. I would be lost without the aid of a street directory. The IS250 also has that base covered; the LCD screen also acts as a Satellite Navigation directive. I’ve found the Satellite Navigation in the IS250 to be far better than the Sat. Nav. optioned on some Toyota vehicles. The display is much smoother and navigation through the menus is far quicker and clutter free. But, don’t rely on the Lexus Satellite Navigation to get you somewhere in a hurry in peak hour traffic. It manages to choose the busiest possible path and I unfortunately found that out the hard way!
The IS250 comes in three guises – Prestige, Sports and Sports Luxury – the vehicle I drove was in the middle of the playing field. The IS250 Sports is valued at $67,400; the vehicle I drove was optioned with the “IS250 Options Pack”. It included DVD Satellite Navigation with DVD player, Bluetooth capability, reversing monitor camera and premium Mark Levinson 14 speaker audio unit. The option pack adds another $6,600 to the price tag and in my opinion is an absolute must if you purchase an IS250. On top of the options pack, the Sports model comes standard with – Sports suspension, rain sensing wipers, HID Xenon headlamps, adaptive front lighting system (AFS), front and rear parking sonar, moonroof, power driver and passenger seats with memory and heated seats.
The Mark Levinson sound system is simply in a class of its own. Playing your favourite music CD simply doesn’t do the system justice. I slotted in a live DVD recorded by The Eagles and selected ‘Hotel California’. It’s hard to explain just how perfect the audio sounded. Hearing that guitar solo at the opening of the song sent shivers down my spine, calling the sound system perfect would be a belligerent understatement. The fun doesn’t stop there, throw in your favourite DVD (or VCD, SVCD, WMA etc.) – in my case Top Gun was an absolute must – and prep yourself for an experience that you would expect only in a cinema. When those jets take off, trust me…you will know about it! So will anyone else standing anywhere near the car. The level of bass and treble is simply astonishing and is easily the best I have heard out of a stock car sound system.
Anyway, enough about the gadgets! How does it drive? (Which is funnily enough what a car is meant to do in the first place.)
The level of grip on offer is fantastic. Throw it into a bend and the car sits poised and steady. With the added assistance of rear wheel drive (RWD) the car holds its own on the road. The best part is that you can hold a gear and keep the revs sky high through a bend without having to worry about breaking into violent oversteer. The feeling through the steering wheel is pretty much spot on.
One thing that irritated the heck out of me was that when you switched off ESP and all the safety systems, they weren’t really switched off. They would jump back on when they felt that things were getting a bit hairy. Although a quick search on the internet fixed that little problem.
This whole wireless key mumbo jumbo instilled a great sense of paranoia. You see, to lock the car you simply pressed this little button on the door handle and as long as you had the key on you somewhere (such as in your pockets or hand) the doors would lock. To unlock the car you would simply place your hand behind the door handle and it would unlock the car (again, if you met the condition of having the key on you). That would be all well and good, except when you go to check that the car is locked (simply by pulling the door handle) as it would unlock the car again, as grabbing the door handle unlocks it. So it was a case of reverting back to the key fob and hitting the lock button instead, that way I could be certain that it was locked.
According to the brochure the IS250 seats five people. I’m not sure what kind of midget person would happily sit in the middle rear seat though. Not only is it as hard as rock, but the driveline chamber is exceptionally wide and there is nowhere to put your feet. Essentially the IS250 is really only a four seater. Even then it’s pushing the boundaries. I sat one of my bigger friends into the passenger seat and the top quarter of his head was sitting out the sunroof!
Boot space in the IS250 is exceptional. It’s very spacious and also houses the medical kit and repair kit (along with gloves, Lexus branded towel and a big hazard sign). As with most modern vehicles it doesn’t have a full-size spare tyre. Instead, you are left with a space saver tyre that is only capable of a short stint at 80km/h.
Earlier on in the article I mentioned that I was issued a challenge by the fleet manager at Lexus. As much as I didn’t believe that I would return with anywhere near 10L/100KM, I managed to give the car back with 10.2L/100KM. During my time with the car I was literally driving its socks off and it still managed to get an extremely gracious fuel average. To be honest I was extremely surprised at how fuel efficient the IS250 actually was.
The AFS (Adaptive Front Lighting System) is an interesting feature. At night time with the fog lights on the car measures your steering input and accordingly alters the position of the front fog lamps. Essentially this system allows you to see around corners. It’s a very useful feature and is surprisingly efficient in the way it operates.
The IS250 was a car that I simply craved to drive each day. I never once felt bored driving it. It managed to inspire the driver in me at every opportunity.
Sure, at just under $75,000 (with options) the IS250 may seem like an expensive car. But compare it to other things on the market in that price range and you won’t find any European car that can match the IS250 in terms of its level of features. The engine lacks a great deal of life and doesn’t feel all that powerful but with some revs on board it can be a load of fun to play with.
Some negatives include the lack of room inside for passengers, along with the fact that there is no full-size spare tyre and lastly the clutch dynamics are terrible.
But the positives easily outweigh the negatives and coupled with a 4-year warranty, absolutely awesome looks, great handling and loads of features; I can’t see any reason I would not recommend buying the IS250.
- by Paul Maric
CarAdvice rating (out of 5):