It was just a couple of years ago that Lexus started reinventing itself with a decidedly more youthful image. It started off with the aggressive spindle grille and sharper lines of the new GS, and was taken to the next level with the even more sharply creased origami-inspired lines of the smaller IS and the most recent NX crossover.
Now Lexus has brought the 2015 IS 250 F Sport to the UAE, and it has added even more character and individuality to the already sharp-looking small saloon. The most conspicuous changes outside are the full-faced mesh grille and larger air ducts up front, spoilers, skirts and a set of 18in alloy wheels with LFA-inspired split-spokes. If for some reason you miss these, Lexus has thrown a few F Sport badges around as well, proclaiming it to be a competitor for the BMW 3 Series M Sport and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class AMG Line. And interestingly, it manages to look better than either of these German rivals, which in itself is a big shift for Lexus.
The F Sport touches are carried forward to the cabin as well, again with nods to the halo supercar, seen in the digital instrument cluster that features a thin film transistor display that moves to the left and right together with a sliding metallic-trimmed bezel, revealing and withdrawing digital screens. Completing the F Sport mods inside are a perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, aluminium sport pedals and exclusive Rioja Red leather, adding to the overall premium ambience of the cabin, which itself is flawlessly put together. I must point out that finding the perfect seating position has never been easier in any other car I’ve driven, and despite the fact that you sit pretty low, there are virtually no blind spots, thanks to the thin pillars and lower beltline.
Unlike in earlier Lexuses, there aren’t too many Toyota buttons and knobs spoiling the upmarket aura and the touch controls for the AC are very responsive.
Thankfully, there’s more to the F Sport than these cosmetic changes. The suspension has also been tweaked for sportier handling. The shock absorber settings are adjusted depending on the selected drive mode, the condition of the road surface, speed and driving style. There are three drive modes to choose from: Normal, Eco and Sport. While the first one is best suited for everyday commutes, striking a balance between performance and efficiency, the Eco mode obviously moderates performance in favour of fuel economy. Flick it into Sport, and apart from changing the outer ring of the tachometer white and red, it apparently alters the transmission’s shift points for faster acceleration when exiting corners.
But despite Lexus’s claims, I found the six-speed auto ’box’s responses a bit tardy compared to the 3 Series’ eight-speed ZF, or the A4’s seven-speed dual clutch. In auto mode, it’s simply not sharp enough to squeeze the best out of the 2.5-litre V6, which is sadly a carry-over from the previous generation. The only way to get some fun out of this ageing lump is to push the gear-shift knob to manual and shift yourself with the paddles. Still, don’t expect the IS 250 to go like a rocket, as it simply won’t with just 204bhp and 250Nm of torque at its disposal. The doctored soundtrack doesn’t help either, which, although it’s meant to trick you into believing that you’re going faster than you are, does quite the opposite and makes it feel slower relative to its loud yelp.
But what’s compromised in terms of the engine and transmission is amply compensated for in its handling. The electric steering is one of the sharpest in any saloon, and offers as much directness, predictability and feedback as a 3 Series or an ATS. Add to this brakes with linear stopping power and the stiffer F Sport-tuned suspension, and this little Lexus is a proper driver’s car, and is capable of giving its rivals a run for their money.
The IS 250 F Sport does what it’s supposed to do; stops just short of being a full-on sports saloon, which will be a job left to the IS F. But for someone looking for a small, tightly built saloon that can be an easy daily driver and at the same time offer enough fun when called for, the IS 250 F Sport is a compelling choice. Too bad it’s so expensive.