Lexus Goes to School in the Manual Arts Optional X Package adds a slightly more aggressive front airdam along with the nicely cut 18-inch wheels. By Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor Date posted: 06-14-2007 Six-speed manual transmission - 18-inch alloy wheels - Full control of stability and traction control systems The 2007 Lexus IS 250 comes with a six-speed manual transmission, which makes it the only Lexus you can buy with a stick shift and a clutch pedal. But one look at the shift lever makes you wonder if Lexus is taking this opportunity very seriously. While the version of the IS 250 with an automatic transmission gets a beautifully crafted shift lever that looks as solid as the exterior sheet metal, the stick in the six-speed IS 250 appears to have been lifted from a Scion. It's one of the few miscues in a car that does so many other things right, including two new additions for 2007. What Does "X" Mark? Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tires deliver excellent steering response, but the steering system fails to deliver much road feel. There's now a dedicated sport package for the rear-wheel-drive 2007 Lexus IS 250. Dubbed the X Package for no particular reason, this $1,485 option includes 40-series summer tires on 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a revised front spoiler, illuminated door-sill plates and alloy pedal covers. The second update for '07 is a surprising bit of latitude from Toyota's legal brigade. You can now fully disengage the traction and stability control systems for serious driving without electronic intervention. For those keeping score, it's now: Enthusiasts 1, Lawyers 68,769. There's no charge for the ability to switch off the stability system, as the base price of the rear-wheel-drive IS 250 still starts at $30,255. All-wheel drive is optional, but once you go that route, the manual transmission and the sport package fall off the options list. Along with the IS 250's entry-level price comes an entry-level engine: a 2.5-liter V6 sized midway between the four- and six-cylinder power plants of its competitors. This 24-valve DOHC V6 with variable valve timing develops 204 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 185 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm, and this puts the IS 250 on the low end of the horsepower scale against its competition. Don't Let the Horsepower Scare You The 2.5-liter V6 develops just 204 horsepower, yet still gets the IS 250 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. As meager as the output of this 2.5-liter V6 appears on paper, the IS 250 makes the most of the available power on the road. Even with its six-speed manual transmission, it doesn't ever feel genuinely fast, yet its 7.5-second run to 60 mph is 0.2 second quicker than the last Audi A4 2.0T we tested. Both sedans clock a 15.8-second quarter-mile at about 89 mph. The power of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 in the Audi A4 comes on with a rush in the middle of its power band, but the IS 250 delivers its power in the Lexus way, a seamless, predictably rising curve from idle to redline. It's useful and dependable, but a little dull, as the exhaust note rarely overcomes the whir of belts, chains and gears. And when it comes to gears, the low-budget stick shift works about as good as it looks. Its plain appearance isn't helped by the cheap plastic trim that surrounds it, and seeing the tacky reverse lockout ring resting on the loose-fitting boot gives the IS 250 a scent of Pontiac that we would rather not whiff. And if you try to rip off a shift too quickly, the stick hesitates as if it has a deal with the clutch to minimize their mutual workload. Maybe it's understandable, since just 1,005 IS 250s with the manual transmission were sold in the U.S. during 2006, versus 22,090 rear-wheel-drive IS 250s with an automatic transmission and 15,102 all-wheel-drive IS 250s. Less enthusiastic gearchanges come more easily, as the shift throws are short and the gear ratios are effectively spaced. Clutch take-up is spot on, so it's easier to complete a smooth shift in the IS 250 than it is in a BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G35. "X" Marks the Spot The retuned suspension that comes with the X Package provides a noticeable bump in the capabilities of the IS 250 without degrading the ride quality. Sport packages are all too often more about style than substance, so we didn't expect the addition of the X Package to assure instant handling credibility for the IS 250. Sure, you get 225/40YR18 tires in front and dramatically wider 255/40YR18s in the rear, plus a firmer suspension setup, but lighted door-sill plates aren't going to give you more grip in the corners. Surprisingly, the sport package doesn't degrade the IS 250's ride quality, which is the essence of what Lexus is about, after all. On the street, the IS 250 remains forgiving over most surfaces. If you buy the X Package for no other reason than the sharp-looking five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, you'll never regret it. Tire noise from the high-performance Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tires is up a tick, but when you're starting from nearly silent, this isn't much of an issue. And once you toss the IS 250 into a fast corner, the sport package really shows you something. The car settles quickly on its suspension into an effective cornering attitude and the stiff-sidewall tires help the steering react to subtle inputs more responsively than you'll find in an all-wheel-drive IS 350. In tight-radius corners, the bumps that momentarily upset the IS 350 barely faze this buttoned-down IS 250. Given that the all-wheel-drive, 3,527-pound IS 350 and rear-wheel-drive, 3,455-pound IS 250 have the same weight distribution of 52 percent front/48 percent rear, we're surprised the IS 250 feels so different. Slalom Superstar Sensible, legible buttons make it easy to operate the audio and ventilation controls. The X Package improvements also translate to the track, as our slalom test confirms. Although it's down over 100 hp on the IS 350, the IS 250 is nearly 4 mph faster through the cones with a 70.4-mph result. This is blazing speed, and it puts the IS 250 ahead of the BMW 335i, not to mention about a half dozen very capable sports cars. The rear-wheel-drive IS 250's overall grip on the skid pad is a fraction less than that of the all-wheel-drive IS 350, as the IS 250 manages 0.84g versus the 0.87g we recorded for an IS 350 with 18-inch wheels and tires. The two cars are also about the same in braking performance, with the IS 250 posting the shortest stop from 60 mph at 113 feet. And we discovered that the extra margin of driver command afforded by disabling the IS 250's stability control system doesn't translate into performance you can measure, as Lexus already has the electronics dialed in quite precisely. But we still appreciate the choice. Still a Lexus There's nothing unique about the cabin of the IS 250. The materials fit the price tag and all the controls sit in plain view. Gauges look classy, but they aren't the easiest clocks to read. The IS 250 is a pretty hospitable place, considering its relatively modest $32,455 price tag. For this same price, BMW will give you a 328i with exactly no options and fewer standard features. The IS 250 comes standard with 10-way power front seats upholstered in leather, a sunroof, keyless ignition and a 13-speaker, 194-watt audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. A bit more rear legroom would be a nice addition to this list, as there are just 85.7 cubic feet of overall passenger room when the sunroof is in place, but the front seats are suitably comfortable for average-size drivers. But a Different Kind of Lexus Not exactly the kind of shift lever we were expecting in a $30,000 Lexus. Though it's often overshadowed by the 306-hp IS 350, the IS 250 is actually Lexus' best effort at renewing some of the connection between the driver and the pavement that you expect in a sport sedan without giving up too much comfort in the process. Although the new Lexus X Package is offered for both the IS 250 and the more powerful IS 350, it's more worthwhile when paired with the six-speed manual in the IS 250. It all adds up to a livelier Lexus, one with more personality. The IS 350's 306-hp V6 is great, but unless you can dole it out in precise increments, much of the advantage is lost. Yet the 2007 Lexus IS 250 is a car with different priorities than an Audi or BMW, and so it's more reserved and discrete. A little more power would help push it even closer to some of its rivals, while it clearly has the handling to keep up with the best in its class. What the IS 250 really needs is a little Lexus quality applied to the sound of the engine, the action of the shift linkage and the feedback from the steering, and then it might be a stronger alternative to the European sport sedans. There's a slight uptick in road noise with the larger tires, but the IS 250 still rides softer than a similarly equipped Audi or BMW. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $32,455 What Works: Makes the most of its 204 horsepower, high cornering limits, precise steering, livable ride, simple interior layout. What Needs Work: Rubbery shift action, chassis lacks road feel, engine needs more torque. Bottom Line: Sharp-looking and reasonably priced, the IS 250 gets a different personality with its six-speed manual transmission, though no more real performance. Performance A tall trunk gives the IS 250 a narrow look from behind, but its overall width is only an inch narrower than the BMW 3 Series. 0 - 30 (sec): 2.8 0 - 45 (sec): 4.9 0 - 60 (sec): 7.5 0 - 75 (sec): 11.4 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): [email protected] 30 - 0 (ft): 27 60 - 0 (ft): 113 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): N/A Slalom (mph): 70.4 Skid Pad (g-force): 0.84 g Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): N/A Db @ Idle: 41 Db @ Full Throttle: 74.5 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 65 Acceleration: It doesn't have enough torque to leap off the line in a blaze of glory. Rather, there's a whiff of tire rotation and a little stumble. Gearchanges feel a little forced, as if it weren't designed to be hurried -- notchy but accurate gates. Lots of gear whine and especially throw-out bearing noise. Shift light is helpful with such an illegible tach. Braking: Extremely firm pedal from initial hit to complete stop, but composure and short distances mean it works. Handling: I can't detect what the front tires are doing through the steering wheel. Rather I need to listen to the squealing. Good balance up to the point when the understeer begins. I don't know why this IS 250 feels so much more connected and trustworthy than the recent IS 350, but it does. Crisp turn-in and the rest of the car obeys in kind. It feels sharp and sporty even without steering feel. Way better than the IS 350.