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2006 Lexus IS350 & IS250

Impressive Technical

Staff Report
Sep 6, 2005 SHARE

The redesigned IS further represents the core values that make the Lexus brand a standout--luxury and plushness. A number of innovative "technoid" features add to the ownership experience.

The Smart Entry and Start opens the door and allows you to start the engine by pushing a button without inserting a key. Simply have the key fob on your person and you'll have full access to the vehicle. Radar cruise control keeps the distance between the IS and the car in front consistent. It also works with the Pre-Collision System to pre-tension the seatbelts and prep the airbag when contact is eminent.

The outgoing IS 300 wasn't as luxurious as Lexus would have liked. While the reason for this was tip-toed around a bit at the long lead, it was obvious to us: The IS 300 was based on the JDM Toyota Altezza and, as such, performance rather than luxury was the aim.

For 2006 the Lexus IS line has expanded to offer three distinct models: the IS 250, IS 250 AWD and IS 350. The new car is 3.5 inches longer, three inches wider and sports an additional 2.4 inches of wheelbase compared to the IS 300.

The look of the new IS draws from the L-Finesse design philosophy of recent Lexus concept cars. While it is smooth and seductive in all the right ways, we are creatures of habit, so we hurriedly popped the hood to see the powerplant.In this case we were met with a leading-edge engine, which could very well be a sign of things to come for many years. The old IS 300 inline six, which spawned turbo kits and Supra swaps, is gone and an entirely fresh V6 powerplant motivates the new IS. These new motors--the 2.5-liter 4GR-FSE and 3.5-liter 2GR-FSE--feature technologically advanced direct-injection fueling systems, dual VVT-i and other innovative controls and hard parts.

Conventional injection introduces fuel in the intake port area of the runner and aims it at the intake valve. Air and fuel pass the valve and enter the combustion chamber where the compression cycle creates the charged-air mixture. Direct injection moves the injector into the combustion chamber where a much more exact mixture can be created because the intake runners and/or the opening of the intake valve are no longer involved with fuel flow.

Also, better fuel atomization can be realized thanks to a more dynamic injector spray pattern. Through the use of a high-pressure fuel system, in which the pump is driven by a dedicated lobe on the exhaust cam, and a proprietary D.I. injector, a fan-shaped spray pattern is generated. This pattern and highly specialized tuning maps allow the V6 to deliver the often-opposing elements of power, economy and ULEV emissions.

The plot thickens with the IS 350's 2GR-FSE engine, which runs a staged injection system with secondary injectors positioned at the port. However, unlike traditional staged injection where the secondary injectors come online as boost is introduced or high load is realized, this setup runs only the direct injectors at high loads.

The tech attack goes well beyond the fueling system, as the valvetrain received some substantial attention. Toyota's Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) system was expanded to include both intake and exhaust cams. Previous VVT-i systems incorporated only the intake side.

The new valvetrain also uses roller rockers with hydraulic lash adjusters. These improvements allow for more precise control of all aspects of combustion, which is key to the GR family's impressive combination of power and efficiency.

We drove the new IS from Pasadena, Calif., to Willow Springs for some hot laps on the road circuit. While the IS was a tad out of place on the high-speed big track at Willow, the endeavor vividly illustrated the differences between the models.

The IS 350 was the star of the show. While it is easy to point to its 102-hp advantage, it was the additional 92 lb-ft of torque that made the biggest seat-of-the pants impression. With 18-inch sport tires the IS 350 was a more-than-willing dance partner, running a consistent 15 to 20 mph faster at the end of the straightaway than the 250s.

The paddle-shift sport mode on the 350's six-speed automatic was a bit frustrating, as the computer decided when to actually make the shift it was asked to do based on throttle position, load and other values. In traditional D-for-drive the IS delivered the power and allowed the driver to focus on vehicle control. The clutch on the manual transmission IS 250 provided no feedback as far as engagement point, which made getting maximum performance out of the car a tough cookie. The all-wheel-drive 250 was the slowest of the bunch and seemed to get unsettled under high-speed braking. We got the traction control to chime quite a bit--a sign we were doing it right--as we explored the handling limits of these hand-built prototypes.

Lexus has questions that the IS line will answer. It will be the first Lexus-badged vehicle offered for sale in Japan. Will it be the "portal" car the company envisions: an entry- luxury offering that will introduce the Lexus brand to a new generation of owners?

As tuning enthusiasts we have questions for the new IS as well. Considering the Altezza lineage was a big part of why the IS 300 was a player in the tuning side of the market, one wonders if there is life after the Altezza connection is cut. Is the new engine tunable? Can the IS 350's staged injection be reworked as fuel enrichment for forced induction? Will there be a tuning market out there for those brave enough to try? How much will the car cost?

Lexus said pricing was soon to come. Will a high price tag re-energize the IS 300 tuning scene? It is difficult to predict how the cards will fall, but it will certainly be a soap opera worth watching.

ENGINE SPECS
Engine2GR-FSE4GR-FSE
Type60 V660 V6
Size3456cc2499cc
Comp11.8:112:1
HP306 @ 6400204 @ 6400
TQ277 @ 4800185 @ 6400
TRANNY CHOICES
IS 2506MT6AT
IS 250AWD6AT
IS 350 6AT

Innovative Technoid Features
Smart Entry and Start
Direct Injection
Dual VVT-i
Adaptive Headlights (which move with steering)
Radar Cruise Control
Pre-Collision System
Dynamic Redline Indication
Cam-Driven Fuel Pump
Computer Controlled Electric Power Steering
VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management)
Twin Chamber Airbag
Acoustic Aontrol Windshield
Neural Net Temperature Calculation
Heater Core Glow Plugs
Humidity Sensor
Smog Sensor
iPod/Walkman Auxiliary Input Jack
13-Speaker Stereo
800x480-Pixel Nav Display
Voice Control for Nav and Cell Phone
Bluetooth
Rain-Sensing Wipers

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