Lexus IS

Damien O’car­roll drives a brace of IS mod­els, the 200t F-sport and the 300h Hy­brid.

New Zealand Company Vehicle - - CONTENTS -

There came a time, around 10 years af­ter Toy­ota first launched Lexus, that the Ja­panese lux­ury brand needed to fi­nally take the big (and po­ten­tially fraught) step of head­ing down the size range to take on the Mercedes-benz C Class, Audi A4 and, most specif­i­cally, the BMW 3 Se­ries. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the car gets, the trick­ier the whole “lux­ury” thing be­comes, so mak­ing the move down­wards was al­ways gong to be a risky one. But Lexus man­aged to pull it off quite con­vinc­ingly, with the first IS gar­ner­ing praise from many quar­ters for its blend of sporti­ness and lux­ury. Now the IS is on the verge of cel­e­brat­ing its 20th birth­day and we have a newly facelifted ver­sion of the 3rd gen­er­a­tion car that first ap­peared in 2013. Now, while I will freely ad­mit that the cur­rent IS’S looks are po­lar­is­ing, I per­son­ally love the ag­gres­sive, an­gu­lar style of the cur­rent Lexus de­sign lan­guage, par­tic­u­larly on the IS. It is very Ja­panese, very dis­tinc­tive and, I think, very bold and hand­some. The red 200t you see on these pages is an F-sport model and, as such, gets an even more ag­gres­sive ex­te­rior look, with the mesh look to the grille and gap­ing in­takes, while the sil­ver 300h is a lux­ury-spec Lim­ited that is slightly more sub­dued. Slightly. As al­ways, the in­te­rior of the IS is ut­terly su­perb, with high build qual­ity and se­ri­ously cool de­sign. The seats in both are fan­tas­tic, while the lovely leather steer­ing wheel is a tac­tile de­light. The 200t F-sport gets the bril­liant, yet com­pletely point­less mov­ing tachome­ter in the dash, while the 300h Lim­ited gets a more con­ven­tional lay­out. Both, how­ever, are still stuck with the silly joy­stick con­troller in­stead of a far sim­pler touch­screen, while the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem feels a bit dated now and there is no phone mir­ror­ing in sight. Un­der their bon­nets lurk two very dif­fer­ent power trains, with the 200t get­ting an ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic 180kw/350nm 2.0-litre turbo four that is su­perbly smooth, re­fined and pow­erfu, and an 8-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion that is won­der­fully slick, fast and smooth. The 300h gets a 164kw 2.5-litre four­cylin­der/elec­tric mo­tor hy­brid driv­e­train hooked up to a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion. While the 200t is nicely ea­ger and very keen to rev, it does sound rather char­ac­ter­less, but makes up for that with its fan­tas­tic flex­i­bil­ity and bril­liant mid-range grunt. While the 300h is nowhere near as revvy, ea­ger or pow­er­ful, it makes up for that with re­mark­able fuel con­sump­tion – Lexus claim con­bined con­sump­tion of just 4.9L/100km, and a quick 300km road trip over a week­end saw fig­ures very close to this, even with some en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ing. On the road, both cars are In­cred­i­bly lithe and nim­ble, and flow beau­ti­fully through cor­ners. The 200t in par­tic­u­lar is sharp and ac­cu­rate, yet al­ways re­mains com­fort­able and fan­tas­ti­cally com­posed. While the 300h feels a bit firm and slightly brittle for a lux­ury car, the 200t’s char­ac­ter suits this set up far more con­vinc­ingly and it is a thor­oughly won­der­ful cor­ner carver, while still re­main­ing con­vinc­ingly re­fined. Just like the IS al­ways has.

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