The 2016 Lexus IS lineup brings two new models: the IS 200t and IS 300. The IS 200t uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder, while the IS 300 is all-wheel drive only, using detuned 3.5-liter V6. They join the 2016 Lexus IS 350, using a more powerful version of that V6 with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. This third-generation Lexus IS was introduced for 2014.
An F Sport package is available for any IS, a performance enhancement that changes the character of the car, so the IS is basically six different cars.
The turbo-four, rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 200t offers 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, with its paddle-shifting 8-speed transmission. It’s no rocket but it’s quick enough, 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds. But the powertrain has a quirk we’ve seen and commented on in other Lexuses, a lag time between your foot and the engine’s acceleration, a long pause in the programming before the transmission and turbocharger wake up.
The V6 in the all-wheel-drive Lexus IS 300 makes 255 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. The IS 350 wrings 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque out of that 3.5-liter V6. The Lexus IS has good electric power steering, but the F Sport models upgrade to variable-rate steering, among other changes that enhance the dynamics and spirit of the car.
Naturally, the Lexus IS 200t gets the best mileage, EPA rated 22/33/26 mpg City/Highway/Combined. The Lexus IS 300 is rated 19/26/21 mpg, and Lexus IS 350 19/28/22 mpg, with 1 mpg less for all-wheel drive.
The 2016 Lexus IS is offered in four models, starting with the new IS 200t with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine; then the mid-range all-wheel-drive IS 300 with a modest V6; and the rear-wheel-drive IS 350 with 306 horsepower from its V6. The F Sport package is available for each model.
Standard equipment includes 10 airbags, LED daytime running lights, 60/40 rear seats, eight-speaker sound system, Bluetooth and voice recognition, but not a rearview camera nor navigation. Optional safety equipment besides the camera includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dynamic radar-based cruise control, lane departure warning, and park assist. Optional fun equipment includes 18-inch wheels, twin projector LED headlamps, and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system.
The Lexus IS front end is angular and expressive as it wraps around the spindle grille, love it or hate it. The spindle grille on the F Sport models is black mesh, and it looks sportier, though not necessarily better looking, than the standard grille that uses bars. The Lexus IS has a purposeful stance, whether that purpose is canyon carving or painting the town red. Lean and graceful curves run down its sculpted sides to its tight and tidy rear end.
There are some quirky touches. The LED daytime running lights are aligned in a strip below the headlamps, the taillamps wrap around the rear fender and then spike, and there is an awkward duct behind the front fender.
The Lexus cabin is smaller than that in the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but then so is the whole car, and it’s bigger than it was before the 2014 redesign that stretched the IS wheelbase by 2.7 inches. The tiered dashboard gives it an upscale if not upsize feel. The materials are refined and durable, except for the plastic buttons on the steering wheel. Controls in the wide center stack are clean and simple. The digital instrument display is inspired by the LFA supercar, and takes the IS to rare air.
The seats are comfortable, although F Sports could use more bolstering, and there’s reasonable room in the rear. The trunk is a smallish 13.8 cubic feet.
It’s not that the new 200t isn’t fast enough, but that pause when you want it to go can be maddening. It’s got a good 258 pound-feet of torque that makes you wait because the transmission won’t release it, in Eco or Normal mode. If you switch into Sport mode, or Sport Plus if you have an F Sport model, and paddle-shift manually, you can get it to respond. But you shouldn’t have to.
We haven’t yet driven an IS 300, with its detuned V6, 6-speed transmission, and all-wheel drive, still quicker than the 200t. It’s not about power or acceleration with that car, it’s about traction. The test will be on ice and snow. It’s intended for wintry states.
The IS 350’s V6 makes a very healthy 306 horsepower, with 277 pound-feet of torque, and will blow the car to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. All-wheel drive is good when it snows, but we’ll take ours without, and go for the driving dynamics of rear-wheel drive. Besides, the 8-speed automatic shifts quicker and smoother than the 6-speed.
The IS F Sports come with Adaptive Variable Suspension system, which takes any roll out of the cornering, if not all of the understeer at the outer limits, even with rear-wheel drive. What’s left is barely significant.
The Lexus IS is always fun to drive, in F Sport or not, V6 or four-cylinder turbo. It’s not quite enough to put fear into the hearts of the competition, but it matches the Europeans and Americans on looks and handling. When you figure out how to keep it from lagging under your foot, let us know.