Lexus’ new IS200t has superseded the more powerful IS350 EX, which we first tested in our September 2013 issue. At the time, CAR’s testers thought the IS350 EX was an extremely competitive product and, in the test’s Match-up section, it triumphed over the substantially more expensive BMW 335i and Audi A4 3,0T FSI (the current C-Class had not yet been released). However, in an August 2014 comparative test between the IS350 EX, BMW 320i and Mercedes-Benz C200, where the Lexus was the pricey option, it finished last due to its inferior cabin space, divisive styling and now-ageing oddball facia design.
In EX specification, the IS200t represents Lexus’ four-cylinder, turbocharged riposte to the likes of the C300 and 330i (the IS350 F-Sport is still available for those who seek more power). But, as protagonists of the struggling Infiniti Q50 will know, challenging the status quo is no easy task.
In terms of exterior and interior appearances, the IS200t looks identical to its predecessor. Lexus has retained a lofty standard specification, including features such as electric seats, sat-nav and a sophisticated infotainment system. However, the operation of these features now seems a little clunky given the updated interiors its competitors offer. The tracking pad joystick on the cluttered facia is not very intuitive to use, the voice-command feature has difficulty recognising verbal instructions and it’s possible to access the phonebook only when the vehicle is stationary.
Conversely, the 8AR-FTS engine, which debuted in the NX200t compact SUV (tested in April 2015), proves a good fit for the IS. The unit’s brisk responses, almost lag-free turbocharger and smooth-revving nature complement the cabin’s refinement. The interior is well insulated from wind and road noise – it is only under mild to hard acceleration that the driver and occupants discern a slight drone from the engine.
As expected, the IS’ front double wishbone and rear multilink suspension, combined with the 255/45 R17 wheel arrangement, endowed the test unit with a notably stable and forgiving ride quality.
However, despite having a much smaller engine, the IS200t is now a surprising 8 kg heavier than the V6, giving it a lower power-to-mass ratio than expected and slightly diminishing the dynamic characteristics we so enjoyed in the IS350.
There are three selectable driving modes – normal, eco and sport – but switching between them reveals only slight differences in the levels of throttle sensitivity.
The eight-speed transmission’s responses to the steering wheel-mounted shift-paddle inputs are slightly tardier than those of the Lexus’ German rivals (not that testers felt the need to make use of the feature very often). The transmission, which was originally developed for the RC F Coupé, works in conjunction with a G-force monitor in order to optimise the gear ratios rather than solely rely on throttle levels. Our acceleration tests show that this manages to put the Lexus on par with its competitors.
The IS200t achieved a best zero-to-100 km/h time of 7,58 seconds, which matches Infiniti’s 155 kW Q50 2,0T and the Mercedes-Benz C300 (of which a test has not yet been published). The eight-speeder also deals well with rolling starts, as our in-gear acceleration tests found it faster than the Q50 and comparable with the C300.
But, whereas the Lexus proved competitive in terms of overtaking ability, its average 100-0 km/h stopping time of 3,19 seconds lags behind those of the C300 and the Q50, both of which sit comfortably below the three-second mark.
*Pricing as published in our February 2016 issue.
Yes, the IS feels a few steps behind its rivals in important areas, and that impression is bound to worsen with the arrival of the accomplished VW Passat and the all-new Audi A4 waiting in the wings. However, prospective buyers must bear in mind that, in order to specify the Mercedes-Benz C300 or BMW 330i to the level of the IS200t EX, they would need to spend significantly more on their purchases. In that sense, the well-rounded Lexus is a good alternative to Germany’s big three indeed … we’d certainly choose it over a Q50 2,0T.
The IS200t’s 2,0-litre turbocharged engine offers impressive fuel efficiency (it consumed 8,5 L/100 km on our standard fuel-route test, which is better than the 9,0 L/100 km CAR fuel-index figure), but the substitution of the V6 motor has reduced the sporty persona (including the piped-in exhaust note) that gave the IS350 its special charm. In this guise, the IS is more of a sedate, comfort-focused sedan – a description that perfectly sums up earlier generations of the much-loved C-Class as well as the previous IS. Fortunately for Lexus, that is exactly what some buyers
will be looking for.