This year Lexus didn’t change up the recipe too much for their IS series. Subtle updates include large fighter jet style scoops on either side of the grille and a 10.25 inch screen in the dash. But the real appeal lies under the hood. The IS200t gets its giddy-up from a clever 241 horsepower 2.0L turbo-charged four cylinder introduced last year.
The turbo is a twin scroll design. Exhaust gases are separated and directed toward two different points on the turbine rather than dumping exhaust from all cylinders into one common manifold. This divide and conquer system is designed to allow the turbo to spool up faster thus preventing lag and improving performance. This, along with a boatload of other tech, makes the 2.0 liter from Lexus a pretty smart cookie.
The power is transmitted through an eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Would you rather stir your own gears? Sorry, the auto-box is the only option available. However, radar cruise control comes standard, and you can spring for the cross-traffic monitoring that alerts you if a cars is coming as you back out of a parking spot.
Our press car wore Lexus’ Ultrasonic Blue paint on its low-slung body work. The sleek body work blends geometric creases with organic curves seamlessly. Strong shoulder-lines and a nose-down stance work together to lend a sporty aesthetic to this sedan. The windshield rakes back into an arched roofline that makes a velvety transition to the deck-lid, giving the IS a slippery profile.
Up front, the obligatory, and divisive, spindle grille is nestled between a new pair of scoops and beady, determined-looking LED headlamps. 18″ aluminum wheels are finished in a gunmetal hue that looks great. Oddly it’s about the same color as brake dust. The posterior of this ride is simple and clean. Dual chrome exhaust tips add interest to the lower valance.
Inside, the driver is treated to a 10 way adjustable power seat. Both front seats are heated and ventilated. The seat upholstery is above average in both finish and comfort. You pay for the slinky good looks outside with limited space inside. It seemed like my right knee was alway touching the console. The rear seat space it tight, but serviceable. The F Sport package comes with some perks like the leather wrapped wheel and shifter for your hands and some aluminum pedals for the feet.
Lexus chooses to use a thin vinyl-like material rather than leather as an accent material. Synthetics like this have their advantages. They’re long-wearing and no cows get peeled to make them. Some of them are almost indistinguishable from their natural counterparts. However, the stuff Lexus is using is a let down. It looks fine, but it doesn’t feel good.
There’s a mushy, thin feel to it like the skin on the back of an old lady’s hand. And it’s everywhere in the cabin. Beyond the wonky vinyl, the shift knob was loose after only 2,750 miles. This isn’t a huge deal, but if I shelled out almost 50k for a car I couldn’t abide it.
Front and center in the dash there’s a 10.25 inch wide display for the infotainment system. Said system pumps your jams through 15 speakers stuffed into the cabin. The console is home to a knob that toggles between Eco, Normal, and Sport modes.
And then there’s the infotainment interface which Car and Driver called “irksome.” That’s a nice way of saying complicated to the point of being unusable. It’s downright unsafe to use while driving. Lexus sought to remedy this by adding another button, but to little avail.
It just demands too much attention. I guess that’s what the radar cruise control is for. And if that fails to prevent an accident while you’re fiddling with the absurd mouse-selector-joystick thing, there are 10 airbags tucked away that will keep distracted drivers safe.
For commuting, the car is pleasant enough. It’s quiet, comfortable and refined. But if you’re expecting a rowdy, scaled down version of the excellent Lexus GSF, you’ll be disappointed. Driving it is a little bit of a let down, like a tepid soda that’s lost some of its fizz. It can be goaded into misbehaving with the traction control turned of and Sport mode engaged. But it’s missing knife edge excitement that you get in the big Lexus.
For day to day it’s not bad though. The car can get from zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds. The steering feels good and the chassis is certainly up to snuff. It’s tough to get a feel for when the power comes on. The eight speed trans seems to suffer from a lack of focus. Put your foot down and the transmission has a “wait, you wanna do what?” moment before kicking down and allowing the car to pull. At 3,500 pounds, this car is heavier than most of it’s competition and the turbo-four-banger doesn’t cope well with the heft.
This car looks the part, but the grunt and guts and excitement are a little lacking. When I see interesting technology like the 2.0 liter in this car I want it to work. I don’t think the engine is a let down, but this chassis and transmission combo might not be the best way to showcase it.
I’d love to see Lexus mate this engine to six-speed manual and drop it in their CT200t hatch. But Lexus is not in the business of making hot-hatch fantasy cars for would-be boy racers. So, if it has to be an IS, maybe drop the extra dough for IS 350F.
The real question is why, given the option, wouldn’t one buy the comparable Bavarian competitor? Just like the IS200t it has an eight-speed auto, a 2.0 liter turbo-four, and four swinging doors, but manages to do the zero to 60 dance and full second faster. And for the same price.