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Lexus IS200t Luxury 2017 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Lexus IS200t Luxury with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Lexus IS200t Luxury with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

At some point every dentist will be faced with the same difficult decision: BMW, Benz, Audi or Lexus. That Lexus would be a consideration is remarkable in some ways. See, Lexus is a division of Toyota – it’s the luxury arm, and while 9000 sales a year in Australia is only a third of BMW’s volume, it’s an achievement Nissan’s Infiniti and Hyundai’s Genesis can only dream about.

MORE: Read the full Lexus IS 2016 review

Ready to have your mind blown? Last year Lexus outsold Audi and BMW in the US, and was only just beaten by Mercedes-Benz as the nation's number one luxury car.

SUVs are Lexus’s biggest sellers, but the IS medium-size sedan has been hugely popular since it arrived in 1999 as a rival to BMW’s 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class. We’re now up to the third generation of the IS and late in 2016 Lexus updated it with new styling, more technology and advanced safety equipment.

The IS200t we’ve road tested here is the entry variant, and ours was the base Luxury grade (below F Sport and Sports Luxury) – so, the entry to the entry spec model (would that be the foyer, then?).

The IS is so, so talented. Handling, grip, steering – it’s all excellent.

Is the IS200t Luxury the ultimate dentist’s chair? Is it a worthy rival to the 3 Series or C-Class? Why might it be an even better, smarter option? What does it do well? Why do I have to climb over that annoying bit to get in and out of the rear? And will you need a new driveway?

Design

That grille. What do you think? It’s intriguing, bold and a bit beautiful. It’s officially called the ‘spindle grille’ and the CT200h hatch was the first to wear it in 2010 before it was rolled out to the rest of the Lexus range. 

It drew ridicule from other brands and even Lexus insiders, polarised buyers, and caused an uproar from traditional Toyota shareholders, but the company’s design boss saw it as a do or die-a-boring-death necessity for the brand. Seven years later, take a look at the trend in grilles… just saying. 

The update saw the grille restyled slightly and now the top of its frame is thinner, while the bottom part is thicker and wider which gives it more depth visually. The blades which run horizontally across the grille change in thickness now, too. 

Despite a redesign, the headlights still look a bit small and messy, the little LED ‘tick’ running light is sharper, the bumper now has even more enormous air intakes. 

The IS200t’s side profile is conservative, but the rear gets interesting again with those tail-lights that extend to a point halfway to the wheel arch. The tail lights have a new pattern to them – think of one of those puzzles that asks you to count how many triangles you can see. 

Trapezoidal exhaust tips, replacing round pipes, complete the makeover.

The IS200t’s dimensions are almost identical to its rivals. At 4680mm long, 1810mm wide and 1430mm tall, compared to the C-Class it’s just 6mm shorter and the same width, with a roofline that’s 12mm lower; while the 3-Series is 47mm longer, and just a millimetre wider and lower.

The IS200t’s cabin stays true to Lexus’s interior design philosophy, with smooth, clean surfaces, horizontal lines, and premium feel materials. The IS200t’s cabin doesn’t have the plush elegance of the Benz C200 or the BMW 320i’s autobahn warrior cockpit. No, it’s more Miami Vice jet boat, with a hint of Camry.

Practicality

Want a good idea of how much rear legroom there is in a car? Look at the wheelbase length. The IS200t’s is 2800mm. That’s 10mm less than the BMW and 40mm less than the Benz. What does that mean? I’m pretty tall at 191cm and can sit behind my driving position with a hair’s breadth of space between my knees and the seatback. I have about the same gap between my head and the roof back there. 

Getting in and out of that back seat also means climbing over the rear wheel arch and this could be difficult for older or less agile people.

The IS200t’s boot size of 480 litres matches the 320i’s and C200’s luggage capacity. And the entire rear row can also be folded, which is lucky because that meant we could get our Christmas tree home without tying it to the roof.

Storage throughout the cabin is a bit light-on – there are no bottle holders in the rear doors, although there are up front and the centre console storage bin is small and narrow. There are two cup holders in the rear fold down centre armrest and two more up front.

Price and features

The entry grade IS is called Luxury. I know! Straight in at luxury level. Must be luxurious, right? We'll see about that. The grade above it is Sport and above that is Sports Luxury.  

Our test car - the Lexus IS200t Luxury lists for $58,500, making it the most affordable IS200 in the range. If you’d like the Deep Blue paint (a new premium colour) as per our car, you’ll have to pay another $1500.

That’s about three grand less than its entry level German rivals, with the BMW 320i listing at $61,900 and the Mercedes-Benz C200 at $61,400.

The update has brought some new standard features such as a 10.3-inch display, 10-speaker Pioneer sound system, bi-LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Other standard features include leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, sat nav, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, DVD player, digital radio, auto wipers, steering wheel paddle shifters and folding exterior mirrors.

Engine and transmission

The 200t has a 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine. The 200t replaced the IS 250 and became the first turbocharged Lexus petrol sedan when it arrived in 2015.

Changing gears for you is an eight-speed 'Direct-Shift' automatic transmission.

Knowing that many of the mechanicals are Toyota-derived and therefore almost bullet proof, and parts are readily available in Australia, is great peace of mind.

Fuel consumption

Lexus says the IS200t should drink 95 RON unleaded petrol at an average of 7.5L/100km, but in our hands downed it at 11.7L/100km. There was a bit of encouragement though.

Driving

After five days of piloting the IS200t back and forth through city traffic to the office, picking our toddler up from day care, supermarket trips and Christmas tree shopping I was happy to call it a dentist’s car – good looking, comfortable, easy to drive and yes, luxurious feeling, but a riveting drive? 

It wasn’t until 1.00am on a too-hot-to-sleep-night, when a country road test loop called my name, that I remembered, the IS is so, so talented. Handling, grip, steering – it’s all excellent. 

And that’s because the IS200t has such a good chassis. It’s rigid and well balanced, with great suspension. 

Up front is double-wishbone suspension, while at the rear there's a multi-link set-up.  Much of the suspension components are aluminium to keep weight down. Spring and damper rates have been recalibrated, while front and rear anti-roll bars have been revised to help keep body-roll under control.

The suspension is quite soft at the front and you’ll find yourself scuffing that big and low bottom lip under the grille if you and a speed bump meet too quickly. Same with driveway entrances like the one into the CarsGuide Towers carpark. No need to change the driveway, just my approach to it.

Grip is excellent, and combine that with the new anti-roll bars and the IS200t calmly handled corners that caused the tyres of many other test cars to complain loudly.

At 1680kg it is heavy for a mid-sized sedan - the BMW 320i is 155kg lighter. That sees the 2.0-litre turbo engine having to work hard (especially on steep hills), but the grunt is more than adequate. The turbo does make power delivery a bit manic at times, but there’s almost no lag and the direct shift transmission works so smoothly.

It’s not all perfect. I didn’t feel the same connection and communication as in some sporty cars. Feedback in a BMW 320i for example feels clearer to me. The steering in sport mode also verges on a tad too heavy.

Also preventing a perfect driving experience is the cabin ergonomics. A lack of contouring meant I had trouble finding a comfortable grip on the steering wheel, and while I like the idea of the driver and front passenger sides being closed off racecar-style, it’s a bit claustrophobic in a road car when you’re at the wheel for hours. 

If we're talking ergonomics, then the 'Remote Touch Controller' pad for the media unit rates a mention, for all the wrong reasons. It's such an awkward tool for selecting and clicking items I avoided using it where possible.

The front seats while comfortable and supportive, were a bit small for my, um, bottom.

Safety

The IS200t has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. There are 10 airbags, hill hold, tyre pressure monitoring, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert. The 2016 update added an advanced safety equipment package which includes AEB, active cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assistance and auto high beam.

Ownership

The IS200t is covered by Lexus’s four-year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is recommended at 15,000km or 12-month intervals. Now brace yourself: there’s no capped price servicing plan, but there is what Lexus calls “indicative” pricing, with the first service being complementary; then for the second at 30,000km Lexus says owners can expect to pay $569.37, $541.49 for the next, and $765.73 for the next.

Verdict

The IS200t is a worthy adversary to its German mid-sized rivals with great handling and good looks, though it’s not quite at the same standard in terms of cabin refinement. The IS200t does edge ahead in terms of value-for-money, undercutting them in price and bringing a generous amount of standard features including advanced safety equipment. Just a dentist's car, then? Absolutely not, optometrists will love it, too.

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

Is this Lexus an appealing alternative to the compact Germans? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$50,884
Based on 38 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$41,490
Highest Price
$64,900

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
IS200t F Sport 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $43,990 – 59,888 2017 LEXUS IS 2017 IS200t F Sport Pricing and Specs
IS300h F Sport Hybrid 2.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $51,040 – 58,630 2017 LEXUS IS 2017 IS300h F Sport Hybrid Pricing and Specs
IS200t Luxury 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $41,490 – 45,975 2017 LEXUS IS 2017 IS200t Luxury Pricing and Specs
IS300h Luxury Hybrid 2.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $44,440 – 51,700 2017 LEXUS IS 2017 IS300h Luxury Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$41,490

Lowest price, based on 12 car listings in the last 6 months

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