After driving the Lexus HS for about 18 months or so and not really liking it all that much (and it seems that a lot of CC readers are with me on that), I was ready for something a bit more exciting. Not too exciting, mind you – but more interesting than the HS (which wasn’t a big challenge). What I picked would turn out to be my last Lexus, for a number of reasons.
I was sticking with Lexus for a couple of reasons, one of which was the availability of some down payment money courtesy of a Lexus Visa card (and since I didn’t run a balance on the card the points for a down payment were free money). I considered another ES sedan briefly, but discarded that because a) the car wasn’t any different from the one I owned in 2008-2010, b) other than the 260+ hp V6 the car wasn’t particularly exciting, and c) prices and lease payments had gone up quite a bit since 2008. The IS sedan was nearing the end of its design cycle and seemed to fit the bill (rear-drive, possible manual transmission, sportier intentions) so I went to the dealer to find out what they had in stock. I’d thought about getting one of the first-generation IS sedans, and really thought about getting their short-lived SportCross wagon, but ended up with the ES in 2005 instead.
I ran into a few snags, however, in getting the car I wanted. Apparently I lived too far north for Lexus to trust me with a rear-drive platform (even though it doesn’t snow all that often here south of the Mason-Dixon line), so virtually all the IS models available in Maryland were all wheel drive. Manual transmissions are hard to come by here as well, probably because consumers aren’t that interested in them because of all the traffic (shifting gets pretty tedious when you do a whole lot of it).
The AWD/automatic added about $3600 to the sticker price as I recall, a lot of cash for options I wasn’t too keen on having. It also knocked about 2 mpg off the combined city/highway fuel economy, which at 22 mpg wasn’t that great. Also, a lot of the IS models available on the lot were equipped with navigation systems, which wasn’t exactly cheap. This wasn’t that big of a deal, since the non-navigation entertainment system was a bit primitive (the nav system had a pretty good interface for satellite radio and iPod connectivity while the base systems still had monochrome one-line LCD screens that made picking iPod songs or Bluetooth settings pretty finicky).
Finally, I would have preferred the 306 hp IS 350, but those were quite a bit more expensive (about $7000 as I recall) so I had to focus on the 204 hp IS 250. I wanted to get out of that HS, so they probably could have sold me on just about anything on the lot. We picked a dark gray/black IS 250 AWD with the navigation package and went home happy (in my wife’s case, because the car was reasonably fun to drive, and in my case because I’d unloaded that other car).
On the plus side, the IS looked pretty good in dark gray – the styling, although dating from six years previously (2006), was aging well and some redesigns to the wheels and taillights freshened it a bit. The navigation system/infotainment system was a touch screen that was close at hand inside, unlike the HS which had a top-of-dash screen and the odd haptic mouse control that I found a bit fiddly.
The story on the rest of the interior, however, was not so positive. The transmission tunnel intruded pretty severely on passenger space, particularly in the front where the footwells were small and the pedals oddly placed; rear legroom and headroom were both pretty tight; and the AWD system introduced an odd bump on the driver’s floor that was just distracting enough to be annoying. The car had one cupholder oddly and inconveniently placed in the center of the console, too.
The 2.5 liter engine was smooth and relatively responsive, but 204 horsepower being shoved through an automatic transmission and AWD in a 3,400+ pound car meant that I wasn’t going to win any drag races. As you’ve probably figured out from all the discussions on price, the biggest problem for me was that it was fairly expensive and still wasn’t quite what I wanted.
Each Lexus I leased cost just a bit more than the last, and by this time I was paying a considerable sum every month because I’d started out with a relatively affordable car and crept up to much more expensive ones every time I traded them in. Our Kia Optima turbo was significantly more fun to drive, offered many of the same features, and cost significantly less. I have to admit that I don’t have many more driving impressions to offer, because the car wasn’t that memorable to me.
By this time, I was spending a lot more time in the car every day because I’d changed jobs and my commute went from about 5 miles one way on relatively uncongested surface streets to 25 miles one way on pretty congested highways. It occurred to me more than once during a morning or evening commute that I was paying a ton of money for a car with some sporting pretensions but not really getting much out of it at 12 miles an hour in traffic.
I was also getting less willing to spend this kind of money in general on cars, particularly when I could get cars that didn’t have a prestigious badge but crept along in traffic just like the Lexus did. Finally, this was around the time that Lexus was taking criticism of its conservative styling to heart and introducing more aggressive designs. Some customers really like the new “spindle” grill and “look-at-me” styling, but it wasn’t for me (I couldn’t bring myself to spend a ton of money on a car I didn’t like looking at).
For all these reasons, I decided to trade this in on something a lot cheaper – something that probably is the 21st century equivalent of the “cockroach of the road” A-body Cutlass Ciera’s of my youth. I lost some money up front by trading it in but was glad to be rid of it and its associated large lease payment. With that introduction, I’m sure that CC readers will be on the edge of their seats to yawn at what comes next.