Owning a luxurious Lexus is one thing, owning a luxurious and race-bred Lexus is something else. The brand new Lexus IS 200t is all that and more in a tight package that marries racy design cues with the quiet elegance of Japanese fit and finish at its finest. Weighing in at RM297,800.00 without insurance for the base Lexus IS 200t Premium, with the top of the line hybrid IS 300h tipping the scales at a lofty RM452,100.00, any of the new IS variants will cause a considerable dent in the proverbial wallet for aspiring owners with the exception of the top 5% of society.
Allcarschannel recently had lady luck smiling upon us when Lexus Malaysia graciously handed us the keys to a brand new Lexus IS 200t F Sport (RM384,900.00) to keep us company for a few days. Updated for 2015, the new range of IS variants have undergone many key improvements to make it an even better proposition for the well-heeled. With little to no changes made to the already beautifully sculpted exterior and interior of the original 2013 variants, the main tell-tale sign of a more potent motor within the engine bay is but a little “IS 200t” insignia on the trunk lid of the car to indicate the power that resides within.
Lexus IS200t F Sport: 5 Stars, Exterior with a purposeful intent
You basically can’t tell them apart, between the 2013 normally aspirated variants and the new 2015 forced induction models, unless you take a closer look at the brake discs on the 200t variants which now feature 17” discs, up an inch from before, taking into consideration the higher performance of the turbocharged engine. However, the new Lexus IS 200t F Sport comes with 2 exclusive colors otherwise unavailable on other variants, namely White Nova and Heat Blue. You’d have to make a beeline to the nearest Lexus dealership to see the actual colors yourself. All other variants including the IS 300h (hybrid) will sport 5 distinct colors; Starlight Black, Sonic Titanium, Sonic Quartz, Platinum Silver and Red. Said Sonic Quartz however will not be available on the 200t F Sport; probably too safe a color for the kind of owners who’d buy an F Sport.
As mentioned, you can’t really tell them apart, so the 2015 IS range looks identical to its predecessors from the 2013 vintage, which is a good thing, seeing that the original 3rd Gen IS introduced in 2013 still remains very contemporary and way ahead of its rivals, at least in the looks department. The verdict is largely still out on Lexus’ current design DNA, with 2 distinct camps for and against it. Art collectors and avant garde folk are largely impressed by the modernity of the design language while traditionalists beg to differ. This 3rd generation IS walks a thin line between contemporary boldness and rice; only Lexus manages to get away with such a bold statement across their lineup without pissing off their elite, upper crust clientele.
Interior: 4.5 Stars, due to its luxuriously appointed seats and fittings, but let down slightly by lack of cabin space
With a Lexus, any Lexus, expectations are always high, and I am never disappointed. Interior fittings do not only look solid, they feel solid through and through. Every Lexus goes through a stringent quality assessment at the factory, so you’d be hard pressed to find any fault within the cabin. The perforated leather seats offer generous support but not to the extent of swallowing you into an overly snug space. Rear seating is more like a 2+1 affair and not a proper 3-seater, no thanks to the (albeit necessary) hump due to the long axle that drives the rear wheels.
All the usual creature comforts are present. Memory seat for the driver with 3 presets (that includes powered steering rake and height), 8-way powered front passenger seat, smart entry and push start ignition, steering wheel controls and paddle shifters, heated/ventilated front seats, auto headlamps and wipers, Sat/Nav audio system (Mark Levinson system on the F Sport that we tested), dual zone climate control, dash-mounted center speaker for sound staging, and more to keep you entertained and comfortable. This is something that Lexus has gotten right all along, and that is to appoint the cabin with as much luxury as possible so that owners can remind themselves that they’ve arrived, and in style.
Mechanicals: 4.5 Stars, for its sound mechanicals and punchy engine, let down by the slightly loud engine note when pushing hard
The new Lexus IS 200t is endowed with the latest, uprated 8AR-FTS 2.0-liter Twin-scroll turbocharged lump from Lexus replete with variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams. This new iteration of the original 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that first debuted on the Lexus NX 200t has been given a performance bump. The motor in the NX put out 235hp @ 5,600rpm, generating 350Nm of twist between 1,650-4,000rpm, while the new motor in the IS 200t squeezes out 241hp @ 5,800rpm while also turning out 350Nm but with an extended rpm range between 1,650-4,400rpm, translating into a flatter torque curve and peppier performance overall. Not to mention, the IS is about 240kg skinnier than the NX (1860kg vs 1620kg), which explains how the IS turbo manages to complete the century dash in 7 seconds flat, putting it within striking distance of the Golf GTI Mk 7 (6.5s) and Mercedes-Benz A250 (6.6s) while being slightly ahead of the F30 BMW 320i (7.5s).
Naturally, to take advantage of the car’s full potential, you are well advised to stick to RON 97 or higher fuel. The slight letdown in the IS 200t’s performance stems from the slightly raunchy engine note when the car is being driven in S or S+ modes. Unlike in the IS 300h where an Active Sound Control system emulates engine roar due to the quietness of the hybrid engine, the roar of the IS 200t is real and can’t be attenuated. Having said that, the lack of incidental noises penetrating the cabin of the IS led to a more acute appreciation of the sound of the engine, so another way of looking at it is that the (apparently) loud engine bears testament to the quietness of the cabin.
Suspension and Handling: 5 Stars, for its superb steering feel, precise and tight steering ratio, taut suspension and excellent tyres
All IS variants get double wishbones in front and a multilink setup in the rear, but the F Sport variant has gotten an additional ace up its sleeve in the form of an Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system that the user controls via the center column. A knob lets you select between Eco, Normal and Sport modes to suit your driving appetite, while in the F Sport you get an additional Sport+ mode that activates the AVS into tightening up the absorbers while also sharpening up the steering and throttle response to fully exploit the sport-tuned chassis of the car. The race-inspired Bridgestone Turanza ER33 tyres in 255/35 R18 guise lets you safely explore the upper limits of the car’s handling without so much of a squeak, while remaining relatively quiet when not called upon to negotiate tight bends and slaloms, and though they’re not the quietest tires it’s a good compromise between comfort and outright performance.
Although the IS 200t F Sport possesses many sport-like characteristics, make no mistake about its pedigree bearing the Lexus hallmark of poise and elegance, as it’s usually very refined and laidback, allowing you to drive it about like you would any other luxury sedan, while having the ability to take no prisoners when you need it to.
In-Car Entertainment: 5 Stars, because it’s a Mark Levinson system that is well-balanced, natural sounding yet punchy and involving
Mark Levinson is a brand that needs no introduction if you’re an audiophile. For those not in the know, well let’s just say that this brand is up there with the top names in audiophile circles. The multimedia unit in the IS 200t F Sport in this review features a 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround System while the more affordable variants are equipped with Lexus’ own 8-speaker Premium Audio System. My first encounter with a very good sounding audio system in a car happened to be a Lexus Premium Audio System in the Lexus ES 250 that we reviewed in 2013, and nothing much else really stood out between then and now.
The Mark Levinson system in the IS 200t F Sport brought back fond memories of the sweet tonality and excellent staging of the sound that I had missed for so long. Granted, it was easier to achieve sonic nirvana in the ES due to the design of the deep and wide dashboard, as opposed to the tighter confines of the smaller IS. Rest assured you’ll hear your music that much better through the system in the IS or the ES, with good layering between instruments and a deep and wide sound stage that belies the confines of the cabin.
Overall: 24 out of 25 Stars for a well-balanced, neutral handling car that delivers the chops in relative luxury
Prospects in the market for a luxury sports sedan are spoilt for choice, with so many top brands to choose from. A Lexus however, truly differentiates itself from the crowd by taking a fundamental approach in the design of their cars, doing it right from the ground up. Fit and finish are top notch, something that you can always expect in a car that bears the Lexus name. Technology is also one of the key tenets in a Lexus, so you won’t go wrong if you’re technically inclined. The world has grown accustomed to that spindle grille that unmistakably sets it apart from any other marque, a look that will turn heads wherever you go with it. It’s not the last authority in performance, but it’s got enough oomph to lord over most other pedestrian cars on the road while maintaining its composure and it’s built to last. Residuals may not be as good as say a 3-pointed Star or a Twin-Propeller, but that just adds another feather to your cap, that you can afford a Lexus, and you are a discerning owner of a hand-built automobile.
Text and images: Greg Yang