Like the outgoing IS, the all-new, second-generation aims squarely for the BMW 3-series. But unlike the last one, this latest model looks to be a real, credible threat to the Bimmer's dominance as Lexus shows a new commitment to pouring more performance into their well-engineered luxury machines. If the 2006 IS follows the path charted by the new GS, it will be more athletic, more involving, and more fun to drive than the previous model.
The IS--which bowed at the Geneva Motor Show before making its U.S. debut inNew York--will be available as either the IS250 or IS350, each badgeindicating a choice of two V-6s. The IS250 (which is expected to comprise70-80% of volume) will get the same 204-hp, 2.5-liter unit available in theEuro-spec car while the IS350 will be powered by a mostly new, 3.5-litermill (it shares its block with the engine found in the new Avalon). Thelarger engine is expected to pump out more than 300 hp--an increase ofapproximately 100 hp over the outgoing car's in-line six. Transmissionoptions are limited to one in all 3.5-liter cars and the all-wheel-driveIS250: a six-speed automatic. Rear-driven IS250s will be available witheither the autobox or a six-speed manual.
Exterior styling is very much in the vein of the new GS. Lexus calls this design theme "L-Finesse," a philosophy with three fundamental elements: purity, elegance, and anticipation. 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, there is no button by which a keen driver can completely disable the stability control--a major deficit when compared with the 3-series and a point of contention among enthusiasts and automotive journalists alike. It's also a hot-button issue internally at Lexus, where executives such as Yuji Yokoya of Lexus Japan make it clear that they've heard the criticism. They say that while the issue gets discussed again and again, the company's emphasis on safety will not allow them to install an override button at this time.
It has been confirmed is that there will not be another Sportcross wagonversion of the IS, but other iterations are definitely on the way. Likelycandidates for IS body style number two include a convertible hard-top coupeinspired by the LF-C show car that debuted at last year's New York autoshow. Lexus wasn't ready to discuss exact figures, but they did say thatthey anticipate the starting price of the IS250 to come "extremely close" tothat of the current IS300. Expect the 2006 IS sedan to pull into Lexusshowrooms sometime in October.