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2012 Lexus IS Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Lexus IS was new.


Performance: 7.7

Performance-wise, the three different 2012 Lexus IS trims give buyers the choice of something exciting or something more laid-back. The IS 250 is the slower of the three while the 350 picks up the slack. If you want something ridiculously fast, there’s even a high-performance Lexus IS F model, which is reviewed separately. Its 416 horsepower is 212 more than the IS 250 and 110 more than the IS 350. Reviewers are disappointed with the way the Lexus IS handles, saying there’s lots of body roll and numb steering.

  • "With 306 horsepower on tap from its smooth 3.5-liter V6, the IS 350 delivers enough power to satisfy most of those looking for a sport sedan. By comparison, the less powerful IS 250 is bland and the ultra-performance IS F is too harsh for general consumption. Within the IS line, the 350 is certainly our favorite." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

The automotive press says the two V6 engines in the 2012 Lexus IS are very different. The IS 250 comes with a 2.5-liter V6 engine that makes 204 horsepower. That makes it one of the weakest V6 motors in its class. Reviewers are disappointed with this engine, saying it is slow to accelerate when the gas pedal is punched, and it struggles up steep hills. On the other hand, the IS 350 has a more robust 3.5-liter, 306-horsepower V6, which test drivers say is plenty capable in all driving situations.

Lexus IS 250 buyers have a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The IS 350 only comes with the six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Reviewers say the automatic transmission is smooth, but is slow to react at times. IS cars are rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available on both sedan models. Lexus doesn’t offer all-wheel drive on the IS convertible. The EPA estimates that a RWD Lexus IS 250 should get 21/30 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission, and 19/28 mpg with a manual. The AWD 250 gets 20/27 mpg. The RWD IS 350 should achieve 19/27 mpg, while AWD 350 cars should get 18/26 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 350s are strong in all situations." -- Consumer Guide
  • "One of the noteworthy features found on the IS 350 is its smooth and responsive V6 engine. It provides plenty of thrust for most drivers, but its smooth-shifting automatic transmission is slow to react to your commands." -- Edmunds
  • "Acceleration in the IS350C feels manly, although the open-air exhaust note is just a humdrum hum." -- Car and Driver

Handling and Braking

Most test drivers say the 2012 Lexus IS suffers from lots of body roll and numb steering. However, one reviewer disagrees, and says the IS has little body roll, responsive steering and powerful brakes. An F Sport package is an optional upgrade and modifies the suspension to make the car more agile. Convertible models handle much like their sedan counterparts when the roof is up, but things change when the top is down. Once you lower the roof, reviewers say that the added weight behind the rear axle makes for a boring and cushy ride.

  • "When you're trying to have fun, there's plenty of body roll, and the lifeless steering does little to encourage exuberance." -- Edmunds
  • "Any IS closely matches its class rivals, but the ride is tainted by slight wheel thump on washboard roads and mild float over large crests at speed. … IS corners with little body lean, secure grip, and an agile feel. … All IS models have electric power steering that is quick and informative. … The brakes furnish swift, drama-free stops on all models, but pedal action was slightly grabby in some test cars." -- Consumer Guide
  • "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 (IS convertible)
  • "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. At 3,840 pounds when equipped with a manual gearbox, it weighs almost 400 pounds more than the sedan, and every one of those pounds is devoted to sapping life out of the convertible." -- Autoblog

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