Little Lexus leave big impression

SHAPE: The Lexus IS200t looks stylish from all angles.

Over the years I’ve made no secret of the fact that I like sports sedans.

If you add that to my desire for Lexus product, and the IS series in total, then you’d have to agree that I’m a little bit smitten with the latest IS – a series that lands with three engine options.

Topping the line-up is a 3-litre V6 petrol at $107,900, there’s the 2.5-litre hybrid driveline ($77,300 and $88,700), and the baby of the series – the IS200t starting at $74,300. As its nomenclature suggests, the latter is a 2-litre turbocharged model and it is a car that punches well above its weight and, in my opinion, is by far the pick of the series.

Regular readers will recall my recent evaluation on the RC200t, Lexus’ small and sporty coupe, it was a car I enjoyed immensely. The IS200t uses much the same driveline, but as I’ve eluded to, it is packaged in a sedan body shell. The test car was an F-Sport model and sits in the line-up at $84,900 which, to my way of thinking, is good value considering that it is a premium car built to all the Lexus values of quality and performance.

It is high-specced with all the trimmings for comfort and convenience along with a high level of safety. There are no surprises, buyers want for nothing.

Under the bonnet sits the heart of what makes the IS200t so special – a four-cylinder, twin-camshaft, turbocharged engine of 180kW and 350Nm. Both outputs are realised low in the rev band at 5800rpm and 1650rpm respectively. It drives through an eight-speed automatic transmission, and between the two the flow of power is exciting, or gentle, depending on the conditions at any given time.

When Lexus New Zealand launched the new series, motoring journalists were invited to the Taupo Motorsport Park and we were treated to laps on the circuit under the guise of professional race drivers. I can report that all three variants, yes, even the hybrid, equipped themselves well on track, but to me it was the turbo model that stood out. The gentle flow of boost and the quiet and refined manner with which the engine operates is true to the Lexus ideology.

What also makes the IS rather special is the way the chassis and suspension has been set up. Of course, Lexus’ engineers haven’t lost sight of the benefits of rear-wheel-drive, and the IS is set up so that it can be used in a sporty environment, the combination of sensible spring and damper ratings and perfect steering just reinforces my adulation.

On my home patch I took it west on the scenic route to Terrace Downs. I didn’t push too hard in the corners, for I felt the Taupo experience was enough to evaluate its handling prowess. Instead, I travelled at a leisurely pace, soaking up the ambience of what makes Lexus so special as a brand.

The IS200t travels ever so quietly and is a joy to be behind the wheel of. It is smooth and feels just so unbelievable from behind the wheel, the steering is like turning on velvet and the chassis responds comfortably to any broken surface or directional change.

If quick acceleration is required the engine and gearbox respond swiftly to throttle pressure, an overtaking manoeuvre can be achieved in 4sec while a standstill to acceleration time of 7.5sec is just enough to release the endorphins.

At highway speed the engine turns over slowly and economically at just 1750rpm, sipping fuel at the rate of just seven litres per 100km (40mpg). When I took the car back the trip computer was listing a 9l/100km (31mpg) average which sits well with Lexus’ 7.5l/100km (37mpg) claim.

The IS200t isn’t a big car, but it does fit five without a squeeze, the interior detailing is such that it reeks of quality and luxury build. For me, though, it’s all about performance and I know it’s a bold statement, but I firmly believe that as a series the IS is one of the world’s great all-rounders.

I applaud Lexus’ product planners, in an age when sedans are struggling in a wilting market, great cars like the IS, and others, are rolling out of the Lexus factories.

I’m the owner of one of the early forerunners to the IS series and enjoy it very much as a daily drive. That being the case, it would be a natural transition to step into an IS, and I’m desperate to do that, the only thing standing in my way is I’m yet to pick the winning Lotto balls.

Price – Lexus IS200t, $84,900

Dimensions – Length, 4680mm; width, 1810mm; height, 1430mm

Configuration –  Four-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive, 1998cc, 180kW, 350Nm, eight-speed automatic.

Performance –
0-100km/h, 7.5sec

Fuel usage – 7.5l/100km

SHAPE: The Lexus IS200t looks stylish from all angles.

LEXUS IS200T: At home on-road or on the track.