2009 or 2006?

We spent a week with the Lexus IS250 Sports Luxury and found that the emphasis was on the latter, although it's probably sporty enough for most of us.

We're big fans of the IS250's looks, sporty without being macho and pretty without being too much of a dandy. It's been updated for 2009, but you'll have to look hard to spot the differences.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Comfy

Our review car's contrasting white leather seats, black leather armrests and dark grey plastics were very easy on the eye. Everything glides and dims like it should in a luxury car, but the plastics don't quite have the softness nor opulence of those found on the BMW 3-Series.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Mirror folds in, mirror folds out

The IS comes standard with wing mirrors that fold in or out automatically when you lock or unlock the doors. As part of the 2009 update they now also feature turn indicators.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Long bonnet, small butt

Thanks to its rear-wheel drive architecture, and like many a BMW (as well as the current Holden Commodore), the IS has a long bonnet with the front wheels pushed as far forward as possible.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Make me over

The 2009 update also includes reshaped bumpers (honest!), redesigned tail-lights and a set of rather ordinary looking 17-inch alloy wheels.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Headlights pointed at the dusk

The Sports Luxury model comes with standard xenon headlights that cast a bright, slightly blue beam down the road. Fitted as part of the adaptive front lighting system, they can switch on automatically, self-level, so you won't blind too many on-coming cars, and also swing horizontally to help you see around corners.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

The Clayton's grille

The IS250 doesn't do much breathing through its grille, instead this is where the car's radar hides. Set a speed on the cruise control and the car will use this radar to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, as well as brake and warn the driver if the situation's more critical.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

250 means 2.5 litres

Hidden under a shroud of plastic is the 2.5-litre V6 engine with 153kW of power and 252Nm of torque. Smooth and silent, the engine needs a good rev to bring out its best but is far superior to the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine we sampled in the BMW 320i earlier this year. In the city we managed to eke out 12.1L/100km.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Boot it

There's almost 400 litres of carry capacity in the IS250's boot, but stuffing large items in here can be a bit tricky as the boot lid itself is quite small. There's a small ski-port in the rear seats for long, thin items, but the rear seats do not fold down.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Down in front

Here's a neat party trick: use the car's headlamp washers for long enough and eventually enough splash make its way onto the windscreen to cause the auto-wipers to kick in. The dot on the bumper below the headlight washer is a proximity sensor that helps take some of the guess work out of parking, but is just as likely to send you bonkers at city intersections when people weave around your car.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Night glow

There's a brilliant white glow from the Lexus' instrument cluster day and night. Shame then that the rest of the cabin is lit up in various shades of Corolla-like muted green. If you have speed and rev warnings configured, the dial's inner rings will glow orange when you overstep the mark.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

What's so wrong with turning a key?

Clearly Lexus and other luxury car makers consider our kilojoules better spent on activities other than sticking a key in a hole and turning it over to start the engine. With the remote key, whenever the key's inside the cabin the car can be started. Stomp on the brake and press the start button to make the car run, or leave the brake pedal unmolested and press the button to start up the entertainment system only.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Backup plan

There's a physical key squirreled away inside the key fob for opening the doors when the batteries have died.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Greetings master

Like some Subarus, the Lexus' speedo and tacho dials dance from zero to max and back again when you start the engine. Think of it as a chipper automotive g'day.

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I'm Lionel Hutz, you might remember from such civil actions...

Every time — and we mean every, single, freakin' time — you start the car you'll be greeted by this warning message, for which we can, presumably, thank some litigious American.

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A life from on high

Many in-car navigation units have yet to be upgraded to 3D view and the system in the IS is no exception. On the upside, it recalculates quickly and silently whenever you wander off track, next turn info can be configured to take up half the screen and the soothing female voice is piped only to the driver's side. Pity street names still aren't spoken.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

HAL!

We can't state our love for steering wheel audio controls enough. On the right spoke below the pick up and hang up buttons is the voice recognition button.

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I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that

The voice recognition system only works in the telephone menu, which you must be in before using it. Not only do you need to manually assign voice data to a name in your phone book, it won't accept short or, even, average length names. So "Mo" and "Mobutu" are out, but "Mobutu Sese Seko" is fine. Oh, and even after jumping through all these hoops to let your mates know you're late, you still have to press Dial on the touchscreen before making the call.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Back me up

The reversing camera is automatically engaged every time you slip into reverse and features guide lines to help you parallel or reverse park. We found it most useful judging the distance between the IS' rear bumper and the car behind — thanks to the Lexus' high boot lid, it's something that's almost impossible to do just by craning one's neck.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Serif equals class, right?

Breaking with car design norms, all of the IS250's instruments, buttons and labels use a serif font. As part of the 2009 upgrade, the buttons surrounding the central touchscreen lose their raised centres.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Shift paddles

The shift paddles can be used even when the transmission isn't in sports mode — great if you're planning an overtaking manoeuvre on a narrow country highway. Less spectacular is Lexus' decision to use silver painted plastic instead of real metal, or at the very least plastic covered in metal, on the paddles and throughout the cabin. It's a small point, but it detracts greatly from the feeling of luxury.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Cool off

Thanks to a set of under-seat fans, the front passenger and driver can have their privates chilled or warmed up to the desired temperature. Be warned though that, like many a heated seat, it gets hot fast.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Wide angle

Both sets of wing mirrors feature a concave section on their outer edge, with the rest of the mirror being flat.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Gear position and gear indicator

The Gear Position screen tells you which gear the six-speed automatic transmission is currently in; in this case, first gear. While the gear indicator below it informs you of where the gear lever is (park, reverse, neutral, drive or sport), as well as the maximum gear the transmission can select — this is set by the driver tapping the gear lever or shift paddles.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Scuff plates

A scuff plate by day, a glowing neon advertisement for Lexus at night.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Rear seats

Being heavily sculpted they're a comfy place to be, but six-footers would be well advised to sit in the front — the sloping roof means that beanpoles' heads will invariably bang against the lining and foot space can be rather tight too.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Plush

Leather is standard on the IS, but our review car was bedecked in scrumptious white leather with contrasting black stitching and black leather armrests.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Warning! Warning!

BMW and Mercedes have warning triangles in the boot, and so too must Lexus.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Saving space

Tucked neatly below the boot floor is the car's space saver spare tyre.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

So chunky you can carrrrve it

The doors are thick, chunky and weighty, and close with a pleasing ker-thunk.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Hideaway

Hidden next to the steering column are the switches to the control car settings, like speed warnings, adaptive front lighting and so forth.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Remember this

There are three memory settings for both the front passenger and driver's seats. The dark faux wood is still a bit old school for us, but it's infinitely preferable to the mahogany of previous models.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Dial the sun

This simple dial switch operates the moon roof, just turn it to select how open or closed you want your driving experience to be.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Riding off into the sunset

The mild facelift didn't include LED tail-lights but they're still cool nonetheless.

Photo by: Derek Fung/CNET Australia
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