Yesterday, I spent a number of hours driving different versions of the 2006 Lexus IS through windy roads around Napa, California, at a press launch event. The new Lexus IS comes in two flavors: the 350, powered by a 3.5-liter V-6, and the 250, with a smaller 2.5-liter V-6. That's 306 horsepower and 204 horsepower, respectively. The 250 also comes in an all-wheel-drive version. Both cars use direct fuel injection for better power and fewer emissions. Direct injection squirts fuel right into the cylinder, which means more of the gas burns up. Lexus packs these cars with electronics as well. The ones I drove have navigation, rearview camera, and Bluetooth, not to mention iPod compatibility. Actually, make that MP3-player compatibility, as it is just an auxiliary input to the stereo. I like this approach because it's more universal, but iPod owners won't get to see track info on the vehicle display.
The IS 350 was the first car I drove, which might have spoiled me a bit. The IS 250's all-wheel drive felt underpowered in comparison. The 350 has great acceleration, which was particularly dangerous in Napa due to the many highway patrol vehicles hanging out behind billboards and buildings, just waiting for someone to blow by at 80mph. Fortunately, there weren't many places to hide on the more mountainous, windy parts of the drive. That's where I got to test out each car's stability program. The IS 250 has a standard vehicle stability control system, while the IS 350 has the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM), which Lexus rolled out in its GS line. The VDIM manipulates brakes, power, and even steering to help keep you on the road. As one of the Lexus engineers put it, VDIM won't stop you from steering in the wrong direction during a slide, but it will make it more difficult. Overall, I was very impressed with the new IS line. The interior is made up of quality materials, the new body is stylish, and Lexus builds in good gear.