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Car reviews - Lexus - IS - range

Our Opinion

We like
Bold design actually works well, safety systems finally on par with key rivals
Room for improvement
Still a bit over the odds weight wise, some ergonomic quirks that a facelift can’t fix

22 Nov 2016

BLESSED are the rear-wheel-drive sedans, for they are becoming far fewer in number. Lexus is one of the biggest proponents of the now out-of-fashion drivetrain, with all but one of its sedans – the large and softly spoken ES – staying the rear-end course.

Its IS, of course, has been rear-drive since day dot its chassis tune was even honed Down Under by the car’s original chief project engineer, Nobuaki Katayama.

Lexus, by its own admission, didn’t really get the mix right out of the gate with the third-generation car, which launched in 2013. Dated powertrains and a lack of next-generation safety tech were exacerbated by a flurry of launches from its main rivals Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

The addition of the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine to the range in 2015 was a start, but it’s taken until now to ring in some of the more essential updates.

On the looks front, the IS can spit right in the eye of its A4, 3 Series and C-Class rivals when it comes to presence. Adopting the almost cartoonishly large bumper vents from the RC coupe instantly gives the IS depth, presence and attitude it’s actually amazing how well such a relatively small change has worked.

And that’s the story with the IS facelift it’s a series of seemingly low-key tweaks right through the car that add up to more than the some of their respective parts.

The interior packaging hasn’t changed, per se, but new surfaces and finishes combine with some slight tweaks to control surfaces to lift the cabin’s feel another notch. It’s a damn shame that the foot-operated park brake couldn’t be banished this time around, but you can’t have everything.

Aside from some light massaging of spring rates and damper tune – and a set of tricky new bushes for the front end, the mechanicals are unchanged. And while the 200t’s four-pot turbo will take the bulk of the sales and the 300h’s petrol-electric drivetrain will earn it green kudos, the decade-old V6 lacks the punch that can justify its almost 10.0L/100km thirst.

We had a quick punt of the two engines through a sodden and foggy Victorian high country, which did little to reveal any changes to the handling package.

It did highlight, however, just how composed and civilised the 221kW/370Nm IS350 is even a couple of years into its model life, and entirely despite its old, thirsty engine.

The IS has always been the best handler of the Lexus four-doors, a trait that it inherited at birth. Over the years it has gained in both size and girth, but it still displays elements of the sharp handling and feelsome steering that sets the IS apart from some of its archest competitors.

A brief run in the newest of the engine specs, the 180kW/350Nm IS200t in F-Sport guise, also reinforces that this small capacity turbo motor with its lashings of torque is a great match to this rear-wheel-drive chassis.

Rumours abound that the next IS will be built on Lexus’s new GAL (Global Architecture Luxury vehicle) platform, which may help the IS lose a few of the excess kilos it’s gained in its 17 years, too.

Whether the raft of incremental changes helps the IS close the gap to its European rivals remains to be seen, but in the interim, Lexus’s subtle but clever tweaks have produced a much better version of the car.

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