For 2016 the Lexus IS joined the now growing four-cylinder club with their new IS 200t. Styling is largely the same as before, but their base model sheds its 2.5 liter V6 for a more powerful 2.0 liter turbocharged four.
In testing the new IS 200t on our favorite back road this week, the big questions were is it as refined as the old V6 and is it as fun to drive?
The first thing that’s nice about this new entry-level of Lexus’ rear-wheel drive sport sedan is that they offer most of the same options and option packages you can get with its big brother the IS 350. This is a good start to that fun part.
On this car that means the F Sport Package which gives you the bigger 18-inch wheels, wider tires and the more aggressive body work front and rear that really makes this car look as mean as the top dog models. This is notable, because other brands keep you in your cheap seats on their base models.
Even a few years after its introduction we think this car still looks fresh with its artistic lines and origami style crease work. Out back, even with a four-cylinder engine it still has dual exhaust outlets which is a nice touch. And new for 2016 are revised LED tail lamps.
The interior is largely the same as in previous years. With the F Sport Package came some very nice sport seats wrapped in leather. They’re heated and cooled up front and comfortable enough to sit in all day long. They’re firm and hold you tight, but not to the point of being over the top.
The center stack is clean and simple with the information screen up high, hard controls for the HVAC and basic audio easy to reach and a high center console with nicely located shifter and drive mode knob.
Its TFT digital display instrument cluster is simple too, highly customizable with various information sets. You can also slide the center ring over for a different take on things, a bone thrown us from the LF-A super car. And, our tester here had the optional F Sport steering wheel, with paddle shifters for the 8-speed automatic transmission.
Rear seat passengers will know they’re in the smaller of the Lexus sedans, but it remains a comfortable place to be, except perhaps for three. Those rear seats do fold down in a 60/40 split as well for long items from the trunk.
The trunk itself is of reasonable size for this class with a low lift-over to get things in. And under its floor is a spare tire, which always wins points with me over a can of fix-a-flat and an air pump like many cars are giving us now.
Under the hood, the 241 horsepower 2.0 liter four is identical to that found also in the GS 200t and similar to the one from the NX 200t. It has 258 pound-feet of torque. All in, this is a significant amount more power than the old base 2.5 liter V6 that only had 200 horsepower, and a meager 185 pound-feet of twist.
Sadly doesn’t come with a manual transmission, but the new 2.0 liter four-cylinder betters the old V6’s 6-speed automatic with a new 8-speed sport shift auto very much like the one found in the IS 350.
The good news here is that the 8-speed does a brilliant job of shifting on its own or manually via the console shifter or paddles on the steering wheel. Of note you can feel the powertrain through this shifter too. And it feels very good.
The engine sings a very well crafted song pleasing to the ears in a way that comes across as music, not noise or racket often associated with a four-cylinder. It’s smooth and punchy with very little turbo-lag, always eager to rev out and go.
And when it comes to fuel economy, it performs nicely as well. The EPA rates it at 22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway with a 26 mpg combined rating. In my time with it, I achieved 28 mpg combined, well over what was promised. And it’s even a bit more than we got with the old IS 250 V6.
Handling was another area some dividends were expected from its now lighter front end, and they were paid. The IS already has one of the sharpest and most precise chassis in this class, and here it remains so only now with a bit more balance.
Steering is light and sharp, though it tends to want to push still if you are into a corner like a bull in a China shop. It feels lighter and more fling able overall and there is only a slight bit of skittishness over rough pavement.
That skittishness is less a character flaw of this car as it is the simple result of a moderately firm sport suspension paired with its 35-series front and 40-series rear low-profile tires. And out side of this one thing, this car feels solid as a block of steel.
And that gets us to quality. By now you can tell we’re pretty impressed with this car in almost every aspect. But we’ve have driven many cars that make me love them from behind the wheel yet have quality that leaves much to be desired. That’s not the case here. Fit and finish are top of the game inside and out.
The price of our tester comes in at $44,250 with a number of options built on top of its base price of $37,325. The key piece of the puzzle is the F Sport Package. But even without the aggressive character this brings, the base IS 200t is still packed with much of the same goodness.
Our takeaway here is that few people will be disappointed with the entry-level model of the IS sedan lineup. It offers all of the same refinement and good that the more powerful IS 350 does, just less power. It goes on our TestDrivenTV “Id Buy It” list.