2016 Lexus IS 200t review: Kicking up a 33-mpg storm

The powerful and precise 2016 Lexus IS 200t is fun to drive down the twisty-turny streets and alleyways of Downtown Atlanta. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

The powerful and precise 2016 Lexus IS 200t is fun to drive down the twisty-turny streets and alleyways of Downtown Atlanta. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

As tested: $45,195
2.0L 4-cyl, 241hp
8-speed auto, 22-33mpg
Base model: $37,325

An all-new, “Ultra White” 2016 Lexus IS 200t rolled into my driveway, and it put a smile on my face.

The Monroney (window sticker) I’d received in advance said this eight-speed four-cylinder would pump out 241 horsepower but still offer up to 33 miles to the gallon. It said my week-long loaner was equipped with F SPORT tuned suspension and ventilated seats. I was interested.

Pictures don’t do the IS justice. It will take you a few walk-arounds to take in its beauty. And the designers obviously allowed themselves to be influenced by what looks best on other popular car bodies. For example, I detected a bit of Dodge Charger along the upper door panels, and it may be my imagination, but I thought I saw a hint of Audi on the brow and more than a hint of Volvo looking at this IS from the side around the tail lights.

Reversing into my busy street with no sidewalks, I was pleased with the back-up monitor. It’s as good as the best I’ve reviewed, offering a bright and clear image day and night. Back-up monitors are becoming standard in many vehicles, and I expect it will be as common as cruise control in a few years, but most are not this helpful. The guidelines curve in precise response to the steering wheel movement, and this helps you adjust your reversing angle. Of course, this copy also had a cross-traffic monitor, so the driver is also kept aware of what’s happening off-camera.

Rolling forward away from my house, I was pleased with the smooth and confident acceleration, but mostly I was ready to get out to the highway to try out the turbo in sport mode. At the stop sign, I waited for a break in traffic, and then traffic cleared both ways, and then I floored it.

And that was weird.

You’ll have to get used to what happens if you floor the IS from a stand-still position. It doesn’t leap out from under you like a true sports car might. It moves forward when you stand on the pedal, but there is an ever-so-slight delay before thrust pushes your head back into the seat.

Consumer Reports, of all publications, is super critical of the IS for not being very sporty, partly because of this acceleration issue, but I think they miss the bigger deal in that we are still talking about a four-cylinder that, with the help of turbo technology, can crank out 241 horsepower. That’s a lot.

And once you get used to the slight delay after slamming the gas pedal, its not an inconvenience.

Putting things into perspective, my first real sporty car was the 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix GT. It was a 3.8-liter, V-6 car that offered a whopping 195 horses. That was a fast car to me considering it wasn’t a “true” sports car. This IS offers you 46 more horses on two fewer cylinders and 1.8 fewer liters. In good-boy mode, it claims to deliver 33 miles to the gallon.

You get ample access to a surprisingly generous truck with the 2016 Lexus IS 200t. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

You get ample access to a surprisingly generous truck with the 2016 Lexus IS 200t. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

Once the car springs forward, you appreciate the precise steering and superior handling, and, much like other faster cars in the Lexus lineup, you are reminded that you don’t really need anything quicker than this on a daily-driver basis. If you’re looking for a track-ready Lexus, check out the LC, which was on display at the Atlanta International Auto Show earlier this year and will be in showrooms, all being well, later this year. The LC offers a naturally aspirated (not a turbo) 5.0-liter V8 generating 467 hp and promising zero-to-60 times of about 4.5 seconds. But you’re not going to enjoy 33 mpg in an LC.

More important than drag racing from a stand-still out of your neighborhood, this turbo IS is a dream in light traffic. If you’re already up to speed and need that bit extra to pass another vehicle or to fit into that gap in the faster lane, this car gets you there almost instantly. It’s quick. I don’t know what’s not sporty about that.

Something that means more to me now in my 40s than it would have even 10 years ago is how well the instrument gauges are laid out. Lexus and parent company Toyota are known for loading the dash with features and functions, but particularly in this IS you get everything laid out visually in a way that helps you keep your eyes on the road. That’s a big thing to me these days.

Unlike driving on a closed race course, where the instructor will tell you to look down the track and ignore your speed, I don’t suggest doing that down any highway in the Atlanta area. Having gauges that are lit well in the daytime and are customizable to show you what you want to see is valuable.

What I don’t understand, however, is why the center console between the front seats has to be so wide. This is becoming a nuisance in newer cars, especially the smaller ones. My 1996 Honda Accord’s center console is just wide enough to cover the mechanical stuff underneath and to house the gear shifter, parking brake and a couple of cup holders. My legs, and especially my knees, enjoy the rest of the space.

Why can’t narrower consoles become the new “in” thing? Really, you don’t need consoles at all, is my opinion, even if it means losing cup holders. Yeah, I said it. And if you get rid of the gear shifter to go with something like the shift dial found in the new Chrysler Pacifica, there’s more space saved.

And on the subject of cup holders, the IS designers obviously don’t believe in super-sizing beverages. You might get a 20-ounce something or other in the console cup holders, but forget anything 32 and above, unless they have that tapered-down thing happening at the base. If you’re going to have a huge center console, it should have adjustable cup holders for everything from a Red Bull (yuck) to a 44-ounce cup of whatever you just mixed at the gas station.

Ah, but actually it comes to me now why Lexus would want you to avoid the larger beverages in the new IS: Less to clean up once you hit that dog-leg turn at 50 mph, which the IS does nicely, I might add as we move back to what is absolutely right about this car.

As always when I get a week-long loaner car, my review crew consisting of a four-year-old, a six-year-old and an almost-eight-year-old jump in the back seat and give me their two cents’ worth. One of their favorite runs is this nameless street between Tara Boulevard and McDonough Road that skirts to the left of The Home Depot in Lovejoy. Going one way it’s hard right, hard left, hard right; and going the other way it’s hard left, hard right, hard left.

When we pushed the IS past The Home Depot and into that first left turn, my six-year-old squealed, “Daddy, are we drifting?”

No, in fact, even though this is a rear-wheel-drive machine, we weren’t able to so much as bark the tires, much less drift. Handling on this IS is perfect.

And now a special note for Southerners: the A/C is another thing the IS does quickly, which would be handy right about now, with Georgia experiencing mid-90s on a daily basis lately. As well, the ventilated front seats work great, so you’re cooling down even quicker between stints of getting out of your car.

Back seat passengers don’t get ventilated seats, but they will appreciate separate air-conditioning vents.

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About

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.


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