Hats off to Lexus. They turned us loose in the new IS sedan on an autocross course yesterday -- and supplied a batch of competitors’ cars for comparison.
From the Lexus family, we drove the IS 250 ($35,950), IS 350 ($39,465) and IS 350 F Sport AWD ($45,320).
The competitive set included the M-B C350 ($37,850), Audi A4 2.0T ($32,500) and BMW 335i ($43,295).
This wasn’t a true apples-to-apples comparo. Each car has its own, unique strengths and various weaknesses. Some are better suited to track work than others; some are better all-around performers. Forced to use any of them as a daily driver, I’d be a happy fellow.
Based on two laps around a narrow, tight autocross course, I came away feeling that Lexus still has work to do if it hopes to dethrone BMW from the top sport-sedan spot. Judging solely by the seat of the pants, without the benefit of a timer, the Bimmer’s responses felt sharper than the competitions’. It seemed to be the quickest off the line, made quicker shifts than the rest and exhibited the razor-sharp turn-in for which its 3 Series sedans are famous.
In terms of pure acceleration, the Audi was the slowest of the bunch, but danced nimbly around the cones in the tight sections. Despite a startling front-end lightness during hard braking, the Benz was stable and responsive and exhibited excellent throttle response.
The IS family felt like the largest car of the group but was surprisingly quick through even the tightest sections of the course. Both 250 and 350 RWD trims felt lively and crisp throughout the course, but my driving partner and I both felt the AWD 350 F Sport
had throttle-lag issues, which can be death in an autocross course where one needs instant responses.
BTW, did I mention we were instructed to “take it easy” in this demonstration, that our purpose was merely to compare how the cars stacked up in terms of the demands of daily driving.
Ha! Setting out cones and telling journos to “take it easy” is like telling kindergartners to not eat paste.
Lexus knew what it was doing all along, of course. They knew the hotdogs would favor the Bimmer on an autocross course. They also knew that we’d be able to take the long view; the new IS is a very well-rounded car that can hold its own on a competitor’s turf while excelling at those things most drivers value.
To wit, the IS is a far better car than the one it replaces. Better looking, more comfortable, more responsive.
Its seats were the best of the bunch we tested, its cabin as elegant and ergonomically sound as any. Rear-seat accommodations are very good and overall fit and finish is superb, even on these preproduction cars.
And then there’s that legendary Lexus build quality. I’ve never been much of a Lexus fan but the company’s beginning to make a believer of me.
The IS goes on sale this summer. It’s worth the wait.