Refreshed for the 2017 model year with revised front end styling and a new 10.3-inch infotainment screen, the Lexus IS line has been given a light tweak to keep it up to date with its prestige competitors.
The new face, though no less polarising, brings the look of the IS into line with its larger sibling, the GS - and the new widescreen, infotainment display gives a high-tech feel to the well crafted interior.
A few minor changes to suspension and handling round-out the update, with Lexus confident that the subtle facelift will help it keep momentum against a competitive set of compact luxury sedans.
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium sedan
Price: $70,310 IS 300h F Sport, $78,040 IS 200t Sports Luxury (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 164kW/221Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol hybrid | CVT automatic, 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.9 l/100km | Tested: 6.3 l/100km (IS 300h)
Lexus hasn’t altered the lineup for its IS range, with three distinct engine variants, the turbocharged four-cylinder IS 200t, the petrol electric hybrid IS 300h and the performance skewed IS 350 with a free-revving naturally aspirated 3.5 litre V6.
Each of those engine variants is offered with three distinct trim levels: Luxury, F Sport, and Sports Luxury, with the F Sport boasting unique styling touches inside and out to give it a more aggressive look.
Pricing spans from $59,340 to $84,160 giving Lexus a broad spread of models to counter the seemingly endless variety of European competitors available. At the Victorian launch of the new IS time was limited (and the weather anything but friendly) but TMR jumped behind the wheel of the IS 200t and IS 300h - the two bulk sellers of the range.
- Standard Equipment: leather seat trim, power adjustable front seats with heating and cooling, powered steering column, dual-zone climate control, proximity key with push-button start, dusk-sensing LED headlights, colour multi-information display.
- Infotainment: 10.3 inch display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, 10-speaker Pioneer audio or optional 15 speaker Mark Levinson premium audio, satellite navigation,
- Options Available: IS 200t, IS 350h Luxury and IS 350 F Sport enhancement pack (moonroof) $2500, IS 200t and IS 350h F Sport enhancement pack (moonroof and audio upgrade) $4000
- Cargo Volume: 480 litres (petrol) or 450 litres (hybrid)
Changes to the cabin design are minimal compared to the previous car. There are some new finishes and optional trim colours, and of course the new larger central screen.
Access to the infotainment system is via the Lexus Remote Touch Interface which has been updated with a larger palm rest pad and an ‘enter’ button on both sides - use of the system is still via a computer mouse-like toggle switch, and, frustratingly, access to many functions is locked out when the car is in motion.
F Sport models get a unique instrument cluster with a full LCD display and large central tacho, while the Luxury and Sports Luxury trims feature a more traditional two-dial instrument cluster with redesigned graphics and new finishes.
The seat design itself is unchanged, and arguably there’s no need to change something so right - comfy up front and providing the driver with support in all the right places. The rear seats, while not limo-like, also offer good comfort and a reasonable amount of space for a fairly compact sedan.
Trim details in either Naguri-style aluminium on the F-Sport and laser-cut wood on the Sports Luxury look properly high end, but some of the non-matching finishes around the air vents and instrument binnacles look a little out of place in an otherwise premium interior.
ON THE ROAD
- IS 200t: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder
- IS 300h: 164kW/221Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid
- Transmission: Six-step CVT automatic (hybrid), eight speed automatic (petrol), rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, independent rear with adaptive dampers for F Sport and Sports Luxury
- Brakes: 334mm front, 310mm rear discs (petrol), 296mm front, 290mm rear discs (hybrid)
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering , 10.4m turning circle
From an almost imperceptible idle the IS 200t maintains a smooth and quiet demeanor, working in concert with the eight speed automatic to keep revs low, in turn keeping fuel consumption and engine noise low.
The particular car driven at launch was box-fresh with less than 25km showing on the odometer at the start of the drive, and there were a few moments where the turbocharged 2.0 litre engine didn’t feel like it was delivering its full 180kW and 350Nm potential. With a few more kilometres under its tyres things should feel slightly freer.
With German competitors as benchmarks, the IS 200t matches for refinement in most areas, but highway driving revealed an un-Lexus-like amount of road noise from the rear axle.
No qualms from the adaptive suspension though, which blots out harsh bumps without sending shockwaves into the cabin. The weather at launch (either thick fog in the morning or constant rain in the afternoon) prevented a thorough exploration of the IS line’s capabilities however.
Swapping into the IS 300h makes things even quieter and smoother, with the petrol engine out of action at standstill, or when moving off slowly, and the electric motor helping to build momentum.
Unlike newer plug-in hybrids from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the Lexus can’t go long distances on battery power alone, instead the electric motor as a helper to reduce fuel consumption.
The CVT automatic operates seamlessly in normal situations making for smooth progress, but can be manually shifted with six-preset ratios via the steering wheel paddles for enthusiastic driving.
Though the petrol-electric hybrid exists as a green option in place of a regular diesel engine, it still manages to feel lively on the road, with more than enough get-up-and-go in reserve for overtaking or bounding away from green lights.
Light and accurate steering helps the IS range to feel nimble, but feel and feedback aren’t up with the best in the class, and, even with the drive mode set to the sportier end of the scale, the steering doesn’t gain much extra weight.
Changes have also been made to the suspension bushes, front-end geometry, and stabiliser bars to provide better road feel without sacrificing comfort, and the IS maintains its driver appeal. The adaptive damper system can even stiffen the front suspension to prevent dive under heavy braking - clever stuff.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The Lexus IS range scored 35.00 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2014.
Safety Features: One of the headline features for the IS is the adoption of Lexus Safety System+ which adds ‘Pre-Collision Safety System’ with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, and automatic high beam.
All variants come with 10 airbags, a reversing camera, and a tyre pressure monitoring. Sport and Sports Luxury models also add feature blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km
Servicing: Lexus does not offer capped price servicing, but does have servicing programs available to select buyers via its corporate program. Consult your local dealer for pricing and eligibility for your specific model.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
With distinctive styling and the lure of being something unique in a crowded market, the Infiniti Q50 might not fall on your radar, but could warrant a closer look as a credible Lexus rival.
Svelte style, fantastic handling, and range of engines from frugal to frantic make the Jaguar XE family an interesting choice, but a tight back seat and uninspiring dashboard design won’t please all buyers.
As polished as you’ll find in the class, the Audi A4 range delivers up-to-the-minute technology, a roomy interior, and available all wheel drive to help it stand apart from the pack.
Considered the dynamic benchmark in its class, the BMW 3 Series still delivers great handling in a premium package with a range of perky turbocharged engines that give it real zest with low fuel consumption.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In a fairly conservative market the unique style of the Lexus IS line helps it stand out amongst a crowd of sombre faces - helped out even more with bold new LED headlights and that unmistakable spindle grille.
Beneath the surface, the IS remains a great option for enthusiastic drivers, with a commendable balance between ride and handling - and the interior, though not perhaps quite as lavish as an Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, still feels genuinely premium in most areas.
Without changes to engine outputs or fuel consumption this update is really only very minor - and Lexus runs the risk of falling behind its competition, particularly with its clunky infotainment system. But with a broad model range, and pricing that remains relatively value-oriented there’s little reason for Lexus to slip down the sales charts with this latest iteration of the IS.