Review of: 2017 Lexus IS 200t 4dr Sdn
2017 Lexus IS 200t: Driving is fun again
By Jil McIntosh
Aug. 1, 2017
Quick, nimble, and far from pretty: in a nutshell, that’s the Lexus IS 200t. It’s the baby of the IS bunch, and yet I find it the most satisfying overall, proof that it isn’t always the priciest car that makes the best impression. You’ll pay more for its V6-powered, all-wheel-drive IS 300 and IS 350 siblings, but having driven all three, I find this one is where the fun is.
Lexus calls the 2017 version “transformed,” with updated exterior styling, a few minor cabin changes, and some new standard safety features. The IS 200t starts at $40,150, while the 300 starts at $42,950, and the 350 at $53,350.
The IS 200t can be hooked up with a single option package, called the F Sport Series 1. It’s primarily trim, rather than performance-enhancing, and includes such items as staggered 18-inch wheels, heated and ventilated sport seats, LFA-style instrument cluster, sunroof, backup camera, auto-dimming mirrors, three-spoke steering wheel and blind spot monitoring system, for an extra $4,800. It was added to my tester, along with a $650 coat of ultrasonic blue mica 2.0 paint (I’m not sure what 1.0 looked like, but this one must be better), for a total of $45,600 before freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + Comfortable front seats
- + Great fun to drive
- + Turning circle
- - No backup camera
- - Some odd exterior styling touches
- - Rear seat space
Let’s get this out of the way first: taste is subjective, but I have yet to see the appeal of Lexus’ s gaping “spindle” grille, especially when it’s combined with the IS’ equally angular side intakes and wild-eyeball headlamps. It’s far better-looking from the side profile, with its swept-up lower body line, a roof profile that slopes smoothly down to the trunk, and wheel arches that wrap nicely around the tires.
The rear styling is harshly angular, but it works. The taillights swing down, catching the line that cuts across the wheel to match up with the rocker swoop. The angle of the rear window and the short trunk lid almost suggest a hatchback, with an integrated spoiler-style lip. Finally, the fascia cladding and reflectors swing up to mimic the body line, punctuated with new-for-2017 dual square exhaust tips.
Like the exterior styling, the 200t’s front cabin is a bit too busy, with various levels of pods and overhangs. There’s also way more plain, hard plastic than I’d expect in a Lexus, although it’s offset by a textured metallic centre stack and stitched trim panels.
The LFA-style instrument cluster included with the F Sport package is definitely worthy of a mention, though. The central round gauge is a metallic ring containing a screen that displays the digital tachometer and speedometer, flanked by fuel and temperature gauges. But when you put the car into sport mode, that ring slides over—not digitally, but actually moves—to maximize the space beside it to display such information as a boost gauge. Collectors in future may brag about having one that still slides across, but in the meantime, how cool is that?
The cabin is tight, and tall or large passengers are going to feel the pinch. It’s officially a five-seater but consider it for four, both for the rear seat’s width and a driveshaft tunnel that’s almost as tall as the cushion. That said, the rear seats are sculpted and comfortable, and the front ones provide good support. Most of the controls are straightforward and easy to use, except for the slide-or-tap plastic strips for controlling the temperature. Sure, they look slick, but dials are easier to use—and since the whole point of this car is the driving experience, give us something that doesn’t take our attention away from the road.
The trunk is small and the wheel wells intrude, although there’s still enough space to stow your luggage for a weekend trip. The rear seatbacks fold flat so you can throw stuff on top of them, but they’re well above the level of the trunk. You can still pack in long, narrower items on an angle, but you’re going to have to get your big-screen television delivered.
The IS 300 and 350 get the lion’s share of the standard or available tech features. Even though this is the entry model, it’s still surprising to see what’s missing on a car that bears a Lexus badge. You do get ten speakers, satellite radio, Siri Eyes-Free, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, lane departure mitigation, and automatic high-beam headlights.
But you have to add the $4,800 F Sport Series 1 package to get a backup camera, something that’s standard equipment on the cheapest Toyota Yaris. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available, and while navigation is optional or standard on the other two IS models, it can’t be added at all to the 200t, at any price. Still, there is a bright side to this lesser model. When you get the map-enhanced infotainment system on the other trims, you also get Remote Touch, a mouse-style controller that’s frustratingly difficult to accurately place the cursor on the screen, especially on a bumpier road (none of the systems are touch-screen). The 200t’s dial-and-button controller setup is still clunky, but it’s much better than the mouse.
Well, this is why we’re here. As the name implies, the 200t is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 241 horsepower, along with 258 lb-ft of torque that peaks at 4,400 rpm. It’s not as powerful as its naturally-aspirated V6-powered 300 and 350 siblings, which make 255 and 306 horsepower respectively, but it peaks 600 rpm sooner. The 300 makes less torque, at 236 lb-ft, while the 350 cranks out 277 lb-ft, but they both peak at higher at 4,800 rpm.
All that math boils down to a car that feels quick off the line and with passing power on tap over a wide range. There’s a bit of a growl to it, but if that’s not enough, the F Sport package adds active sound control, which broadcasts more engine noise into the cabin. Gimmicky, sure, but it’s fun.
The turbo engine is uniquely hooked to an eight-speed automatic—sorry, no three-pedal option here, just paddle shifters for the autobox’s manual mode—while the V6 models get only a six-speed. The transmission shifts are a little sluggish when the car’s set to cormal or eco mode, but they tighten up in the sport setting, and that’s where you’ll probably keep it, as I did. It defaults back to normal each time the car is started, but then you get to hit the button and watch the speedo slide…
While the 300 and 350 are all-wheel, the 200t strictly powers its rear wheels. Overall, that’s not a bad thing: for what little you might lose in four-wheel traction around a corner, you get back in a 70-kilo weight difference in the lighter 200t. And this little car is great fun to toss around, with its stiff chassis, quick steering, and very tight turning circle. The steering tightens progressively as the wheel is turned, and while it’s not quite as communicative as some European competitors, there’s far more feedback than I usually expect to get in a Lexus. The ride also isn’t as stiff as on some, smooth but not overly flexible.
It takes premium fuel, but against published rates of 10.6 L/100 km in the city and 7.3 on the highway, I averaged 8.2 L/100 km in combined driving while having some fun with it.
With a starting price of $40,150, the IS 200t ranks about mid-pack with competitive sports sedans. It’s costlier than the base price of the Acura TLX, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, and Volvo S60, but comes in under the base stickers of the BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Still, check to see exactly what you’re getting: some of the lower-priced rivals contain features that are missing on the IS 200t.
“Sports sedan” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but it sticks here. There are areas that could be better, including more upscale-looking cabin materials and some features that should at least be available, if not standard equipment, given the brand and price. But at the same time, the IS 200t takes me back to a simpler time, when it wasn’t about how well your phone apps migrated over or if it could read your texts, but how it felt when the traffic cleared and it was just about the machine, your hands on the wheel, and your foot on the throttle. And overall, this baby of the IS bunch handles that part pretty damn well.