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
Engine 2GR-FSE 4GR-FSE
Type 60 V6 60 V6
Size 3456cc 2499cc
Comp 11.8:1 12:1
HP 306 @ 6400 204 @ 6400
TQ 277 @ 4800 185 @ 6400
TRANNY CHOICES
IS 250 6MT 6AT
IS 250 AWD 6AT
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 PhoneBluetooth
Rain-Sensing Wipers