The Lexus IS midsize sport sedan is virtually unchanged for 2012, after a significant "freshening" for 2011 that included front and rear styling updates and minor interior changes.
Sold in two models, IS 250 and IS 350, in rear- or all-wheel drive, starting prices are up by $300 for each. The IS 250 has a starting price of $34,170 and comes with a six-speed manual transmission and 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V6 engine. Upgrading to the six-speed automatic with steering-wheel shifters will add $1,170. The all-wheel-drive model starts at $37,800 and includes the automatic transmission. Pricing includes the $875 freight charge from Japan.
The 306-hp, IS 350 AWD, today's test car, starts at $43,055 and was $47,627 as tested.
The IS is attractively styled and youthful throughout, but it is among the smaller midsize sedans. While the front seat area feels open, with long legroom, headroom with the moonroof (37.2 inches) will be limited for some.
The AWD system normally sends 70 percent of available power to the rear wheels and will vary the torque-split ratio from 30:70 to 50:50 in response to driving conditions and driver input. The electronically controlled system watches the driver's inputs to steering and throttle and also factors vehicle signals from wheel speed and yaw-rate sensors.
Lexus' Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management includes traction and stability controls and also anticipates the onset of a vehicle skid or slide and then helps correct the situation with a combination of braking and throttle control.
Safety features include seven air bags (including a driver's knee bag) and anti-lock brakes, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.
The IS 350 AWD is lively to drive, with a sport mode that gives some eagerness to shift points and acceleration. Lexus claims 0-60 mph in a respectable 5.7 seconds.
Ride quality is luxury-class firm and not harsh on any surface, though there can be road and tire noise on the interstate.
I like the short dashboard in the IS, rather than a large, cab-forward one that can induce glare and reflections in the windshield. The tight turning circle, 33.5 feet, is a bonus when parking in snug spaces.
The back seat space is snug and low with narrow footroom and limited legroom, but a broad and comfortable armrest offers storage and cup holders.
The tall driveshaft tunnel makes this a better four-seater than five. There is a ski pass-through, but the back seat does not fold down to expand the 13-cubic-foot trunk space, which is on the small side.
There aren't many cut corners in the standard equipment list, which includes SmartAccess (lock/unlock) with push-button starting; 10-way, power-adjusted front seats; 13-speaker Automatic Sound Levelizer audio system with Bluetooth; and carpeted floor mats.
But also popular will be the Luxury Plus package, $1,320, which includes heated and ventilated seats, power tilt-telescoping steering wheel and a power rear sunshade. And the Navigation system, $2,465, adds a rearview camera (always useful) and the Lexus Enform system with Destination Assist, voice command, NavTraffic and more.