Test Drives

Lexus IS 200t review: Controlled excitement



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A mild (and we mean mild) facelift for the Lexus IS Turbo sharpens its looks, but doesn’t help it let its hair down

SINGAPORE — 119 beats per minute. According to the thingy I wear on my wrist, that’s what my heartrate peaked at from driving the facelifted Lexus IS Turbo F Sport.

For someone as excitable as I am (my pulse spikes far more than that if I just think about, say, Donna from That 70s Show), that isn’t particularly high.

And it wasn’t even because of the car itself. The old pump only really got going because I happened to rumble around a corner at a fairly enthusiastic pace, only to encounter a monkey seated in the middle of my lane, merrily oblivious to his impending splattering, with his back to me.

It’s a damn good thing the Lexus has strong brakes and steady handling, both for the monkey and the staff at the nearest carwash.

Bet you anything though, that as he scampered out of the IS Turbo’s way (not to mention out of his skin), his heart rate would have made a fitness tracker explode.

I’m not sure what to make of the idea that it takes near monkeycide to get the heart going in the IS Turbo, though.

This is already one of the more playful members of a fairly reserved family, after all. It’s Japan’s answer to BMW’s 3 Series, although it’s perhaps closer in character to that car’s own deadly rival, the Mercedes C-Class.

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If you’re wondering what’s new, the IS has had a minor facelift (following a major one less than two years ago, when it also got a new turbo engine). It’s nearly impossible to spot what’s changed, but then it’s unusual for a car to get two facelifts in two years to begin with. That says a lot about how seriously Lexus must take its whole pursuit of perfection mission.

Anyway, on the racier F Sport version of the IS Turboy you see here, there are new bolt-on things up front: that means headlights (look for a triple-L LED motif in them), the bumper (the foglamps are gone), and apparently the arrow-shaped grille has been widened slightly in places.

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The tailpipes have gone from being round to trapezoidal, too.

Inside you’ll notice a bigger display screen (it’s 10.2 inches now)… 

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.. and redesigned cupholders…

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…and, er, that’s it.

If you think the facelift is minor, the mechanical changes are even more so. That’s because there haven’t been any. You still have a 2.0-litre turbo with 241bhp and 350Nm, driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed auto.

lexus is turbo 2017 price singapore reviewSame, same, but not different

That being so, it feels exactly the same to drive. The stopwatch says the Lexus is fairly swift, but the engine’s power delivery is so smooth and linear that it actually feels subdued. Seven seconds after you launch yourself hard you’re at 100km/h, thinking, “Really? How did I get here?”

Handling-wise, it’s similarly coy. The steering wheel is compact enough that twirling it doesn’t require great flings of your elbows, and so the IS Turbo does feel like it has an inherent agility.

It feels planted, too, but much of that is down to the excellent stability control system. Like the best such bacon savers, it intervenes but doesn’t intrude. That means if you’re bombing along a corner on the edge of grip the system actively keeps you on your chosen line, but you’re only aware of it working in the background because a warning light blinks accusingly at you, like a visual tut-tut.

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It feels so safe and forgiving, inevitably, that your heartbeat doesn’t change much.

That’ll probably be taken as a compliment by the folks at Lexus, but it does make you wonder if the F Sport package isn’t a bit incongruous with the car.

The IS Turbo itself is plush and solid inside (plusher and more solid, in fact, than either a BMW or Mercedes), but when you tick the F Sport box on the options list  it does look like something a tuning shop released.

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The 19-inch wheels, honeycomb grille and F Sport badges are understatedly fierce, and inside there are sporty bucket style front seats, polished aluminium pedals and best of all, instruments inspired by the LFA — the million-dollar supercar that Lexus built for a spell, just for the heck of it.

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The F Sport pack also comes with adjustable suspension, but the range of settings go from firm to jittery. It’s not enough to turn the Lexus into an uncomfortable car, but it does feel unnecessary.

And that’s before you find out that the F Sport goodies add $24,000 to the car’s price — that’s $200 a month if you keep the Lexus for 10 years, mind you. They’re nice to have but don’t do a lot to enhance the experience, so whether you go the F Sport route is mostly down to how you want your IS Turbo to look, more than how you want it to drive. It’s a decision for your heart, in other words, and not your heart rate.

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NEED TO KNOW Lexus IS Turbo F-Sport  

Engine 1,998cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 241bhp at 5800rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1650-4400rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100km/h 7.0 seconds  
Fuel efficiency 7.5L/100km
CO2 175g/km
Price $222,000 with COE
Available Now

about the author

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.