The big news for the 2016 Lexus IS 200t is the new “t” in the name.
Engine: 2.0L turbo four-cylinder
Power: 241 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-spd auto
EPA Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city, 33 hwy, 26 combined
CAN Fuel Economy: 10.6 L/100 km city, 7.2 hwy, 8.9 combined
US Pricing: Starts at $37,325; $42,410 as tested (with F Sport Package)
CAN Pricing: Starts at $39,250; $45,426 as tested
Lexus has finally ditched its underpowered and anemic V6 for a turbocharged four-cylinder, bringing it in line with the rest of its competition, the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, which both offer turbo fours. So now that it has a modern engine, how does the Japanese compact luxury sedan compare to its German rivals?
New Engine, Same Lexus Drive
The 200t is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This engine is only available with the rear-wheel-drive IS, which isn’t great news for people who have to deal with winter. By comparison, the BMW’s 2.0L turbo four in the 328i outputs 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, nearly identical to what the Lexus offers. Audi’s 2.0L turbo four is down on horsepower at 220 hp, but with 258 lb-ft of torque, it matches the other two. The difference is that the BMW and the Audi can both be equipped with all-wheel drive, while the IS 200t is exclusively RWD.
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Besides having more usable power than the V6 it replaces, the turbo four should also be more fuel efficient, though it’s rated at a combined 26 mpg, which barely beats the old V6’s 25.5 mpg combined rating. The rear-wheel-drive, automatic BMW 328i gets 29 mpg, and the front-wheel drive Audi gets 25 mpg combined. (Edit: these fuel economy numbers have been updated.)
Although the numbers suggest the cars should be pretty close, their personalities are very different. The 200t has the same engine in the NX 200t crossover, but because it is obviously lighter than its CUV brother, the engine feels more alive in the IS. It is responsive and quick compared to the V6-powered car it replaces thanks to some more low-end torque, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be winning any races with the sedan.
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It’s not a fast car by any means, and it’s clearly calibrated for comfort and not sport, but the power it provides is perfectly sufficient for everyday needs like passing on highways and getting around town. The IS 200t is rated to go from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. Both the Audi and the BMW feel more lithe and alive, and even in Sport mode, the IS can’t match the German brands for driving pleasure. The biggest difference from the Germans is steering feel; the Lexus just can’t give the same levels of feedback and responsiveness. The Lexus doesn’t really encourage you to play around and get up to silly hijinks.
The sedan does stay pretty flat in a corner, and its eight-speed transmission is seamless and will stay out of your way, but the car doesn’t feel that eager to explore boundaries and you aren’t going to get sideways. Like I said before, in everyday driving, it is sufficient, but the moment you want to play silly buggers, you will notice the car’s shortcomings as something sporty. It’s just not as engaging as other players in this market.
But of course, you don’t buy a Lexus to have a sports car; you buy a Lexus because it is smooth, quiet and comfortable, and, of course, the IS200t nails it in all these areas.
Getting into the Lexus IS, the first thing that stands out is that it feels a bit dated. It’s a very chunky interior with a layout that looks cobbled together and incoherent. There’s a lot going on and it’s unnecessary, which makes it more difficult to use. It’s also very dark, not helping matters.
Lexus has to get rid of the analog clock. It’s such a useless thing to offer, especially if Lexus wants to attract younger buyers.
But the worst part of the interior is that for the mid 40-thousands, it’s embarrassingly under-equipped. It’s pretty egregious that it doesn’t come with a backup camera, blindspot monitoring, a heated steering wheel, or navigation. Even the cheapest Toyota has a backup camera, so the fact that this Lexus doesn’t have one as standard is a glaring omission.
The Verdict: 2016 Lexus IS 200t Review
The 2016 Lexus IS 200t wouldn’t be my pick for a sporty car (the Germans have it beat here), but it is smooth and quiet, and if you need a low-key luxury sedan, its reliability, unique looks and comfort make it a good pick. It’s a shame that Lexus didn’t equip the IS with the standard features a car in its price range should come with, because if it did, it would have even more value than the Germans, and that is worth a lot.
A friend of mine bought the IS 250 from 2015 after looking at the comparable Audi and BMW. He needed a luxurious sedan that gave off an air of success, and that he wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive his clients and company executives around in. He settled on the IS because he is practical to a fault, and thought that the Lexus reliability was the strongest selling point over the Germans. He also said something about not wanting people to think he was a showoff or D-bag, which is another reason why the Lexus was his pick: It’s a respectable luxury sedan without the unsavory reputation.