2015 saw Lexus and A Wheel Thing join forces for the first time, with the new to Australia (in late ’15) IS 200t finding its way to the garage for two weeks and including a return trip to the nation’s capital. How does it cope with highway and suburban driving? Let’s take a look, with the Lexus IS200t F-Sport (mid spec) spending Christmas and New Year’s at A Wheel Thing’s garage.Under the bonnet is the raison d’etre for this car’s existence; a twin scroll, turbocharged and intercooled, 2.0L petrol engine, driving the rear wheels, with a maximum power output of 180 kW with peak power coming at 5800 rpm. That’s bolted up to an eight speed auto, with well spaced ratios, and possibly one of the smoothest, non intrusive, changes around. Torque is (what seems to be an industry standard) 350 Nm, at a slightly lower than normal 1650 revs.
Recommended fuel is 95 RON at a minimum, which was sipped at a best figure of 6.4L/100 km (on the Hume Highway) from the 66L tank. This was under cruise control conditions, set at 115 kmh and the tacho dead on 2000 revs. Lexus quotes a combined figure of 7.5L per 100 kays. Suburban driving saw an average of 8.9L/100 km, good for somewhere around 700 kilometres, if driven gently. And therein lies the rub…
The IS F Sport comes, as so many do now, with Sports mode; effectively this changes the engine mapping and gear change points. Because the engine is such a willing spinner, an eager performer, and the transmission such a smooth and well controlled unit (for the most part), seeking and finding the right ratio so easily, it begs to be punted hard. It’s a sweet spinning mill and responds within an eyeblink when the pedal is pushed, as do the wonderful brakes. And whether using the paddle shifters or the gear selector (use the paddles, they’re easier), it’s a crisp, quick, move from one to the other.
When left to its own devices, it is pretty damned good; sometimes, though, it would find a lower ratio at some speeds and refuse to move, either by itself or when asking it to. On downhill runs that came in handy for engine braking but in a highway situation, not so. Ratio wise, it finishes at 0.685:1, with that helping the economy figure out on the freeway.
Ride and handling were superb; the steering has some lovely weight either side of centre before the variable ratio kicks in and response becomes more rapid. Lock to lock is about 2.75 turns. On the freeways, it was firm, flat, except for some unexpected and unwelcome wallowing, a flaotiness, in the rear with a certain amount of load on the return trip from Canberra.Loaded up with shopping, packed into the 480L boot, the weight was noticeable in the drive but also in how the rear sat flatter, without the wallow. Otherwise, the suspension is tuned for, unsurprisingly, a sporting feel, meaning speedbumps really become speed bumps…The 225/40/18 (fronts) and 255/35/18 (rears) tyre and wheel combination doesn’t help either.The F Sport sits on a 2.8 metre wheelbase, contributing to the razor sharp handling, and with a balanced chassis (almost 50:50), is immense fun to throw around. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a somewhat better looker than its predecessors, especially with the redesigned headlights, separating the LED driving lights from the main assembly. At just 4665 mm in total length, it’s surprising in its interior room. It stands just 1430 mm high, meaning you need to lower yourself down and into the cabin before sitting on the heated and ventilated electric seats. In a rear and front view, it menaces, thanks to the 1810 mm width. In profile, its distinctive wedge shape gives a solid clue to the aerodynamics the engineers have worked on and it’s only up close when the small nodules give a better clue as to the distribution of airflow over its lithe body. The front end is a definition of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, with the angular hourglass grille and swoopy lower part of the air dam with vents for the hard working front brakes. The car’s length is bracketed by similar looking “swooshes” in brilliant LED’s.Once settled into the well bolstered and supportive seats, facing a LCD screen with a sliding dial (truly!), the driver and passenger are greeted by possibly one of the ugliest dashboards seen since the 1970’s. The utter lack of cohesiveness in the design and the colours of the plastics are at total odds with the ergonomics of the switchgear.There’s some niggles, too, with the navitainment system. It’s operated via a mouse type device just to the front left of the centre console, itself a somewhat odd piece of work. It plain refused to default to anything other than the map system when the car was started; by using the mouse to select some other item, such as the radio, it would hold that selection for maybe thirty seconds before again reverting back to the map.
Select the Menu tab and then something else didn’t always work either. Annoying? Yes. Very much so. Audio wise, it’s a Mark Levinson system, with a DAB tuner as well, sounding clear and punchy across the range.
There’s a surprising amount of room inside but it’s definitely a more comfortable four seater than five, with two kids in the back seat squeezing a moderately sized adult.The dash itself is interesting, with a LCD screen and that sliding dial, moved via a tiller mounted tab. There’s a wealth of info, including the gear you’re in, turbo pressure, and more, to be found. It’s a clean, simple and easy to read look but the value of a sliding bezel is questionable. Being a mid level car doesn’t mean it’s short on tech: there’s blind sport alerts, cross traffic, a guidance system for the rearview camera and parking sensors, Auto stop/start, the choice of drive modes, hill start assist, pre-collision alert, tyre pressure warning, pedestrian safety bonnet and adaptive cruise. There’s the usual swag of safety features such as curtain airbags, pre-tensioning seatbelts and the Euro style emergency brake light system.
Being the first Lexus reviewed by A Wheel Thing, there were no expectations. From that perspective, the exterior certainly grabs the eyeballs for the right reasons while the dash design grabs the eyeballs for the wrong ones. Thankfully, it’s not reason enough to not buy the IS, but it grates every time you get inside. The ride, handling, responsiveness of the engine more than make up for it, however. It’s taut, responsive, fun. As a sports oriented car should be. The ergonomics are spot on, the vented seats came in handy during the rare warm days and the car doesn’t weary the driver.
At around the mid sixty thousand mark, it’s up against some stiff competition and the exterior may not be suitable for some. But you’d be missing out on a great powerplant and transmission combo and that lovely ride. For more info on the IS 200 range, click here: Lexus IS 200t