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4355In 1999, when I first discovered the Toyota Altezza was coming to the US as a Lexus, I knew I had found the car for me: Rear wheel drive, four doors, sporty looks, great suspension and Toyota/Lexus quality. Five years and two IS300's later (one automatic, one manual), I still love it. Obviously, I must have some kind of unhealthy obsession, after all, I started this website when the car didn't even exist. Nevertheless, I still consider myself a well-rounded enthusiast - my other car is a boosted Mazda Miata - and I like to think I know a good car when I drive one.

Fast-forward to 2005 and I have the same feelings all over again. As much as I have changed over the last few years, so has this car. With the IS300, I felt like I was the poster-boy of the target market: a young professional moving up from a 4-cylinder import, but still wanting to stay sporty. Now with the 2006 IS, I think I fall smack in the demographic again: a slightly-older professional who wants a little more luxury with his twisties.

34336384-A.JPG So what about the car? Let's start with the outside. The styling is not as dynamic as the outgoing model, but the package is most definitely attractive. Gone are the Altezza-style taillights, replaced with simple, streamlined LED-inside tails. As others have mentioned, the "kick" molded into the light helps push air away from the back of the car. Another aspect of the design affecting aerodynamics are the side mirrors. The IS300 had its mirrors attached to corner of the front windows. The new car pushes them out onto the body of the door. Allowing the air to go "between" the mirror and the door reduces drag - and pushing the mirror further out to the side of the body results in the return point (where the air meets the body again) being BEHIND the front window. This makes a drastic difference in wind noise with the front windows down. G-G-Gone is the head-crushing wind buffeting you get in the old car.

There are, of course, a few things I don't like about the new design. The side panels are very slab-looking. The crease running from hood to trunk sits above the door handles, leaving a solid slate from handle to side sill. It's just enough to make the car look a bit boxy. It's not the lack of detail that bothers me (like the indentation in the side of the Acura TL), it's simply the amount of blank space there. While I love the new vertical bar grill, I wish the lower grill looked at least somewhat similar, the black plastic honeycomb seems out of place. And my last gripe is with the rear end, just a bit too big for my taste - though this probably goes with the taller side panels. These issues aside, the new car is a head-turner. It has style and grace in spades, but maintains an adult attitude, never arrogant.

4354On the inside, things have certainly been stepped up a notch from the old car. Gone is the chronograph style gauge pod, another first generation trademark. In its place, we find slick Optitron-lighted instruments with light-saber needles (have you seen the start-up sequence?) and glowing inside rings that change color according to user-settable parameters (movable redline, desired speed). In the automatic models, the up/down buttons have been replaced by perfectly positioned paddles behind the wheel, exactly at your fingertips. The steering wheel is a bit more massive in the middle (like all air-bagged wheels) but it still pulls off some style. On the left are your radio controls (Yay!) and the right, Bluetooth and navigation controls (in equipped models).

I am a horribly fidgety person when it comes to car seats. In very few cars can I sit down and be comfortable without some butt wiggling and shoulder scrunching. But I found the seats in this new car to be incredibly inviting and a decided improvement over the current seats. While I didn't get to test the heating or cooling ability, I certainly look forward to the latter in our hot and humid Florida weather. Rear seat leg room does not look much improved, if at all, the extra length must've gone to the trunk and engine compartments. One improvement to the rear seating area: it gets its own vents at the rear of the center console. If I have one gripe about the interior it's on the front passenger side. Our slab motif appears again around the glove box which holds the first dual-chamber air bag [thanks flashsim] and continues to the knee-height air bag area. A little crease here or there would help, the passenger has nothing to look at, the interior being VERY driver-centric. Then again, this is only a bad thing for passengers - who needs them anyway!

34336986-A.JPG What the passengers do get to enjoy is a great sound system. Even the standard stereo is an improvement over the original - quite impressive as the stock system in the IS300 is quite good. A pantload of speakers in a tuned arrangement should satisfy most customers. There's even a line-in jack for your MP3 player AND the ability to play MP3 files off a CD. The all new Mark Levinson system, available only with Navigation, kicks it up more than a few watts. With 7.1 surround available from DVD Audio, all but the crack-addicted "all stock stereos suck" diehards will be suitably impressed. With the vault-like Lexus cabin, you'll probably find yourself sitting in the parking lot WELL after you've arrived at your destination, simply enjoying the sounds of silence and music.

I got this great view of the passenger seat from riding shotgun with another my.IS event attendee, Rudy (Meteoro). Rudy's not a bad driver (South Florida D-Stock AutoX Champ), so it was a fairly exciting ride. The car is SMOOTH like butter but still bites into corners. It's a great ride and I found it very comfortable. The IS finally has some meaty stock tires (225/45 and 245/45 on the 17" wheels, 225/40 and 255/40 with the 18" wheels) and the grip is quite noticeable. Rudy drove hard enough to keep the seat belt tensioned and provoked more than a few grunts with cornering forces - the car never came unglued. Out of the box, I think the new car handles better than my modified IS300 and certainly better than a stocker. The rear stays where you plant it - this must be due to the extra toe control arm in the rear - and feels entirely neutral front to back.

34336792-A.JPG When I finally got behind the wheel myself, I was not disappointed. The engine start/stop button is simply glorious - simply press the brake pedal (and clutch in the manual) and hit the button - the key fob in my pocket unlocked the doors and engine by proximity. Once started, the 350 leaps off the line. If I had one complaint of the IS300, it was that it needed just a wee bit more power. Rated at just over 300, the power of the new car is a welcoming and eye-opening improvement. Color me nostalgic, but while I think the I6 has a smoother power delivery from anywhere in its rev range, I've not felt a smoother V6 than this one. The extra tech in this engine (direct and port injection, dual VVTi, etc) must doing a fine job. A keen eye will notice there is no Torsen LSD available. Instead, the IS350 comes with a "pre-torque" semi-LSD. Rudy curses his non-Torsen-equipped IS300 at autocross, but he still wins - I didn't notice him having any complaints about this diff.

Much criticism has been laid on the new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM), particularly the fact that it is non-defeatable. But it's not your typical traction control - it's an integration of all subsystems with some serious thought and intelligence. I never felt the VDIM intruding until I tried to get its attention - it would let the car slip, but not slide. In the end it's still a baby-sitter, but a very lenient one. It will be interesting to see how the car behaves in tight motorsports like autocross. In the stopping department, four-pistons up front grab large 13.5" rotors and halt the car with grace and enthusiasm. The rear calipers are so small they appear almost vestigal in comparison.

34336346-A.JPG A few years ago, I traded in my original IS300 to get one with a manual transmission, so I'm going to be critical of the automatic - still, I knew I was going to like it - and I did. Shifts are fast and crisp, and when the car is pushed, they happen at the last possible second. You're still going to need to pop the paddles when hunting corners, but for your freeway driving let the automatic do the work, it does a pretty good job. While we all clamor for a manual on the IS350, personally, I'd find it a difficult decision over this automatic. And yes, you can force the car to stay in 1st gear.

There is a lot to like about the new car. From the improved power to the standard gadgetry, this new IS is everything I wanted it to be, and then some. Granted, I would've done a few things differently, but this package hits a very desirable mark in a tough market. However, I'm quite afraid of what the price of this sedan will be. An IS350, nicely equipped, should be in the mid to high $40ks. This is the upper end of the entry level luxury sport sedan market. Enter the IS250. Do you really need so much power? If not, here's the car for you. Everything you wanted in the car, and less. About $10k less. I think Lexus will pull a lot of Audi A4 customers into the IS250, but will there be as many BMW 3-Series customers choosing the IS350?

The new Lexus IS350 has exceeded my expectations. But it does come with a price - 300 pounds (over the IS300) and ten thousand dollars. Nevertheless, at this point in my life, I'm willing to pay that price for the end result - a VERY satisfying car that leaves very little to be desired.
 

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beautiful write-up, tony! ;)
<p>based on the closing statement, does this mean you're going to keep it completely STOCK? :jawDrop: :lol:
 

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Very very nice...thanks for sharing

So, which color do you plan on getting??
 

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Great article. The one line below scares me a bit.

An IS350, nicely equipped, should be in the mid to high $40ks
That is higher than previous prices that have been predicted. Oh well guess we shall wait and see. Thanks again for the great article.
 

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Am not too sure about potentially pulling in A4 customers as it hasn't been a whole lot to begin with. A great write up never-the-less as it appears to be almost a no brainer (to trade up from my current one). Can't wait to test drive this beast myself.
 

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I don't think Lexus had Audi in mind with they came up with the IS. They clearly set their sights on the BMW 3-Series. Mid to high $40's is right in the range of the BMW 330 and thus is too high. They need to price below the 330 to have any chance to taking market share away from BMW.

As far as the IS250 is concerned, it's lethargic and heavy compared to the A4 2.0T or the BMW 325. They better price it like the Acura TSX if they want to make any dent in the market share of these German sedans.
 

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Awesome article Tony. keep it up.
 

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<P>thundercloud080903, I will probably keep my next car very stock. Crazy isn't it?

<P>tsopranoMB, I'm partial to Blue Onyx, but haven't decided. Most definitely black interior though.

<P>Tacoma and Michael, I didn't say that Lexus was building this car as an A4 target, but I think a lot of people who are looking at the A4, particularly those who want AWD, will consider the IS250 a very viable option.

<P>Flashsim, you're right about the dual-chamber airbag, thanks. I guess I thought it didn't make any sense, since there's always someone in the driver's seat and only sometimes a passenger.
 

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Tony,
Very well put. Great article! Highly enjoyed reading it. And yes, the semi-LSD along with the VIDM make it unecessary to have an LSD. We took some pretty tight turns, and I planted my foot coming out of them, at no point did I get the open diff syndrome of spinning the inner tire.
 

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Good write up, Tony. Is there any information about the chassis outside of the fact that it uses the same one as the GS300/430? I was hoping for raw details, weight ratio, materials, something similar to Nissan's FM format writeup.
 

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Great article AND photos, Tony. I hadn't publicly congratulated you. :approve:
<P>As to the twin-chamber airbag situation, I just found this picture of a right-hand-drive Lexus IS250 interior on Australia's Drive.com.au website.
 

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