The Lexus IS looks familiar but the changes are under the bonnet, where the V6 from the 250 model has been replaced by a new 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder that is more powerful and more efficient.
The 2016 Lexus IS200t launches straight into a burgeoning medium-luxury segment that is showing no signs of slowing down.
Lexus is adamant that, while the new IS might not be their most expensive vehicle, it is in fact a vital cog in the wheel of their model portfolio. “This is the front door to the upper-luxury market segments, a stepping stone,” said Sean Hanley Chief Executive, Lexus Australia.
“It’s a rapidly growing segment, and a good place to be with IS200t,” said Hanley. “This new IS200t means we are the equal leaders in torque delivery and a close second in the power stakes in the segment with this car.” To give you an idea of how popular this segment now is, sales increased 32 per-cent year-on-year for August 2015 (over 2014). As such, Lexus indicated to CarAdvice that it will be powering into the market as competitively as it can over the next 12-months.
“We see the most important factors being power and economy with high specifications,” said Hanley. “Paramount to Lexus is inbuilt specification, which removes the need for a long, expensive options list. In short, this is a well-specified entry-level luxury sedan.”
You can read our IS200t pricing and specification story here, but in short, IS200t Luxury starts from $57,500, F Sport from $65,500 and Sport Luxury rounds out the range from $76,500. There’s plenty of standard kit, sensibly priced options packages and all the safety tech you’d expect at this end of the market - without the price that is often associated with it.
Beyond the marketing speak, the most important change to the new IS200t can be found in the model name itself. Gone is the rather uninspiring IS250, powered by a V6 engine that rarely (if ever) tugged at the heartstrings, replaced with this new model, powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. There’s a lot to like about the basic specifications too. Peak power comes in at 180kW at 5800rpm, while maximum torque is on offer between 1650-4400rpm.
If you think peak torque being available that low in the rev range makes for an engaging daily driver, you’re right. The IS200t is immediately a more spirited and enthusiastic engine than the V6 it replaces. The smaller capacity coupled with two less cylinders doesn’t make for a drop in performance anywhere through the rev range, quite the contrary. The almost imperceptible turbo lag combined with peak torque delivery so close to idle, makes for rapid acceleration whenever you want it. This four-cylinder engine is yet another example that less is sometimes more, and at no point are you left wondering where the extra power is lurking. The IS200t delivers more than you’ll ever need.
Backed by a sweet eight-speed automatic with an ingeniously broad spread of ratios, the pairing is very difficult to criticise. Our only issue would be the engine note, which is a little more muted than we'd like for a luxury sports sedan. The ADR fuel claim is 7.5L/100km on the combined cycle and we saw figures in the 9-9.5L/100km range at launch on a lengthy country drive with speed limits generally between 80-100km/h - more on that in a minute though.
Inside the cabin, you’ll find the usual Lexus quality and finishing touches, which give the interior a sense of quiet, insulation and comfort. The seats, like those of our long-term NX, are exceptional regardless of model grade, and the instrumentation is clear. F Sport gets the - ahem sportier - gauge layout customisation options as you’d expect.
The F Sport and Sport Luxury models benefit from even more sculpted seats than the basic Luxury model, which hold you in place more tightly at speed. Other manufacturers could learn a lot from Lexus’ seat designers. Despite the more historically conservative nature of the Lexus brand, there’s a genuine feel of sportiness behind the wheel of the new IS200t.
The second row seating remains a tight fit for taller adults, something we saw with the previous IS250 and remains an issue in this new model. It's not uncomfortable, but there's not a surfeit of room either. If you've got teenage children and need to use the back seat a lot, it might be an issue. Boot space though is solid for the class.
Straight off idle, there’s a steady surge in acceleration, and the engine reveals itself to be perfectly suited to the weight, balance and tractability of the IS platform. There’s no doubt this engine and chassis is a match that was just begging to happen. We have universally enjoyed the engine in our long term NX since it’s been in the CarAdvice garage, but that same powerplant comes into its own in impressive fashion under the bonnet of the IS. It’s worth noting here that the engine is mounted north/south for the RWD IS200t compared to east/west for the AWD NX200t.
Switching between the Luxury model and the F Sport and Sport Luxury variants during the course of the launch drive programme, we notice that there’s a definite difference in the chassis package once you shift into Sport mode. The steering and suspension tightens up, and while the IS200t delivers impressive, confidence-inspiring grip at any speed, the tighter ride is rarely unsettled even by nasty mid corner bumps and ruts. Sharp steering, reassuring turn-in and beautiful balance allow (and in fact encourage you) to push on when you find twisty country roads with the right speed limit. The IS200t is a whole lot sportier than you might have expected.
Sport mode in the Luxury model adjusts the throttle sensitivity and gearshift points, while in the F Sport and Sport Luxury, the suspension and steering are also tweaked by the switch to Sport mode. We didn't notice any brake fade, even after a long, spirited run downhill, there's always a sense of surety when you need to pull up quickly before tight corner.
Lexus has positioned itself as the go to brand for smart luxury buyers who don’t want to spend the sort of silly money that can be invested in the Euro market, but it’s also a brand that appeals to buyers on a tighter budget. Despite that, there’s nothing to detract from the Lexus ownership experience, instead you’re left feeling like you’ve ended up with more than you paid for.
The new IS200t benefits from a clever new engine and gearbox combination, signature Lexus build quality and a surprisingly sporty driving experience. If you’re looking to make the leap into the luxury sedan segment, you’ll need to take a close look at the IS200t. We’re looking forward to spending more time behind the wheel when we get one in the CarAdvice garage for a full review.