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Lexus IS 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Tim Robson road tests and reviews the updated Lexus IS200t and IS350 with specs fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

Tim Robson road tests and reviews the updated Lexus IS200t and IS350 with specs fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch. 

The IS sedan has served Lexus well for 17 years, and is the best selling Lexus product ever with more than one million cars sold worldwide since 1999. 

It’s under pressure like never before from the onslaught of SUV products, though – even from within its own ranks in the form of the RX.

This mid-life lift for the IS brings it into line with the new, determinedly anti-conservative stance taken by Toyota’s biggest boss, Akio Toyoda, and adds vitally needed safety kit to the IS’s repertoire.

Design

Those two prominent air vents on the front bar that mimic those on the front of the RC two-door dominate the exterior design refresh. They are so big that they actually lengthen the car by 15mm.

Lexus’s spindle grille has been reprofiled as well, while narrower headlights bring the IS into line with the rest of the Lexus range. 

New-shape daytime running lamps have also been added, along with a lower rear bumper across the range, new LED taillights and new exhaust tips on the IS350.

  • 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury. 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury.
  • 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury. 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury.
  • 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury. 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury.
  • 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury. 2016 Lexus IS200t Sport Luxury.

New alloys have been added to Luxury grade ISs as well as for the IS350, and there are two new colours on offer. Deep Blue is new, while Graphite Black replaces Starlight Black.

Practicality

There are a host of incremental changes on board the IS that are hard to spot for a first-time drivers or passenger, but the sum total lifts the interior a definite notch.

The most noticeable change is the addition of a 10.3-inch multimedia screen across the line, replacing a 7.0-inch unit. An updated mouse-like controller has been added, too, but it can feel like there are one too many ways to control the system, which runs satellite navigation, Bluetooth, a digital radio and essential car system options.

Other small changes – 15 in all – include a new clock, thicker knee pads for the driver and passenger, revised heater controls and audio panels, steering-wheel switches, shift lever and inside door handles.

Lexus has even made the dash lights a little brighter and redesigned the rear view mirror.

The cupholders, too, have been redesigned to allow for phone stowage and more flexibility for different cup types, including the thermal types with handles. Previously, they were too shallow and large to retain taller cups.

In addition to the two cupholders up front, there are two more in the rear armrest, as well as bottle holders in the doors, vents and courtesy lights for rear seaters. Two ISOFIX mounts are present and correct as well.

Sadly, the old-style foot brake has not been banished yet, while the voice control system performed below average on even basic instructions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also absent.

Boot space is rated at a reasonable 480 litres, though the hybrid IS300h drops 30 litres thanks to the electric gubbins under the boot floor.

Front seats are slung low, with suitably supportive pews that are electrically adjustable and both heated and vented. Rear seat passengers are reasonably well catered for, though taller people will wish for a bit more knee and head room, especially if a sunroof is fitted.

Price and features

There are nine cars in the IS range across three engines, and it all kicks off with the IS200t at $53,490 before on-road costs. 

Each of the three engines – a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, a 3.5-litre V6 petrol and a 2.5-litre petrol/electric hybrid – is offered in base Luxury, middling F-Sport and range-topping Sport Luxury guises.

The range tops out with the all singing and dancing IS350 Sport Luxury at $84,160.

All nine cars have copped a price rise of between $290 and $950 with this facelift, but Lexus says there’s a lot more kit included as standard.

And there is a lot of kit for the coin, especially down the order.

Every IS gets 10 airbags, rear camera with rear guide assist, reversing and surround sonar, automatic windscreen wipers, heated and power-folding mirrors, daytime running lamps, paddle shifters, digital radio, LCD multi-information dash display, the aforementioned touch controller, satellite navigation, heated and ventilated front seats, voice-controlled infotainment and a tyre pressure monitor.

Engines and transmission

The IS200t uses Lexus’s newest 8AR-FTS 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces 180kW and 350Nm. 

  • 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport. 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport.
  • 2016 Lexus IS300h F-Sport. 2016 Lexus IS300h F-Sport.
  • 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport. 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport.
  • 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport. 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport.
  • 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport. 2016 Lexus IS300h F Sport.

The IS350 has a 3.5-litre petrol six - codenamed 2GR-FKS – which makes 221kW and 370Nm, while the IS300h uses a 2AR-FSE Atkinson-cycle petrol engine rated to 133kW in conjunction with a 105kW electric motor for a combined total of 165kW.

All ISs use a traditional eight-speed automatic transmission, and there is no manual gearbox offered as an option.

Fuel consumption

Lexus rates the 200t at 7.5 litres per 100km on the combined fuel economy cycle, while the six-cylinder IS350 is rated at 9.7L/100km.

The hybrid is the star of the show, using just 4.9L/100km, despite being the heaviest of the three (by some 35kg) at 1720kg. All three cars can take 66 litres of fuel.

A brief test of the IS350 in wet conditions returned a dash-indicated reading of 10.1 litres per 100km, while a similar length test in the IS200t saw a return of 8.1L/100km.

Driving

There’s not a lot to the update story from a mechanical point of view, but Lexus engineers took the opportunity to update the IS’s spring and shock arrangement to try and provide a better low-speed ride, while a new alloy lower control arm and tricky bushings up front are designed to improve response at the front wheels.

A dismally wet and foggy test route did nothing to confirm the effectiveness of these changes, but did highlight how composed and civilised the IS350 is, even a couple of years into its model life.

The IS has always been the best handling of the Lexus four-doors, which is a trait it inherited at birth. Over the years it has gained in size and weight, but still carries elements of the crisp handling and feelsome steering that sets the IS apart from some of its competitors.

A brief run in the newest of the engine specs, the IS200t in F-Sport guise, also reinforces that a decent small capacity turbo motor with plenty of torque is a great match to this rear-wheel-drive chassis.

It’s a shame that the IS has bulked up over the years; with 100kg or so off the bottom line, it would go from very good to great.

Safety

Every IS now features active cruise control, automatic high-beam, pre-collision AEB safety system and lane departure warning with sway warning system as standard, along with ten airbags. 

One caveat; if a driver switches off the lane departure safety system, it will not default to an ‘on’ position even if the ignition is turned on and off.

It’s rated at a maximum of five ANCAP stars.

Ownership

All Lexus cars come with a four-year/100,00km warranty, as well as membership to the Lexus Encore Privileges program, which entitles owners to free loan cars during repairs and service, as well as a full roadside assistance package that even covers a cab fare home. 

Lexus, however, is one of the few companies that does not offer any form of fixed or capped price service programs.

Verdict

Lexus acknowledges that the IS needs to pull its weight in its sector, and that this is an important facelift in light of the new safety additions to the car.

Taken as a whole, the raft of small changes to the range add up to a tangible lift in the IS’s perceived quality, as well as its on-road behavior.

Its in-your-face design brief will not appeal to everyone, but kudos for swinging for the fence. There are plenty of people who are more than happy to step away from the norm and into something with a bit of personality.

 

Could the refreshed IS suit your personality? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Lexus IS pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$41,989
Based on 17 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$37,990
Highest Price
$52,880

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
IS350 F Sport 3.5L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $37,990 – 52,880 2016 Lexus IS 2016 IS350 F Sport Pricing and Specs
IS300h F Sport Hybrid 2.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $42,900 – 49,830 2016 Lexus IS 2016 IS300h F Sport Hybrid Pricing and Specs
IS350 Luxury 3.5L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $39,600 – 46,530 2016 Lexus IS 2016 IS350 Luxury Pricing and Specs
IS300h Luxury Hybrid 2.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $38,850 – 38,990 2016 Lexus IS 2016 IS300h Luxury Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist

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