Lexus recently endowed its enduring IS sedan range with their smooth yet powerful turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, creating a new tier of exclusivity for drivers who demand more, for less. Launched in Port Elizabeth, DRIVEN went along for the ride.
Debuting in the stridently-styled NX compact SUV, Lexus’ turbocharged 2.0-litre powerplant has been rotated by 90 degrees and dropped into the brand’s IS compact sports sedan to create the IS 200t. Providing a blend of performance, dynamics and economy, the IS 200t is the ideal range companion to the 233 kW V6 IS 350 F Sport, and is available exclusively in E and EX grades.
As one of the most underrated compact premium sedans in the market, the IS received scantily enough recognition, despite its competitor-whipping sporty character and Lexus heritage. This may change following Lexus’ correction of their IS offering, with the new 200t’s smaller displacement turbocharged engine providing improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions, while still delivering a handsome 350 Nm of torque. Power has also been increased by five kW from the NX’s configuration, seeing a new 180 kW high.
While South African buyers are yet to fully come to terms with the global engine downsizing trend, the Lexus 2.0-litre turbo will go some way in establishing a good reputation for smaller capacity, higher output mills. At the launch in Port Elizabeth recently, the IS 200t showed not only its powerful character but also its flexibility, bringing all of the engine’s substantial 350 Nm online from as low as 1,650 r/min (thanks to its twin-scroll turbo that enhances power output from lower revs), all the way to its 4,400 r/min peak.
The eight-speed Lexus Sports Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic transmission – with paddle shift – is a perfect accompaniment to power, providing high levels of driveability comparable to other rear-wheel drive configured sports sedans.
Lexus aims the 2.0-litre IS squarely at the Jaguar XE 2.0T (R638,900) and the BMW 330i (R518,360), and have carved a valuable niche in terms of a high level of standard specification in this car.
Both the 200t E (R518,800) and EX (R570,300) grades feature multi-spoke 17” wheels, and in terms of interior trim, are equipped with everything from seat heating and ventilation, a 7-inch central colour display, full leather trim, electric front seats, front and rear Park-Distance Control (PDC) and more. The EX grade also gets satellite navigation, an electrochromatic rear-view mirror and reverse camera.
Lexus’ interior quality and superior cabin look and feel is unquestioned, as is the car’s already comprehensive safety specification. By adding rear side airbags, Lexus has increased the tally to ten supplemental restraint systems across the range, outdoing its closest rivals. An electrically adjustable steering column, which retracts automatically when the vehicle is turned off, further accentuates the sense of convenience and luxury on both the E and EX models.
The IS 200t’s 8-speed SPDS transmission has proven itself in the IS 350 F Sport and RC 350, and the latest iteration also boasts added electronic-control technology, including a Lexus-first: Downshift Lock-up Control. Appealing to drivers who demand high levels of involvement from their sports sedans, the transmission also features AUTO-BLiP downshifts, delivering a good balance between straight-line acceleration, fuel economy, and driveability.
Add to that the Lexus Drive Mode Select switch that allows the driver to choose between E, Normal and Sport modes, and the driver can further tune the IS’ response to their personal preference and driving style.
Admittedly, Sport mode triggers just the right amount of throttle response and power steering assistance for my style of driving. Although Normal mode is good enough for everyday driving, and ECO mode is great for optimising fuel economy, the 200t’s dynamic characteristics step up to the plate when Sport mode is selected, showing off the Yamaha-developed performance damper system that counteracts body roll and notably increases the IS’ torsional rigidity.
With its combination of sharp styling, high build quality, interior comfort, and a great new turbo engine, the Lexus IS 200t should feature on every executive’s compact premium sedan shortlist. As with the rest of the Lexus range, all models in the IS range are covered by a 4-year/100,000 km warranty. The E model also comes standard with the Lexus “Distance” maintenance plan, while the EX model add a “Distance Plan Plus.”
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © TOYOTA SOUTH AFRICA