2017 Lexus IS 200t Review

IS 200t

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2017 Lexus IS 200t Overview

Lexus’ current propensity for dishing out wildly aggressive styling in order to rid itself of a certain stuffiness and sell more vehicles is old news by now. And yet the new 2017 IS 200t, introduced at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, doubles down on that bullish design philosophy. It’s a little like wearing those edgy patched jeans to school and then tearing extra holes in them when they’re not cool enough anymore. But unlike those scrappy jeans, the IS has substance behind it. Lexus has a well-earned reputation for reliability, and the IS’ sales figures have recently done pretty well, good news for a contender in the increasingly competitive compact sedan segment, where everyone from an incumbent BMW to a resurgent Cadillac is scrabbling for a piece of the action.

The IS 200t is technically the entry model in a larger IS lineup that also includes the IS 300 and 350. These separate models are basically differentiated by their powertrains. But styling runs the same across them all, with 2017 versions sporting an entirely new front fascia in which the huge lower air intakes on the performance-oriented F Sport trims somehow manage to offset the equally huge spindle grille familiar to anyone who’s so much as glanced at a late-model Lexus vehicle. The spindle grille itself bottlenecks slightly higher than it did before, which means it has a lower visual center of gravity and constitutes an even more blatant attention grabber. Triple-layered LED taillights reminiscent of those you’d see on newer BMWs grace a rear end fitted with new chrome exhaust tips.

The interior has also been redone, and it looks like a BMW or Audi cabin with just enough of its own touches to make it not a BMW or Audi cabin. The horizontal lines and 10.3-inch rectangular display screen (up from 7 inches) are similar to, say, the A3 or 3 Series; the analog clock in the center of the dash and door-trim lines are a little more unique. Controls and instrumentation have been smoothed out, there’s new stitching atop the gauge hood, and Lexus even went to the trouble of reworking the cupholders.

One thing that’s not changing for 2017 is the powerplant. The IS 200t will still carry a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder with 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The output is managed by an 8-speed automatic transmission—which was new for 2016—and the only available drivetrain is rear-wheel drive (RWD). Fuel economy for the 2016 model stood at 22 mpg city/33 highway/26 combined and probably won’t change for the coming year. Test-driving the 2016 IS 200t, our reviewer praised its exceptional handling—indeed, this is one way in which the IS is quickly gaining on competitors like the vaunted 3 Series. Getting from 0 to 60 mph should take a little under 7 seconds.

Just as the IS 200t is technically a single model within a larger range, the F Sport package essentially creates a separate trim within the IS 200t lineup. Adding this package switches the grille from a louvered design to a 3D “F-mesh” pattern with a black metallic coating. As mentioned above, the lower air ducts grow substantially larger, in part to feed additional airflow to the brakes. The suspension is sport-tuned (stiffened), and the wheels are upgraded to 18-inch alloy units. Inside, the F Sport features special seats, special F Sport trim, and a special TFT instrument panel derived from the Lexus LFA supercar. This package came in at $3,545 for 2016, so it’ll probably set you back a little more on newer cars.

Shouldering the infotainment work is the Toyota Entune system, controlled via the Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI), which for 2017 includes new “Enter” buttons on either side of the center console. RTI makes use of a cursor-based control template that’s long been known as being frustrating, so whether or not a couple extra buttons will improve things substantially is kind of dubious. Otherwise, consider upgrading to the enhanced Entune system with traffic updates and weather or a navigation package that includes a 17-speaker Mark Levinson 5.1 premium sound system.

The 2017 IS 200t also now features the Lexus Safety System+ as standard equipment. This means a standard pre-collision system, standard lane-departure warning with steering assist, standard automatic high beams, and standard radar cruise control. The IS 200t’s brakes were improved for 2016, and its Enform Safety Connect system will automatically notify authorities in case of accident or theft. The 2017 model has also earned a top 5-star rollover rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, following up on 5-star ratings across the board for the 2016 model. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety put the 2016 IS through two tests and awarded it top Good ratings for both.

Lexus has not announced pricing for the IS 200t as of this writing. The 2016 version started at $37,325, and there will probably be something of an increase given the model’s updates. The IS is priced competitively with other luxury models and shouldn’t necessarily be considered either a splurge or a steal. It’s a quality model from a quality automaker that is doing its best to make up any ground it once lost to the Germans on the performance front—and, to all appearances, it’s doing this rather well.

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