If watchers of automotive styling wondered where all the flares, waveforms and undulations went on the latest BMW 3-series, I've found them: They're on Lexus' new IS sport sedans. Inspired by the company's new design language, called L-Finesse - which sounds like the name of a Mexican wrestler - the luxury division of Toyota has managed, not quite consciously, to build the 3-series that Munich would have built if they hadn't gotten a straitjacket on design chief Chris Bangle.
Man, this is one frothy bit of styling. Even the taillight lenses have little meringue-like peaks whipped into them. The cat's-eye headlights are right off Grandma's nightstand. The dorsal contours plunge down the roof rails, onto the hood and into the bumper in the shape of a divining rod over an east Texas aquifer. The triangular fog-light apertures and bumper opening follow the same V-shaped contours, which ultimately has the effect of giving the car kind of a happy, slightly stoned grin. Heading aft, the rising shoulder lines leave the midsection of the car looking thick and slack below the windows and create something like an optical illusion: The rear wheels look smaller than the fronts.
2006 Lexus IS 250
Los Angeles Times
Base price: $29,990
Price, as tested: $38,795
Powertrain: 2.5-liter, 24-valve direct-injection V-6 with variable-valve timing; six-speed manual transmission; rear-wheel drive.
Horsepower: 204 at 6,400 rpm
Torque: 185 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm
Curb weight: 3,455 pounds
0-60 mph: 7.9 seconds
Wheelbase: 107.5 inches
Overall length: 180.1 inches
EPA fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city, 29 mpg highway
Final thoughts: Capt. Nemo gets a sports sedan
Football and car styling are games of inches. The GS 430 sedan - also an L-Finesse styling exemplar - has an easy fluidity about it, a stately aerodynamic flow. The same styling language on the IS - almost 9 inches shorter - looks crowded and turbulent. As El Finesse might say, "Ay caramba!"
This is Lexus' second edition of an entry-level rear-drive sport-compact sedan. The first try, the IS 300, introduced in 2000, was a stubby little vest gun with chronographic gauges and seats that fit like an Eisenhower jacket. It was competent and likable but bereft of serious sports-sedan mojo. I personally really liked the SportCross variant and hope another sport wagon remains in the product plan. In any event, younger sport-sedan buyers stayed away in droves.
Lexus started burnishing its sport-sedan credentials in 2005 with the GS sedans, the GS 300 and GS 430, which are meant to bracket BMW's 5-series.
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