2017 Lexus IS200t Luxury review

Rating: 7.5
$59,340 Mrlp
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The 2017 Lexus IS200t Luxury is the cheapest version of the car available, but it doesn't feel cheap.
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This is luxury – that’s the impression you get upon sitting inside the 2017 Lexus IS200t Luxury – and that’s in spite of the fact it’s the cheapest model in the Lexus IS range.

The IS200t Luxury starts at $59,340 plus on-road costs, meaning it isn’t as cheap as base model rivals such as the Audi A4 1.4 TFSI ($55,500) or BMW 318i ($54,900), but it does undercut the Mercedes-Benz C200 ($61,400). That price is also up from $57,500, which is what it listed at when Lexus launched the IS200t in Australia in 2015.

But still, you don’t feel as though you’re jumping into the base model when you get in – there’s lovely Lexus black leather trim just about everywhere, and when you sit in the driver’s seat and start the engine, the steering wheel presents itself thanks to its electrically adjustable column.

The front seats offer electric adjustment, too, but there are no memory settings – which could be a pain if you’re part of an odd-bod couple – however, there is heating and ventilation for both front seats, which is nice for a car at this price point (plenty of makers charge extra for heating, some don’t even offer cooling).

New for 2017 is a larger media screen that sits atop the dashboard, now spanning 10.3 inches in lieu of the existing 8.0-inch unit, while the stereo now has 10 speakers (previously eight).

That new screen offers a better initial impression than the existing smaller unit, but it doesn’t have the best resolution, lacks the latest connectivity options (Apple CarPlay/Android Auto), and it’s still controlled by Lexus’s frustrating joystick system.

The human-machine interface has been improved somewhat with a couple of new buttons, but at CarAdvice we collectively agree the rotary dial controllers in Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz models are simpler and a lot easier to live with than the fiddly thing in the Lexus.

The cabin has a couple of other issues, too: the cupholders up front eat into space for the passenger’s elbow to rest if they’re in use; Lexus persists with the foot-operated park brake rather than an electric system; and there’s a lack of decent storage for loose items like the modern day tablets we call smartphones.

The back door storage is lacking – literally, there isn’t any door storage for those in the back – despite the fact the front doors have bottle holsters and a little extra space for odds and ends.

The rear has a flip-down armrest with cupholders, dual map pockets in the front seatbacks, rear seat air-vents and dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors (and three top-tether hooks), but the seat space is short for the competitive set.

With the driver’s seat set for a six-foot pilot, the rear headroom, knee-room and toe-room were all tight, and outer edges of rear seats are so bolstered that it could be uncomfortable after a few hours. The front seats, too, aren’t as comfortable as some other Lexus offerings – we reckon the NX SUV could have the comfiest front seats of any car on the market.

Being a Lexus, the boot is good: there’s 480 litres of space, easily enough for a couple of suitcases, and the opening is large enough to make awkward-sized objects easy to load. And the materials used throughout – even in the boot – are of a high standard.

As part of the 2017 Lexus IS update, the luxury sedan saw the addition of new safety equipment, including autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, fatigue monitoring, lane departure warning and automatic high-beam lighting. The lights worked fine, the lane departure system, too – but as with many radar cruise control systems, it errs on the side of leaving a massive gap, even when the shortest distance between your nose and the tail of the car in front is chosen… so expect some other commuters to jump in.

Those auto high-beams work in conjunction with the redesigned bi-LED headlamps, while further differentiating it from the existing IS range is a new bumper and reshaped grille, new-look rear tail-light inlays, as well as new 17-inch alloy wheels and dual exhaust tips. There are two new colours, too: Deep Blue as seen here, and Graphite Black (replaces Starlight Black).

The 200t in the name of this version of the IS denotes the fact it’s powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, and there’s 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque available. It’s rear-wheel drive, with an eight-speed automatic and paddle-shifters offering the driver options.

It’s an engine that feels up to the task for the most part, offering good – but not overly zesty – response and refinement when you’re just tootling around town. The biggest concern we had was the gearbox’s tendency to always choose the highest gear possible – it was annoying at times when you’d prefer to have a few more revs on board in a lower gear. It would have to shuffle between cogs to maintain momentum, and while the engine is generally decent in terms of response it can fall into a bit of a black hole as a result. This was mainly during urban driving, or if you pulled off a highway onto a lower-speed road.

On the open road, or under harder driving, that wasn’t such a problem because the transmission – and the drive experience – was transformed in sport mode. With that engaged the 'box behaved a lot more engagingly, holding gears nicely to allow you to explore the rev range of the engine. In manual mode it will upshift when it thinks it should rather than allowing you to bounce it off the rev limiter, and it proved decently peppy and rewarding even so – we just wish it sounded sportier under revs.

Lexus claims fuel use of 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres, with 95RON premium unleaded required. We saw a bit higher than that during our time with the car: 10.2L/100km across a mix of urban, highway and windy road driving.

As for its road manners, the IS200t’s steering was natural and accurate, with good weighting no matter what speed was being done, but without a lot of feel to the driver's hands. In the twisty stuff it didn't feel as heavy as it is – a tubby 1680 kilograms – but nor was it as rewarding to steer as, say, a BMW 3 Series.

It rode nicely on bumpy back roads, wasn’t upset by sharp bumps at low speeds, and ironed out larger roll-over edges like speed-humps with confidence. It was pretty quiet for the most part, too – but on coarse-chip surfaces it was a touch noisy.

Lexus offers a four-year, 100,000km warranty, but the company still doesn’t offer a capped-price service program, nor a pre-purchase plan like its main rivals in the luxury space. Lexus Australia has advised maintenance for the IS200t is due every 12 months/15,000km (whichever occurs first), with the first maintenance visit at 15,000km coming free of charge. The estimated cost for the following three years/45,000km is $625 per year, which is pretty steep.

We’re convinced the Lexus IS200t Luxury doesn’t feel like a base model – it feels luxurious on first impressions, and even after a week in the garage the plush factor was still high. But there are a few shortcomings in the way the car is packaged that still leave a bit to be desired, and its gearbox can be a tad annoying around town.

Those criticisms aside, the 2017 Lexus IS200t Luxury is certainly worthy of consideration at the lower end of the luxury car class.

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