Something became immediately apparent when I recently took a look at Lexus’s current model line-up, and that is they’re trying very hard to add some excitement to their brand. After Lexus released the fantastic LF-A supercar its image changed forever, the only problem is that the LF-A was made in limited numbers and was very expensive. But armed with a new design language and some newfound mojo, Lexus have tried to include some of that magic to some of their more affordable models, and one of them happens to include this new IS 200t Sport.
The new IS sedan definitely has looks that divides opinion. Although it is undoubtedly a modern Lexus design – complete with the signature spindle grille and bold-looking headlamps and taillights – it might be a bit much for some people to digest, particularly traditional Lexus customers who are used to the sober and discreet design of previous models. With that said, the new IS has some broad shoulders giving it a much-needed muscular look, and despite the somewhat odd look of the rear lights, the rest of the car is indeed elegant in its overall look.
The base price for the IS 200t Sport is CHF 50,900, while the as tested price of this press car is CHF 54,460. With the base price you get things like: black 18-inch wheels with five spokes; black side mirrors; front and rear parking sensors; heated front seats; Bluetooth connectivity; a seven-inch screen for the user interface; keyless entry and go; as well as dual-zone climate control. The extra options on this car include Mica metallic paint, a navigation pack, and LED projector lamps.
Ambience, space and toys
Step inside the IS 200t Sport and you’re greeted by a well-made interior. Yes it is dark and typical Lexus sober, but the quality of the materials is very good and everything is laid out well and is mostly intuitive to use. The seats in this Sport version aren’t your typical super-soft Lexus leather seats, instead you get partial leather with Tahara fabric inserts. The front seats are firmer than the soft seats we’re used to from Lexus and provide a fair amount of bolstering. Although this might initially fill the typical Lexus buyer with dread, in reality they’re still quite comfortable to sit on and provide plenty of support when cornering.
You’ve got some nice buttons and the touch-sensitive temperature controls are a nice touch as well. The BMW-style indicator stalks have a good quality feel to them, which feel odd initially but you then learn to appreciate how it clicks nicely when used. Pairing devices to the car’s Bluetooth system is easy enough and the sound produced is quite good. The user interface and satellite navigation have good graphics, and are operated by a rotary knob that acts like a mouse. A touchscreen interface is definitely easier to use, but as the screen is placed rather far away from the driver the “mouse” is necessary.
The cabin is quite spacious, however the middle rear seat wont be a comfortable place for even average-sized adults, because they’re sat quite high and the intrusion of the transmission tunnel means that they have to place their feet on either side of it. Otherwise the outer rear seats give plenty of legroom and headroom for its occupants, as well as good cushioning. As for the driver, the steering wheel is a good size and feels nice to look and touch, however I worry that it might not go up high enough for taller drivers. Otherwise finding a good driving position is easy, you can place yourself really low down in the cabin if you wish, or high enough to feel like you’re in a small SUV.
Power and speed
The base engine for the IS is now a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine – like most of its closest competitors – not the previous normally-aspirated 2.5-litre V6 engine. With a power rating of 245hp and 350Nm of torque, it has got 37hp and a significant 98Nm of torque more than the engine it replaces. It also gets a new eight-speed automatic transmission derived from the RC-F sports coupe, which sends power to the rear wheels. Depending on specification, the IS 200t can weigh as low as 1,590kg and as heavy as 1,680kg. Acceleration from 0-100km/h is 7.0 seconds, while its top speed is 230km/h. For the Sport trim IS, Lexus is claiming it will use fuel at a rate of 5.9 l/100km on the highway, 9.4l/100km in the city, and 7.2l/100km on the combined cycle. After two weeks of driving in mostly Normal mode, the best figure I could get was 8.7l/100km according to the trip computer, but my average was 9.2l/100km.
The Lexus IS 200t Sport does make for a rather good everyday car. For one thing it’s not too big of a car despite being quite spacious for four adults, and it’s also quite easy to park if you have the optional reverse camera. While the ride quality of the IS Sport is on the firm side of things, it’s still comfortable. Body control and suspension movement feels tight, with limited body roll through the corners and good absorption of bumps.
The steering is electrically assisted and responds well enough to driver inputs. The steering weight has a good balance between city car light and sports car heavy in Normal mode, and then weights up slightly when you change to Sport mode. It has decent traction while exiting corners, only very slippery surfaces will get the tyres slipping and the tail wagging. The IS 200t Sport doesn’t come equipped with a limited-slip differential but it’s still nicely balanced when going around a series of bends.
There are three driving modes: ECO, Normal and Sport. My time with the IS 200t was mostly on Normal mode, and occasionally Sport mode. The throttle response in Sport is definitely sharper, and the transmission hangs on to gears a bit longer while accelerating, and changes down a gear as soon as it can when slowing down. The eight-speed transmission is quite a responsive unit, shifting between gears quickly and smoothly. You can change gears manually via steering wheel-mounted paddles, complete with throttle blips on downshifts.
Although this car is well suited for city streets and twisty country roads, it’s just as good on the highway. It is nice and stable at highway speeds, even when you take “brief liberties” with your speed. Combine the engine and gearbox with the stable highway ride, and it certainly makes for a good long distance cruiser.
The engine doesn’t really make a nice sound, but it is quite an effective unit. Turbo lag is very minimal and would probably go unnoticed by a lot of drivers. It is obviously a motor that has plenty of low-down torque, being ready to pick up pace with only a slight push of the gas pedal. When you ask for full acceleration it will push you back against the seat, and growls towards the higher end of the rev range. Otherwise when you’re driving normally its quite a refined engine and is quiet at low rpms. Thanks to the eight-speed gearbox and torque, the engine will spin at just 1,300rpm at 80km/h, around 1,800rpm at 100km/h, and just over 2,000rpm at 120km/h.
While the Lexus IS 200t Sport is an easy car to drive, the side mirrors are unnecessarily big and create a blind spot when going through certain bends. The C-pillar is also very thick, so a reverse camera is a necessity when reversing out of a parking spot. While the satellite navigation has some good graphics and works reasonably well, it was outdone by my phone’s Google Maps app, having failed to find a friend’s address in a small village in France. While the IS has a good-sized trunk, the hinges for the trunk lid might hinder those who are trying to squeeze in as much items as they can.
A new image
It’s always a risk trying to revamp the image of a well-known brand, you might risk alienating existing customers and failing to attract the number of people you were hoping for. However, with the adaptation of a bold new design language for the majority of its new models, and trying to make its cars more fun to drive, Lexus is definitely succeeding at changing its image and should draw a younger crowd into their showroom floors while they're at it. The IS 200t Sport is definitely fun to drive, and whether or not you like the bold design, it grabs attention. The IS 200t Sport should prove to be a great car to live with on a day-to-day basis, and if there ever is a BMW M3-rivalling F version, we should all be glad that Lexus decided to take a few risks.
Written by Alex Kisiri