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At the wheel: Lexus gives mid-sized IS sedan a powertrain to shout about

on December 1 2015 | in Car reviews, Industry news, Latest news | by | with Comments Off

Car Specifications
Price: $73,900-$86,400
Engine: Twin-turbocharged 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual paddle shift
Fuel Economy: 7.5 litres/100km
Emissioins: 167gr/km
Equipment: One of the best standard packages on market
Safety: Five-star rating
Factory Warranty: Four years/unlimited mileage

Buy a Lexus and ‘thank you’ gifts start arriving in the mail. There might be a special edition book, a collection of music CDs, perhaps a gift from cutting edge NZ furniture and lighting design company, Resident. Customers at Lexus Auckland get VIP parking at the domestic and international terminals. There is always a gift.

IMG_0401The customer care programme began with the first LS sedan in the late 1980s. It included a team of ‘anti-aging’ engineers to show owners that their LS with 80,00km on the clock would not look, feel, or sound perceptibly different than a new model.

The anti-aging trick Lexus has pulled with its mid-sized IS 200t sedan is a new engine and gearbox, midway through the car’s life cycle. It’s more a born-again move because the replacement powertrain breathes new life and driving dynamics into what was always a pretty good chassis pulled along by a long-in-the-tooth engine.

What’s new?

Mostly the engine and gearbox, although Lexus has also freshened the platform to suit the harmonics of the new powertrain and meet noise, vibration and harshness parameters. The IS gets a performance damper developed by Yamaha that is fixed to both front suspension towers to absorb vibrations. There are new engine mounts and intake and exhaust systems. New prices, too – $73,900 for the 200t, $83,900 for the 200t F Sport and $86,400 for the 200t Ltd.

Engine

The twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit delivers 180kW at 5800rpm and 350Nm at 1650-4400rpm and operates in either of two cycles – Otto for power or Atkinson for optimum fuel use. It replaces the old 153kW/252Nm 2.5-litre V6 and six-speed gearbox in the IS 250. It’s the same engine as that in the Lexus NX series of SUVs, although it’s been moved from its east-west layout in the front-drive NX to a north-south position in the rear-drive IS.

Gearbox

Eight-speed auto with paddle-shift manual mode is from the RC coupe. It works with three drive modes – Eco, Normal, Sport – in the entry-level IS 200t but adds Sport Plus in the 200t F Sport and 200t Ltd. The gearbox’s management programme uses artificial intelligence to read G Forces on the car. It will shift down a cog or two under brakes, hold the appropriate gear through the corner, then shift up upon the exit.

Driver aids and safety stuff

One of the best standard packages on the market. Includes satellite navigation, reversing camera, parking sensors, heated and ventilated seats, keyless entry and start, stop-start, powered front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, a 10cm full-colour screen, bi-Xenon headlights, 60/40 split-fold rear seats, dual-zone climate control, hill-start assist, a suite of active safety features and 17-inch alloy wheels as standard. F Sport and Ltd get variable suspension and 18-inch alloys.

How it drives

The eight-speed gearbox takes full advantage of the engine’s broad torque curve. Both pretty much exist in harmony, especially pushing on through the twisty bits, where the extra Sport Plus mode on the F Sport test car strutted its stuff by quickening powertrain responses. The car showed excellent stability with great grip and little body roll at speed through corners heading over the Brenderwyn hills on a run to Whangarei. Steering is well weighted and accurate and the brakes aid confidence. The variable suspension brought the best out of the double wishbone front/multi-link rear.

Fuel use

Lexus claims a town-and-around 7.5 litres/100km (37.8mpg). The dual Otto/Atkinson delivery cycles returned an average 7.2 litres/100km (39.4mpg) on a 230km Auckland-Whangarei return run. After hustling the car through the Brenderwyns, it settled back on the leisurely run into Whangarei, where on one long stage the computer readout showed constant fuel use of 5.4 litres/100km (52.5mpg).

Living with it

Easy-peasy. The interior is classy, if a bit fiddly in places around the centre console, and the seats are the bee’s knees. The new engine/gearbox is what the car’s tuned-in chassis has been crying out for. The 200t will always be measured against its German rivals. Perhaps it’s time for the German stuff to be measured against the 200t. Just a thought.

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