The Lexus IS 200T F Sport Can’t Live Up to Its Looks
The 2017 Lexus IS 200T F Sport is a deceiving compact sedan.
It’s most distinctive thing feature—the front fascia and grill—comes as part of a $3,545 upgrade.
And you’ll want something to set it off from competitors Infiniti Q50, Acura ILX, and Cadillac ATS. (You’ve noticed a few brand oversights? No. For performance purposes and general build quality, it’s not near the level of a $39,500 Mercedes C Class, or even a $33,450 BMW 3 Series, let alone the admittedly more expensive $42,900 Audi S3 or $64,000 BMW M3.)
Given that this is the most svelte car Lexus makes, it’s unfortunate that the IS F Sport’s distinction must come via cosmetic upgrades, not through superior performance or craftsmanship. This is not a sport sedan on par with the best in the market. But if you want a mid-priced luxury car for commuting or carrying children to school, if you have something against German engineering, and/or if you want a whip with a wild face, this Lexus will do fine. Spend your $37,825 base, buy the F Sport package, and drive away.
Otherwise, prepare to pony up.
I wrote about the Lexus GS F last year. Like the smaller IS F Sport, it evoked the same theme: If you want this vehicle to feel special, you must purchase the many options that accompany it. (The version I drove around Manhattan for a week cost roughly $48,000 after upgrades.)
And isn’t that what a luxury car should do—make you feel special? If not, you might as well drive a Ford. It’ll do the job without the price premium.
But while the GS is “a decent, inoffensive, mass-produced conveyance for getting from point A to point B without feeling anything about anything, ever,” the IS 200T does surpass its ability to corner, grip the road, and accelerate with a strong(er) thrust at low RPMs. It could use some more work in that department, yes, but it’s far less retiring in looks and in drive personality.
The car comes with a 241-horsepower inline-four turbo engine. Torque is 258 pound-feet at 1,650 to 4,400 RPM which roughly equals the Q50 but soundly beats the Acura ILX. It takes gas at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32mpg on the highway, which generally beats, for instance, neither the entry models on the BMW 3 Series nor the Mercedes C-Class.
Behind the Wheel
Driving the IS F required no effort, really: The car performs fine, with adequate pull to 60 miles per hour and average steering and braking precision. Three driving modes (eco, normal, sport) come standard. The rear-wheel drive and eight-speed, paddle-shifting transmission work well, with drive character weighted toward neither aggression nor placidity. It is balanced and capable. (AWD is standard on the V6-powered IS 300 and optional on the higher output V6 IS 350; it is not available on the IS 200T range.)
Inside, the car feels close but not constricted. If you’re a tall man, you may not want to sit in the back seat for long, but I wouldn’t expect much room from a small sedan, anyway.
The front portion is segmented by a large console that runs from the narrow dash past the front seats toward the rear of the car. This is split perpendicularly by an all-new (optional) 10.3-inch high-def computer screen that shows controls for cabin climate, navigation, audio, and other comfort settings.
I am glad to report that this Lexus does not come with the odd “haptic joystick” and obtuse bolster pad contained in the GS and other Lexus products. Ergonomic bolstered seats and leather trim on the interior come standard. (A heated steering wheel costs $150 as part of the F Sport package.)
You'll want the aluminum sport pedals, ebony headliner, heated and ventilated front seats, and backup camera that come with the F-Sport Package (as do the F Sport front bumper and spindle grille and 18-inch split, five-spoke wheels on the exterior). They add significant verve to the car.
The $2,835 Mark Levinson premium audio package adds to the benefits of the nicely quiet cabin and includes navigation, so I'd choose this as well. The $5,320 luxury package offers blind-spot monitoring, leather interior trim, those heated- and cooled front seats I mentioned, and other safety alerts you’d do well to own, especially if you don't splurge on the F Sport package. (The two offer many benefits that overlap, so you must choose one or the other.)
Luxury lives in such little details as rain-sensing wipers and electrochromatic side mirrors that also come with that package. You can get there—to that special feeling. With LFA-inspired gauges on the dash, intelligent-beam brilliant headlamps, those 18-inch sport alloy wheels and burning-rubber summer tires, the IS F Sport easily assumes the look of a racer.
Maybe if the flared face weren’t there, it would come off better. Those thin slivers of light at the front and the gaping black grill that come with the upgrade package seem to promise an aggression that the small engine doesn’t quite deliver: You pay extra for them, but they make you expect something the car can't deliver. It feels like false advertising.
This is a decent car—like a decent meal you may not remember eating two days later but have no real complaints about at the time. I just wish it had a little more under the hood.