Lexus IS’s Midlife Facelift is More Than Skin Deep

 

2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sport

2016 Lexus IS line (r to l) - IS 200t F Sport, IS 350 Sports Luxury and IS 200t Luxury

2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sport2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sport

2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sport2016 Lexus IS 200t Sports Luxury

The changes to the pretty face makes one of my favourite cars look sexier. The IS range makes up about 36% of all Lexus sales. There are 3 drive trains: Hybrid, 2.0L turbo and the good old V6, all of which remain unchanged. Whilst the Hybrid and Turbo engines are newish or upgraded, the V6 is getting a bit long in the tooth despite being silk smooth.

The turbo and hybrids get the fab 8 speed auto which “locks up” from 3rd to 8th. This improves fuel consumption by eliminating the “slip” normally found in a torque converter. Among other things, the torque converter allows the engine to spin freely at traffic lights and in the same way putting your foot on the clutch does. The gearbox will hunt up and down to find the best balance of speed and fuel consumption depending on what the driver has selected on the “drive mode” controller. The AI shift controller uses the IS’s G sensor to provide optimal performance by always being in the right gear. It works extremely well. It’s nice to see a luxury car maker not using a DSG-style auto.

Outside:

The front bumper gets a new look which makes the IS 15mm longer. The aluminium bonnet and spindle grille have had subtle changes with the “waistline” of the grille being raised slightly. Lexus reckons this will make the front end look more aggressive with the headlights now thinner and more streamlined. It looks more handsome, but I struggle to tell the differences anywhere but with the headlights.

The rear have a tail light makeover with petrol models getting new tail pipe tips. The Hybrid has a slightly lowered bumper.

The changes are almost imperceptible, but somehow the look is more refined, even if you’re not sure why. I like it very much and this facelift continues a natural evolution started with the previous generation where the proportions were established.

 

2016 Lexus IS 200t Luxury

Inside:

Most notable is the standard 10.3” centre LCD screen. Input via the console mounted toggle still fails to excite. It is still to fiddly especially at speed. For me, it is more distracting than using a mobile phone. The LCD is set deep into the dash to avoid glare, so would be hard to reach even if it was a touch screen. I think this is a mistake. While touch screens can also be hard to use on the move, they are vastly superior at all other times. There is voice input, and like most voice inputs can be tetchy. None the less the infotainment system looks good and sounds fabulous even in base models.

There are new trim colours adding to an already classy cabin. The feel of quality is on a par with anything from Europe. There are those who’ll no doubt disagree, but tough luck!

The drive mode control system now has a customisable mode. This allows a driver to decide between throttle, transmission and steering settings, and save them as a “favourite” in preference to the presets in other modes. For example, I like a light steering feel with a sharp throttle response and transmission setting. In addition, the transmission has a sport setting which is most noticeable in tight bends which are close together. It kicks down and gives little blips between gearsas if the driver was using a clutch. Leaving the V6 in sports will do dreadful things to your fuel consumption so best leave it in normal. There is plenty power and torque to go around.

Rather handily, the twin cup holders have a channel connecting them which can be used for your phone.

There are many other interior changes to further redevelop the cabin design. Subtle changes to instruments, fittings, fabrics and finishes are hard to spot and serve to freshen the look rather than radically change it.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the auto-wiper switch located on the end of the wiper control stalk. On the rainy launch day, I kept mistaking the wiper for the indicator thus deactivating the auto wipers. I’d then have to remember to press the end of the stalk again, but only after noticing the windscreen was obscured by light drizzle. The auto wiper should stay on until the button is pressed again. It is annoying beyond belief.

The classy cabin remains a very nice place to be. It is comfortable and cosy with the premium feel of a Euro-Snob.

The Drive:

Yarra Valley, Victoria. A rainy, cold late spring day.

The suspension has received the loving attention of particularly pernickety engineers. Not only that, the manufacturing process itself also contributes to imperceptible improvements to an already great drive.

There is body bracing with “performance damper”, which along with screw welding and 25 metres of body adhesive make the panels rigid and a better handler. The adhesive ensures the bond ensures longevity to the body as well as preventing unwanted rattles between panels. The joins should remain solid for the life of the car.

If a rigid body makes handling good, it is a waste of time without top draw suspension. The IS has an expensive Double Wishbone setup at the front, and multi-link at the back. You aren’t aware of the rigidity of the body but you certainly notice the willingness to change direction like a cat-on-carpet.

The result is a supple and luxurious ride which is sporty when needed. IS is up against stiff competition in 2016 Lexus IS 200t F SportBMW’s 3 series and the Merc C Class and compares favourably just as Lexus wanted.

I’ve always found the 8-speed auto is rarely caught out whether shifting up, or down. If you’ve not driven one before, the hybrid’s CVT can be a bit confusing because sound doesn’t always match the speed. If you ignore that, there is no appreciable difference between the CVT and the 8-speed.

Inclement weather shows the best and worst in a car. The day went from drizzle, to rain, then to dense fog with warnings of ice. It is, after all, Melbourne, but fortunately, the shiny side stayed up.

The overly careful user guide warns the (now standard) Active Cruise Control be used carefully in fog and heavy rain so we left it off until in the highway. The ACC now uses radar as well as cameras to improve performance. It can see the side of the road even if unmarked by linework.

The 5-star safety rating will be a chief reason to buy. Lexus has adopted Lexus Safety System + consisting 2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sportof a suite of features including “four driver-assist systems: Lexus Pre-Collision Safety System (PCS) including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Active Cruise Control (ACC) high-speed (above 40km/h), Lane Departure Warning+ (LDW+) and Automatic High Beam.”

The AEB operates between 15 and 180kph though I’m not sure I want any car throwing out the anchors at 180kph. The other vehicle has to be more than 10kph, so the Lexus won’t mistake lamp posts and trees close to the road’s edge as a reason to stand the IS on its nose.

I noticed the ACC brakes too late when it sees a car stopped at lights on a gentle bend.

As with all of these systems, none is meant to replace an attentive driver.

The LDW (Lane Departure Warning) has an audio/visual warning should you begin to drift out of your lane. It will apply slight torque to guide you back to the centre if you fail to correct. If the system thinks you’re nodding off by doing this too much, it will warn you. It will give you a stern telling off if you if you have a “look mum no hands” moment.

There is also a long list of other safety features like blind spot monitoring and reversing camera that are now standard.

The front engine/rear wheel drive is still my favourite set up. As I previously said, I’d like to see a new V6 or at least a turbo on the current one but it is still a beautifully smooth power plant. I didn’t drive the V6 this round but engines remains unchanged from the previous model.

Conclsion:

All in all, a good job. This a particularly viciously contested segment and the inclusion of safety and comfort features will assuage many objections a buyer might have. They will have been looking at Jag’s XE, Merc’s C Class, BMW’s 3 series and the Audi A4 or A3.

Lexus has a striking look which buyers will either love or hate, but I love it. The replacement IS is still several years off and this refresh should carry it through admirably. There’ll no doubt be minor improvements in the meanwhile, and I for one would be happy to see the back of the awful toggle input device.

Apart from that, Lexus IS “update” feels good to drive. It is satisfying, and conveys a suitable message to other road users which is, “I’m dead posh and I like something a bit different”, and, why not indeed?

Priced between $59,340 for the IS 200t Luxury up to $84,160 for the IS 350 Sports Luxury(excluding on-road costs), the price increases over the old model are below $900. This may sound like quite a hike but you get much more for your money.

The road surfaces varied hugely and apart from the very roughest tarmac, the Lexus felt poised and luxurious. Above all, the experience was comfortable yet engaging.

Lexus sales are up because the design and technology gives buyers a reason to visit a showroom. The rest is up to the test drive.

Would I buy one? Yes, I love the IS.

Model

IS 200t

IS 350

IS 300h

Engine

8AR-FTS

2GR-FSE

2AR-FSE

Capacity

1998cc

3456cc

2494cc

Engine type

All-alloy turbocharged in-line 4 with double overhead cams and dual VVT-i

All-alloy 60-degree V6, 24 valves, double overhead cams (per bank) with dual VVT-i

All-alloy Atkinson cycle in-line 4 with double overhead cams, dual VVT-i and cooled EGR

Fuel type

95 RON (ULP) or higher

95 RON (ULP) or higher (Recommended)

Bore x stroke (mm)

86 x 86

94 x 83

90 x 98

Compression ratio

10.0:1

11.8:1

13.0:1

Max. power

Petrol engine

180kW@5800rpm

233kW@6400rpm

133kW@6000rpm

Combined (hybrid)

164kW

Max. torque (petrol only)

350Nm from 1650 to 4400rpm

378Nm@4800rpm

221Nm from 4200 to 5400rpm

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