Car reviews - Lexus - IS - 200t
Brilliant 2.0-litre turbo engine perfectly matched with IS chassis, value for money, Lexus badge a point of difference over Euros, fuel efficiency
Room for improvement
Some skipping over looser surfaces on 17s, fussy dash design
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23 Sep 2015
IN THE premium mid-size sector of the new-car market, the biggest players offer a variety of powertrains to appeal to different tastes.
But more often than not the best-sellers in the range are entry to mid-range models, and the likes of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and now the Jaguar XE are all available with a 2.0-litre turbocharged in their lower grade variants.
Now, finally, Lexus can be added to that list.
The Japanese luxury car-maker has ditched its old 153kW/252Nm 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine that serviced the IS in current and previous-generation IS250 guise, and replaced it with an all-new 2.0-litre turbocharged unit – the company’s first blown engine – pumping out 180kW at 5800rpm and 350Nm at 1650-4400rpm.
While the engine has already been sampled in Australia, under the bonnet of the NX200t crossover that arrived in February this year, its application in the IS marks the first time it has been paired with a rear-wheel drive layout.
In terms of other changes, this is no mid-cycle update so the IS looks exactly the same as it did when it launched in 2013. Which is not a bad thing. The massive ‘spindle’ grille at the front and striking pinched tail-lights are holding up well two years down the track.
Inside, there are no major changes to speak of. The Lexus seats are still beautifully cushioned and super supportive, visibility is still excellent and everything from the lovely three-spoke steering wheel, the infotainment system, the touch command system and other controls functions well. It still has a foot-operated park brake but you can’t have everything.
Also, the IS dash layout is fussy and at times confusing. We also don’t know how well it will age.
Some variants in the IS including the hybrid-powered IS300h and the 3.5-litre V6-powered IS350 range gain new safety technology and an upgrade in standard features, and there are price rises across the entire range.
The IS200t mirrors other variants by being offered in three grades – the base Luxury that kicks off the entire IS range from $57,500 plus on-road costs (up $3500 over the outgoing IS250), F Sport from $65,500 (up by $3527) and the $76,500 Sports Luxury (up by $2890).
Lexus has always sold the IS as the best-value alternative in the premium mid-size segment, and against the three big Germans that offer adequate standard equipment lists, but virtually unlimited options that range in price from reasonable to outrageous, the IS maintains its crown as the value pick of the bunch.
The Luxury grade starts with satellite navigation, reversing camera, eight parking sensors, heated and ventilated seats, keyless entry and start, digital radio, powered front seats, idle-stop, the Lexus Enform system, ‘advanced’ Bluetooth connectivity, a 4.2-inch full-colour screen, bi-Xenon headlights, 60/40 split-fold rear seats, dual-zone climate control, hill-start assist a suite of active safety features and 17-inch alloy wheels as standard.
You don’t want for much even in an entry level IS and that’s where Lexus has an advantage over its European rivals.
But now with the new turbocharged powertrain in the 200t, the IS is more than about value, and brings the fight right up to the Europeans.
We start the day driving from Lexus’ new dealership in the Brisbane suburb of Springwood in an IS F Sport up towards Mt Tamborine, and what is immediately noticeable is how quiet the IS is on suburban streets.
Lexus said it had to alter the IS platform to ensure strict noise, vibration and harshness levels were met and to accommodate different characteristics of the turbocharged unit. Some of the changes include a Yamaha-developed performance damper across the front of the chassis, as well as new engine mounts, intake and exhaust systems.
Whatever they have done, the IS is quiet, but when you get a chance to put the foot down, the turbo four-pot has a lovely note, and one that we relished hearing again and again.
The revised exhaust system layout of the IS compared with the engine’s application in the NX allowed Lexus engineers to wring out an extra 5kW of power over the crossover. It is difficult to feel the difference of course, but the 200t offers excellent power and torque delivery from a standing start, with the IS managing to feel light on its feet yet planted at the same time. Overtaking was taken care of quickly and with ease with no hesitation felt accelerating at higher speeds.
At launch two years ago, the IS chassis received a lot of praise, as it offered a flat, balanced ride, and ensured fun, grippy handling. But the old 2.5-litre V6 let the package down a little.
We are happy to report that is no longer the case. Without sounding too much like Greg Evans, the sublime 2.0-litre turbo is a perfect match for the IS’s taut chassis.
Throwing the IS200t into corners, super tight bends, and tackling twisty mountain roads is a breeze, and the mid-sizer never felt stretched.
There was some light skipping in the Luxury variant that is fitted with 225/45R17 Bridgestone 17-inch hoops on the Luxury grade, but the F Sport’s 225/40R18 front and 255/35R18 rear Dunlop set-up stuck to the black-top better.
The double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension (the F Sport and Sports Luxury also features adaptive variable suspension) set-up is a winner as is the damping tune, with the IS tackling harsher roads more admirably than some of its stiffer European competitors, although Jag’s impressive XE also offers a more supple ride.
Matched with an intuitive and silky smooth eight-speed automatic transmission, Lexus says the IS200t can do the 0-100km/h dash in 7.0 seconds and sips 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel on the combined cycle.
While we did not record our fuel figures, we have no reason to doubt either of the company’s claims.
The IS has always been, in our opinion, the under-appreciated gem of the luxury mid-size sedan set, even with the old 2.5-litre V6 under the bonnet.
But now, the spritzy turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, which is beautifully matched with the chassis and transmission, takes the IS to another level.
The IS200t offers outstanding – we would even say class-leading – value, an engaging drive experience, excellent performance and handling, and all in an attractive, interesting package.
Anyone looking in this space that turns their nose up at a non-European offering is seriously missing out. The Lexus IS200t is a winner.
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