2016 Lexus IS200t F Sport Review
By Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman
The Lexus IS series gets a new engine for 2016, a 2-liter, twin-scroll turbocharged inline 4 cylinder that makes 241-hp @ 5800 rpm, and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque @ 1650 rpm. It replaces last year’s entry level, small 2.5 liter V-6, that made a meager 204 horsepower and a weak 185 ft.-lbs. of torque. This new engine is rated for 22 City and 33 Highway mileage figures.
If the 200t moniker sounds familiar, it’s because it the same engine designation from the Lexus NX 200t, their small Sport Ute crossover we tested last year. In the lighter weight IS sedan, the engine will make for better Zero to 60 times, like 6.8 seconds, and 15.3 seconds for a quarter-mile sprint. Those numbers are also enhanced a bit because our test car is the F-Sport version, and it only comes in lighter weight rear wheel drive, rather than 4-wheel- drive like the NX 200t. Of course AWD is available on IS models, but you’ll need to move up to the IS 300 or IS 350. And both of those models also can be had in F-Sport trim in either rear, or all-wheel–drive.
The 200t F-Sport was delivered to me in a mild snowstorm, not the best conditions to operate a sporty rear wheel drive car. But there is a button on the console, next to the dial for Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ driving modes, named “Snow”. A quick trip to the Owner’s Manual to learn about that button proved fruitless, since it only identified where the button was located, with the instruction to press it when there is snow outside. No explanation of what it actually does. And after a brief trip on the lightly snow covered roads, I can honestly say I’m not sure either.
Fortunately the snow was quickly cleared, so I had dry pavement for the rest of the week to explore the driving qualities of this F-Sport. So on an especially fine New Year’s Day with light traffic, I headed out for some great curvy rural roads. And the F-Sport IS, seemed to be a two-faced little car, almost like the comedy and tragedy masks.
When left in Normal drive mode, if you accelerate hard away from a stop light, the IS will take off smartly and spool up to 60 miles an hour quickly, with the power feeling strong and linear. But if you accelerate normally from a standstill and level off at say 35 or 40 mph, the 8-speed manumatic transmission will quickly upshift into higher gears, for gas mileage economy purposes. That means when you then depress the gas pedal, the tranny must first drop down 2 gears, in order to get any kind of throttle response. And then there is some discernible turbo lag before the car starts to really accelerate. It always seems to be hunting for a gear. You can see the tach indicator fluctuating up and down like a seismograph needle. After a while it can be annoying.
If you use the paddle shifters, they will hold a particular gear for a bit, but the transmission will still upshift for you if you don’t do it yourself when it wants you to. So this is the frown face part of the “Tragedy” mask.
But the big smile, like the “Comedy” mask comes when you turn the drive mode dial to Sport+, and move the gear shift lever over to the left, and put it in M (manual) mode. Now, the paddle shifters WILL hold the gear you want it in, and won’t automatically upshift, (unless you reach up very close to the redline). So now you can keep the car in the middle of the rev range, around 3500 rpm, and since the peak horsepower comes at high 5,800 rpm you’ve got some room to accelerate and feel the car pull when you depress the gas pedal.
And the Sport+ mode will electronically enhance the throttle response, tighten up the suspension a bit, and increase the steering response. Now you can enjoy the handling characteristics more. The F-Sport will feel tight and athletic as you toss it into a turn. The steering feels quick and offers good feedback. (It also has a nice tight turning circle). Body lean is well controlled, and grip from the 18” tires is reassuring. Also, by staying in a lower gear with the revs on boil, you can punch it out of a turn and push it towards the next one. This is where the IS 200t can shine. The brakes also feel strong with a nice progressive feel.
In terms of overall ride quality, I was a bit surprised that the car rode a bit choppy, in all drive modes. I would have guessed that the wheelbase would have been 6” shorter than the 110” that it actually is, to result in a ride like that. I expected more of a boulevard ride from a Lexus, even one with sporting intentions.
Inside, the cabin is quiet, and stylish, but a bit tight-feeling. Perhaps that is because the great looking heated F-Sport seats are well bolstered for both thigh and lateral support, but they’re tight and narrow. Soft touch materials are all where they should be. The thick heated tilt and telescope steering wheel, with redundant controls, feels good in the hands (although the top and bottom of the wheel doesn’t get warm). The dash is handsome and a bit retro and futuristic at the same time, with a horizontal tiered effect, similar to the NX 200t. There are carbon fiber looking matte surfaces instead of shiny ones, and brushed metal material instead of chrome brightwork. The drivers gauge is a simple electroluminescent large round dial for the tachometer with a digital speed readout in the center.
The Nav screen dominates the top of the dash and beneath that the ubiquitous analogue clock flanked by the air vents. Fortunately, there is a row of buttons to control the HVAC, and radio and media settings quickly and easily. Other features like the Nav system and apps requires the use of the dreaded, awful, and difficult to use Lexus Joystick Mouse Controller. I have ranted and raged about that in other Lexus reviews, so we’ll just say that it brings no joy to the operator.
As I said the cabin is a tight one, and made for four average sized adults. Basketball players need not apply. The rear seats are comfortable but 6 footers will lack adequate head room, and leg room is somewhat dependent upon how far the front seats are pushed back. Fortunately, the front seats allow clearance for the feet of the rear passengers to slide under. Trunk room is surprisingly good.
Exterior styling is unusually crisp and daring for Lexus. The car has a nice profile with character lines highlighting a sleek roofline. At the front end, the headlight, driving and fog light treatment is aggressive, and highly stylized. Also, this is the first Lexus I’ve seen with their oversized F-Sport “Spindle Grill” that hasn’t made me want to rage about it. Like the mouse controller, I’ve ranted about that in other Lexus reviews.
The base price of the IS 200t is a strong number, at $37,325. The F-Sport package, which includes, the front bumper and spindle grill design, LED headlights, and 18” Split 5-Spoke Wheels with summer tires. It also adds the TFT instrument cluster, the heated and cooled front sports seats, perforated shift knob, aluminum pedals, back-up monitor, and performance tuned suspension. The package costs $3,545. But that’s not truly the cost of getting an F-Sport. If you choose the F-Sport model you are required to also order the Navigation package, with a great mark Levinson Audio System, Remote Touch Interface, Lexus Enform Destination, the App Suite, Voice Command, and auto dimming rear view mirror, for an additional $2,645. You are also required to order the Blind Spot and Cross Traffic systems and heated outside mirrors for $600, and the Heated Steering Wheel for $150. So if you want an F-Sport, you are required to spend $6,940 for that designation. The bottom line of the test car came to a whopping $46,300. At that price buyers may want to bump up to the IS 300 or even IS 350 to get more performance, and see how they can option those cars to come up with a similar price tag.
And at that $46,300 price tag, you have to consider 3 or 4 series BMW’s, a C-Class Mercedes, a Jaguar XE sedan, or a Cadillac ATS with 54 more horsepower and 37 additional ft. lbs. of torque. Tough choices in a tough segment.
By Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman