$8,073 - $9,294

2009 Lexus IS Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2009 Lexus IS was new.


Performance: 8.1

The 2009 Lexus IS offers an exhilarating driving experience -- but it competes in a class where that result is expected. Reviewers find the IS 250 to be a responsive ride, but not a particularly fast one. The much more powerful 350 is more competitive with the German marques that tend to top our performance chart, but it doesn't quite catch the quickest upscale midsize cars.

  • "We wish the IS 250 we drove (but didn't track test) made us as happy as its protein-packing sibling. It's okay around town, but feels sluggish and lifeless when trying to hustle your favorite mountain pass." -- Motor Trend
  • "The IS 250 C maintains all of the static accolades of the sedan, but it left us bereft dynamically with tuning that emphasized luxury over sport." -- Autoblog
  • "The IS 250 AWD is the best choice if winter weather invades your neck of the woods, when the all-wheel-drive system's increased grip is most welcome. The AWD model is heavier than the two-wheel-drive versions, but the IS 250 AWD hauled us over the San Gabriel Mountains on Angeles Crest Highway above Los Angeles without exposing any dire penalties due to its weight." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "the 2009 Lexus IS 350 has what sport-sedan shoppers are looking for. At least, that's how it appears on paper. However, driving the IS 350 may be something of a letdown from the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast's perspective." -- Edmunds
  • "On meandering roads, the IS 350 becomes a weapon, as the car's agile nature comes to the fore. The steering is super quick, and when combined with a rigid body structure and optional sport suspension, turn-in response is good. The transmission's manual mode works well, allowing the driver to change gears with paddles behind the steering wheel, à la Formula 1." -- Road and Track

Acceleration and Power

The two available engines on the Lexus IS tell very different tales. The IS 250 comes equipped with a 2.5-liter V6 engine that makes 204 horsepower -- one of the weaker V6s in this class. The 350, on the other hand, is a rocket. With its 306-horsepower V6, some test drivers managed 0 to 60 times under six seconds. 250 buyers have a choice of a six- speed manual or automatic transmission (with paddle shifters). The 350 comes only with the automatic. The cars have different appetites, too. The EPA estimates that an IS 250, in rear-wheel-drive form, should get 21 mpg in city driving and 29 on the highway. The 350, on the other hand, gets 18/25 mpg.

  • "IS 250s feel sleepy on takeoff, strained up steep grades, and are shy on midrange passing power despite a responsive, silky automatic transmission. IS 350 is strong in all situations. We timed one at a speedy 5.5 seconds 0-60 mph." -- Consumer Guide
  • The IS 250C "At 3,840 pounds when equipped with a manual gearbox, weighs almost 400 pounds more than the sedan, and every one of those pounds is devoted to sapping life out of the convertible. To our enthusiast minds, the 306-hp IS 350C makes a lot more sense. The additional 102 hp and another 66 pounds over the IS 250C makes for a significantly better driving experience." -- Autoblog
  • "Acceleration in the IS350C feels manly, although the open-air exhaust note is just a humdrum hum." -- Car and Driver
  • "A sweet six-speed, electronically controlled automatic matches up well with the [350's] six. It's as smooth as any we have tested and very much in keeping with the overall refinement level of the car." -- MarketWatch
  • "When driving the Lexus IS 350...The VVT-i-equipped 3.5-liter V-6 comes to life with a ferocious growl, and you won't be able to resist giving the throttle pedal a few extra taps just to hear the throaty exhaust note again. Then it's off to the races. Punch the throttle and every bit of the engine's 306 bhp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque is transferred to the rear wheels via a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission." -- Road and Track
  • "The 2.5-liter V6 [in the IS 250] seems rather crude and underpowered compared with the BMW 328i's silky smooth 3.0-liter inline-6...As for the stick shift, fuggedaboutit -- it's easily worst-in-class." -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

Reviewers find both IS models sharp in the corners. The Lexus IS 250 comes standard with four-wheel independent suspension, with front double-wishbone coil springs and rear multi-link coil springs for optimum shock absorption and stabilization. The Lexus IS 350 comes standard with a double-wishbone front and independent multilink rear suspension and an optional sport-tuned suspension. Those who have tested the sport suspension generally say it isn't worth the added investment. An available all-wheel-drive system also seems to lag behind what competitors offer at this price point. Convertible models handle much like their sedan counterparts when the roof is in place. Lower the roof, however, and the added weight behind the rear axle makes for a sloppier drive.

  • "balanced, handles exceptionally well in the curves and isn't fatiguing." -- Forbes
  • "It can pull serious Gs in the corners and it stops with authority." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "spring and shock tuning were changed from the sedan's, as were some suspension bushings, to transmit less impact energy through the body. That's a technical way of saying the ride is a little mushier so the body will flex less. You feel it in corners where this weighty ship rolls and porpoises a bit more than the sedan." -- Car and Driver
  • "Those who prefer suppleness over responsiveness might find the [sport] suspension too firm." -- Forbes
  • "Though steering feel is somewhat lacking, the action is laser-beam precise, making it easy to choose and hold a line through the curves." -- Edmunds
  • "The optional sport suspension and 18-inch tires furnish little cornering advantage, nor does AWD on dry roads." -- Consumer Guide
  • "With top-notch handling, back roads were lots of fun as we experienced little body lean. Our test car had optional 18-inch wheels with summer tires that had lots of grip on dry pavement but that would probably not do very well in the snow. All in all, we give the handling an A-plus." -- MarketWatch

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