Striking looks, lavish equipment
A pre-crash safety system incorporating radar cruise control sounds much more daunting than it actually is. It suggests preparing yourself for having an accident when, in fact, the whole thing is about avoiding one. Worry not about what the system is called, and rejoice in the wonderful way in which it works.
On a recent rural journey in one of the latest Lexus IS250 sedans, I had the pre-crash radar cruise control set for most of the journey.
The device works so well that making it compulsory on all cars sold in New Zealand would be a brilliant way of reducing injury and death, not to mention lowering insurance premiums. Radar cruise also eliminates tailgating, one of the major driver faults in this country and one that is simply not addressed by authorities. Trouble is, the driver has the option of switching off the radar override, and most Kiwis would resort to that so they could resume old habits.
Pre-crash safety (PCS) is similar to the Mercedes pre-safe and builds on the adaptive cruise control programming. A forward facing radar is outwitted only when you negotiate a tight corner and the vehicle in front falls out of the radar’s line of sight. For the most part, the system not only monitors the distance between your car and the vehicle in front, but also maintains a safe gap, regardless of the cruise control speed setting. Should the vehicle ahead brake suddenly or another vehicle pull into your lane, the brake assist is armed and your car brakes automatically. In New Zealand we have the full Japanese option, but in many markets – like Europe – the automatic emergency braking mode has still to be approved. Pre-crash is only available with auto transmission.
The new auto-only, $80,980 IS250 Limited is impressive. It costs $5240 more than the cloth upholstered Sports version. However, if you like manuals, the six-speeder allows you to buy into the Lexus IS dream for just under $70,000. Limited adds the clever radar system, wood trim interior accents and nifty air conditioning ventilation for both front seats. The seat ventilation can be set for either cold air or conventional warming. Quite what happens when the children spill their biscuit crumbs into the tiny ventilation holes in the leather upholstery has yet to be established.
In top-spec form, this Lexus also gets a power rear window sunshade, illuminated entry system with blue lighting for the door sills and, of course, leather seats and door trim. All three models share the 2.5-litre 4GR-FSE quad overhead cam V6 with variable valve-timing and four valves per cylinder. It develops 153kW and 252Nm of torque, the latter at a surprisingly high 4800rpm – a factor that may account for only a modest amount of torque down low where it’s most needed. The fact that performance is restrained comes as little surprise given the 1635kg kerb weight, but no one will complain about the smoothness and level of refinement. Easing along at 100km/h in sixth, the V6 is spinning at a mere 1800 revs.
The sprint to 100km/h takes a shade under nine seconds, but the significant news is the car’s good fuel economy. V6s can be notoriously thirsty but the IS250 is no guzzler. Our average of 7.6 litres/100km (37.2mpg) on an easy touring run was extraordinarily good.
The six-stage adaptive automatic, with sequential manual mode and paddle shift controls, is smooth and responsive. The paddles are great but the gearlever has to be positioned into the sport gate before the column controls are activated.
I’d like to think New Zealand Lexus buyers could enjoy the choice of 17-inch wheels as well as the 18-inch alloys that are standard here. With the larger diameter rims come 225/40 series tyres and poor quality slow speed ride and there’s no option of fitting smaller wheels. Let’s face it, much of the IS250’s motoring is going to be in town where the indifferent ride may deter a luxury car buyer.
And while I’m griping, the cabin is tight, with limited headroom that restricts access and makes for poor rear visibility. Thank goodness for rear parking distance sensors on the Limited. Rear legroom is only fair and there’s minimal space under the front seats for rear seat passengers’ feet.
Though the three dimensional LED speedo and rev counter are models of clarity, the lower instruments for fuel and engine temperature are often obstructed by the steering wheel. Electronic power steering is direct enough, with 2.8 turns lock to lock, but lacks the real involvement some rivals offers.
The small Lexus is safe and totally predictable, with excellent body control and good grip, and the high-speed ride is reassuring. Double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear set-up are matched to a comprehensive electronic stability programme that includes traction control, hill-start assist and vehicle stability control.
Like the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes E-Class, the IS250 puts its power through the rear wheels, and feels well balanced. Push hard and the stability controls can be a shade intrusive, but most owners will be more than happy with the driving dynamics. The Smart Key, that can remain in the driver’s pocket while locking and unlocking or starting the car, is standard on both IS250 models.
Xenon headlights with auto levelling and swivel operation on low beam, rain sensing wipers and a 13-speaker audio system are typical of the thoroughness of the standard specification that leaves the opposition wanting.
The flagship Limited has three sections of wood crafted from the same piece of timber, rather like Jaguar began doing years ago.
The standard of finish is impeccable. Lexus has built a reputation on quality and reliability, and is no longer a new boy on the block – the brand has been around for more than 15 years. Prestige and luxury car sales in New Zealand slipped slightly last year, but the Lexus brand was on a roll, with volume up an impressive 31.7 percent. The new IS series, of course, made no impact on 2005 sales so it tackles this year with a clean sheet of paper. Last year the previous IS model was the third most popular Lexus, just behind the GS, while the RX330 was the biggest selling model. The smallest Lexus is set to make inroads into a highly selective section of the market where image is probably more important than anything else.
Biggest rivals for the IS250 are the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes E-Class, and the key question is whether a lavish, more comprehensive standard specification can top the formidable German opponents. The Japanese contender has another ace up its sleeve – a strikingly handsome body shell that seeks to imitate no one.