Singapore – Lexus has always made automobiles its own way. For most of the company’s 30-year history that has meant putting a premium on refinement, build quality and ease of use.
If that meant going a unique route, even amongst Japanese carmakers, then so be it. But there are some forces that can’t be overcome by alternative experience – emissions, for one thing, and overall performance is another.
Three years ago we drove the new IS executive sedan and its debut in Texas, USA. The IS 300h hybrid took care of the ‘nice to the earth’ side of things, but the IS 250 was, even at that time, already in need of a new heart.
The 2.5-litre V6 was, we believe, an American idiosyncrasy, since V6s used to be seen as the base offering for any car that needed to be taken seriously in The Land Of The Free. As downsizing is now a global phenomenon, it’s now acceptable in ‘Murica to have a smaller-capacity inline four with turbocharging to replace the old V6s. Quite a mind-shift, it should be added, for a place where bigger is usually equated with better.
The writing’s on the wall, and even Ford has a 2.3-litre turbo four in its Mustang, of all things. So it’s no surprise Toyota’s (Toyota owns Lexus) first turbo engine in yonks first debuted in the NX SUV, provides the base engine for the RX large SUV, and is now powering the base models for the IS and GS sedans.
We’re quite familiar with the new engine – 8AR-FTS – and it’s quite an impressive piece of technology, melding the Atkinson cycle tech (derived from the brand’s hybrid powerplants) with all of the benefits of a modern turbo, namely more power and torque married with increased efficiency. Yet it’s a new application for the engine, since it’s the first time the turbo mill is being longitudinally mounted in the engine bay and mated to an eight-speed transmission in a rear-wheel drive only setup.
Turbo talk: how the new turbo four compares to the V6
|O||4GR-FSE V6||8AR-FTS Inline 4||Difference|
|Output||207bhp at 6400rpm||241bhp at 5,800rpm||+34bhp|
|Torque||252 at 4800rpm||350Nm at 1650 – 4400rpm||+98Nm|
As you can see from the chart, on paper it seems like an model case for downsizing, the most obvious improvement being the nearly 100Nm increase in torque. That in itself is exciting: As a driver’s package, the only thing the IS 250 needed was more shove.
100Nm is nothing to sniff at, and the IS Turbo feels much livelier everywhere in the rev range, as the peak torque rpm numbers suggest. But the turbo engine is still has ‘Lexus’ written all over it – the power delivery is smooth, it’s delivered in a swell and not a sudden punch. It’s as if the IS had a nice cappuccino, rather than a double espresso.
No surprise that the IS is still very refined, but with turbo power it now builds speed in almost unnoticeable fashion. The inline four doesn’t sound particularly stirring and this is the sole area the V6 trumps it. But it also reflects the fact that the V6 had to be revved hard to get going – the Turbo model pauses for an instant, then scoots off.
The new eight-speed gearbox is generally unobtrusive but in ‘Normal’ drive mode (there’s Eco, Sport and Sport+, the latter engages a stiffer setting on the F Sport-only adaptive suspension setup) you can feel it shift down. In any other machine this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s the first Lexus we’ve felt such an obvious down shift, and strangely in Eco and Sport the issue isn’t noticeable.
For a car that’s always felt like it could do with more power (the now discontinued and utterly mad V8-toting IS F aside) the additional turbo muscle is a revelation as the additional drive to the rear wheels makes the IS feel that much more alive and even easier to drive fast. The F Sport’s tidy, taut ride and handling is still very much intact, and proves a great match for the car’s newly-grown grunt. You’ll have to work hard to get the rear to break loose, but it’s do-able with the plentiful torque.
If the IS was always the modest-looking Japanese salaryman, it’s as if he’s now shown he can pole dance with his jacket off but shirt kept on.
This new model loses the higher-grade ‘Remote Touch’ infotainment (it lacks navigation, for example) but it’s no huge loss as the standard Display Audio system is arguably easier to use. Occasional gearbox flubs are the only fly in the turbo-enhanced pudding really – in all other aspects such as interior quality, room and features, it still oozes a high standard of assembly and thoughtful design.
We should keep in mind though, that a return to German-matching form isn’t actually alien territory for the IS. The first IS, aka the Toyota Altezza, was built as a 3-Series beater. The third-gen IS is very much its own car, but the turbo update brings a very welcome part of its heritage back.
Lexus IS Turbo F Sport
Engine 1,998cc, 16V, inline , turbocharged
Power 241bhp at 5800rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1650-4400rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100kmh 7.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.5L/100km
Price $227,000 with COE
Also Consider: BMW 320i, Infiniti Q50 Sport, Mercedes-Benz C200