2006 Lexus IS250 and IS350

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Lexus is hardly a household name in Europe, the way it is here in the States, but Toyota's intention of changing that was underscored by the unveiling of the all-new, second-generation IS sport sedan at the Geneva show. The gasoline-engined IS250 and diesel-powered IS220d unveiled at the Pal Expo are for the European market; we'll see the U.S.-spec IS at the New York auto show later this month.

Toyota expects the new IS to help establish its premium brand in Europe, so it features a state-of-the-art diesel engine--the price of entry for any automaker serious about success in that market. Built at a new plant in Poland, the 2.2-liter, all-aluminum, direct-injection four-cylinder produces 177 hp and a hefty 295 lb-ft of torque, while the 2.5-liter, gasoline V-6 also features direct injection and pumps out 204 hp and 184 lb-ft. Both engines can be mated to a six-speed manual transmission, and the V-6 is also available with a six-speed manu-matic.

Exterior styling is very much in the vein of the new GS. Lexus calls this design theme "L-Finesse." With a wheelbase that's more than two inches longer and a body that's three inches wider and 3.5 inches longer overall than the outgoing IS, the new car has a much roomier interior, especially in the rear seat. The original IS interior was more weird than elegant, but the new car's cabin is as well-crafted, modern, and luxurious as you would expect from Lexus. Highlights include an input port for your iPod, optional Mark Levinson audio, a navigation system with a rear-view camera, and a total of ten air bags. Other safety equipment includes available swiveling Xenon headlights, radar-sensed, pre-crash seatbelt tensioners, and Lexus's advanced stability control system. Unfortunately, the is no button by which a keen driver can completely disable the stability control, which is a major deficit when compared with the 3-series, the latest version of which also debuted at Geneva. Even Saab, in its 9-3 Aero, lets drivers turn off all the electronic nannies.

In the U.S., the IS will use a breathed upon version of the new Avalon's 3.5-liter V-6 and thus wear an IS350 badge. Exact horsepower figures have yet to be confirmed, but we expect slightly more than the Avalon's 280.

One thing that has been confirmed is that there will not be another Sportcross wagon version of the IS, but other iterations are definitely on the way. Likely candidates for IS body style #2 include a convertible hard-top coupe inspired by the LF-C show car that debuted at last year's New York auto show.

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