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Consumer Reports rates Lexus IS250 "excellent" in test of six sporty sedans

Posted Friday, April 14, 2006

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BMW 325i and Audi A4 emerge in virtual tie with “Very Good” overall scores

YONKERS, NY — The Lexus IS 250 achieved an “Excellent” overall score in Consumer Reports’ tests of six sports sedans for the May issue. The IS 250 is now ranked fourth overall among 18 sports sedans.

The three top-ranked vehicles in the sports sedans class are the Acura TL, Volkswagen Passat, and Honda Accord, in that order.

Among the other vehicles in this test group, the BMW 325i and Audi A4 wound up in a virtual tie with “Very Good” overall ratings. Though not as good, the Cadillac CTS and Mercedes-Benz C230 also finished with “Very Good” overall scores. The Saab 9-3 finished 16th overall among all 18 sports sedans tested, but still received a “Very Good” score.

Sticker prices for the vehicles ranged from $31,615 for the Saab to $36,720 for the BMW.

“The IS 250 outscored its competitors based on its combination of refinement, interior craftsmanship, easy-to-use controls, and competent performance,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut. “Although the IS tested very well, it lacks the sporty personality of the other cars in this group.”

Full tests and ratings of the sports sedans appear in the May issue of Consumer Reports, on sale April 11. The complete report is also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org. Also new online this month is a full road test of the Lincoln Zephyr—which also posted a “Very Good” overall score.

Three of the six cars in this group are recommended by Consumer Reports: the IS 250, Audi A4, and Cadillac CTS. CR doesn’t have reliability data yet for the redesigned 3 Series. Reliability for the C230 has been worse than average while reliability for the 9-3 has been much worse than average. Consumer Reports only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s survey of its own subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

The newly redesigned IS 250 has a plusher interior and more relaxed manner than its predecessor. The interior uses high-quality materials, the cabin is hushed, and the engine is refined. But the ride is stiff and the steering lacks feedback. The IS 250 ($33,734 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested) is powered by a 204-hp, 2.5-liter V6 engine that is smooth and responsive. It’s mated to a six speed automatic that is smooth and fairly responsive. Braking is excellent.

The redesigned 325i is fun to drive and has more room than the previous generation. Its responsive steering and handling make it as nimble as some sports cars. The 325i ($36,720 MSRP as tested) is propelled by a 215-hp, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that delivers such lively performance that there’s little reason to get the more expensive 255-hp 330i. The six-speed automatic transmission is very responsive. Braking performance is also very good overall.

The A4 has a nicely finished interior, comfortable ride, and secure handling. But it lacks the agility of some cars in this segment. (The vehicle CR purchased for testing came with all-wheel-drive for added foul-weather traction.) The A4 2.0T is equipped with a 200-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers strong midrange power but hesitates off the line and is coarse at idle. The six-speed transmission shifts smoothly but seems reluctant to downshift. The A4’s brakes are excellent.

The CTS is satisfying to drive with its sporty, precise handling but the optional electronic stability control reacted too little and too late to be effective in an emergency situation. The interior is understated and well assembled but there are a few cheap touches mixed with high-quality materials. The base model of the CTS tested by CR ($35,275 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 210-hp, 2.8-liter V6 that performs adequately but is not as responsive as others in this group. The five-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. Braking performance is excellent.

The C230 is a taut and sporty car with quick, responsive steering and a supple ride. It has comfortable seats and a well-built interior. This model comes with a firm suspension, a lowered ride height, and summer tires that improve handling on dry roads but work poorly on snow-covered or icy roads. The C230 ($34,255 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 201-hp, 2.5-liter V6 that is smooth but not as quick as others in this class. Two larger V6 power plants, a 3.0-liter and 3.5-liter, are also available on the C-Class. The seven-speed automatic transmission is sometimes slow to downshift. Braking is excellent, with very short stopping distances on both dry and wet surfaces.

The 9-3 is less sporty and luxurious than the others in this test group. It handles securely but lacks the agility and enjoyment found in the better cars in this group. The 9-2 2.0T ($31,615 MSRP as tested) comes with a 210-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that is quicker than some V6 engines but not as refined. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking distances were excellent.

Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. CR conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Website; its auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe to Consumer Reports, call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org

 
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