2016 Lexus IS200t Review - Two Holes Away From Greatness

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2016 Lexus IS200t

2.0-liter DOHC inline four, turbocharged (241 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm; 258 lb-ft @ 1,650 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
22 city/32 highway/26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
24.2 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price
As Tested (F-Sport Package)
* Prices include $940 destination charge.

To say I was shocked at the color is an understatement. Like many, I’ve always known Lexus as a builder of staid, solid, but uninspiring sedans for “older” people. As an impressionable youth who watched too much TV, I always wanted a Lexus commercial to come immediately after the “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” spot for the perfect “This Is Your Father’s Oldsmobile” juxtaposition.

I once even asked an exchange student if Lexus was a Japanese acronym for champagne beige pearl metallic.

No, this bright red (Lexus calls it Redline) 2016 Lexus IS200t F-Sport that appeared in my parking spot isn’t the dull sedan your dad may have driven. It’s potentially the sports sedan this dad wants to drive — but with one trivial flaw that might keep me from signing a note.

The IS is nominally the baby of the various Lexus sedans, as the entry price point is about $1,000 less than the slightly larger ES. While the IS is roughly nine inches shorter overall than the ES, 184.4 inches versus 193.3, the highly sculpted rear fenders and short overhangs make it seem even more compact.

The corporate “Predator” grille dominates and defines impressions of the front. While it does a decent job of concealing the bumper within from most angles, the yawning hourglass is trying too hard to out-Audi Audi. On either side of that big mouth, the headlamps look a bit disjointed, with a small-but-significant body-colored gap between the main lights and the LED daytime running checkmarks.

While the bright red paint is attractive, it’s not the right hue for this car. Lexus offers an Atomic Silver finish that looks almost like pewter and beautifully highlights the complex curves throughout the car. Yes, it’s very nearly beige — but it’s magnificent.

Out back, the complex taillamps extend a character line that starts below the doors and continues to the trailing edge of the trunk. It’s a marvelous, cohesive detail that hides some of the bulk of the tall trunk lid. The dual-exhaust outlets aren’t necessary but for symmetry. Also, since most trims of the IS are equipped with a V6, it’s easier to keep one style of bumper on the factory shelves.

The interior is exactly what one would expect from Lexus: sturdy, plush materials all around, and nearly perfect ergonomics. The shifter, even though it’s never really needed but a few times per drive, is placed perfectly to manually tap the lever up and down if one is so inclined.

The tilt and extend steering wheel is similarly comfortable, though the lack of a power steering column at this price is bothering. As a larger-than-average human, I could use some clearance to assist entry and egress, which can be eased with a memory function on a power-tilt wheel. It’s a minor complaint, certainly — there is no such function on my old Miata, which I’ll drive happily once I reassemble it — but it’s a feature that several competitive models do offer, as well as higher specified IS trims.

The optional F-Sport seats are magnificent. Several hours of a long interstate cruise didn’t fatigue my backside nearly as much as I’d expect, aided by alternating application of cooling and heat from the perforated, ventilated seats. Plus, I love the look of the nearly white leatherette, though I’m certain I’d choose another, darker color due to my family’s frequent misapplication of Capri Sun juice and/or Pilot G2 gel pens.

The rear seat is a bit cramped for my large frame to sit behind myself, but it’s otherwise comfortable for moderate distances. My kids reported better than average seat comfort, so take my own comfort notes with a grain of salt.

My biggest gripe is something I’m almost ashamed to mention, and such.

But the placement of the front seat cupholders is inexcusable for a modern car. They occupy the exact location any passenger might want to place an elbow. Worse, they are placed too closely together, meaning two large soda cups from McDonalds (hey, a guy has to eat on a writer’s salary) cannot use the two cupholders without banging into one another. This leads to dislodged lids and potential spills. There has to be a better way to get your drink on in a Lexus.

Like so many in the entry-level sports sedan segment, Lexus has chosen a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to power its least expensive models, rather than the once-standard six-cylinder. Now the six is the upmarket, performance choice, allowing shoppers a budget alternative that still looks like big money.

The four in the IS200t is rated at 241 horsepower and 256 lb-ft of torque. Sixty-one horses clear of the 2.0-liter turbo in the BMW 320i makes one think this would be significantly quicker, but most tests I’ve seen give both cars similar zero-to-60 times, right around 7 seconds. The eight-speed automatic shifts almost imperceptibly except when the console-mounted dial is turned to sport mode, which does crisp the shifting a bit. This car would likely wake up nicely with a manual transmission, but it isn’t even an option.

Rather than the typically seen touchscreen in most modern cars, Lexus employs a fingertip-controlled joystick placed immediately to the right of the gear lever to control the entertainment and navigation systems. The screen is well recessed into the dash, out of comfortable reach, so something other than a touch was needed.

While touch input is certainly intuitive, I actually like having the screen a bit farther from my eyes. I’m not certain, but I feel that my eyes are strained less by shifting focus from the road to a far-away screen and back, rather than to a close-up screen within arm’s reach.

Plus, I hate the fingerprints that gather on touchscreens.

The sound from the optional Mark Levinson 17-speaker audio system is phenomenal. I’m no audiophile like others here, but anything that can drown out the endless chattering of tweens in the rear seats without rattling the rear view mirror is worth the near $2,700 upcharge.

A few months ago, I drove the Infiniti Q50, similarly powered to this IS200t with a 2.0-liter turbo. While the cars aren’t completely comparable — the Infiniti was equipped with all-wheel drive, where the two-liter powered Lexus is only available with rear-wheel drive — they are naturally cross-shopped.

In short, the IS200t is a better driver’s car. The steering is tighter, the suspension more accepting of aggressive driving, and the extra horsepower in the Lexus is welcome when driving briskly. This could be pinned down to a lower curb weight in the rear-drive Lexus, as the AWD Infiniti carries over two hundred pounds of additional heft.

The tradeoff comes on the daily commute. That lively suspension is a bit coarse on rough Ohio highways, though not at all punishing. The road noise is a bit more than I’d expect from a Lexus, as well. The more substantial Infiniti soaked up road imperfections nicely, with less of a drone from the tires.

That’s not to say I dislike the IS200t — conversely, I enjoy driving it. The slightly cramped interior and firm ride would only be a problem for me on a long road trip hauling the entire family. Still, the majority of my driving is solo commuting or short trips, and this would be an excellent daily driver.

If not for that cupholder.

[Images: © 2016 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

Lexus provided the vehicle and a tank of fuel for purpose of this review.

Chris Tonn is the Large Editor at Large for Car Of The Day, a classic-car focused site highlighting cool and unusual finds.

Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 93 comments
  • Rochester Rochester on Nov 02, 2016

    Never in a million years would I consider this car. Over-styled into ridiculousness, and underpowered for what it tries to be. This car is a joke. If all you do is glance at it, you'd think Toyota really pimped out their Corolla.

  • Hifi Hifi on Nov 02, 2016

    Lexus has managed to achieve a delicate balance of creating a car that is both stupidly ugly and bland. Tacking-on aggressive looking plastic to an ordinary and conventional car is something that Pontiac used to do.

  • V8fairy Absolutely no, for the same reasons I would not have bought a German car in the late 1930's, and I am glad to see a number of other posters here share my moral scruples. Like EBFlex I try to avoid Chinese made goods as much as possible. The quality may also be iffy, but that is not my primary concern
  • Tsarcasm No, Japan only. Life costs by Rank:#1 - House (150k+)#2 - Education (30k+)#3 - Automobile (30k+) why waste hard earned money in inferior crap => Korean, Chinese, and American cars are trash. a toyota or honda will last twice as long.
  • Tassos In the 90s we hired a former PhD student and friend of mine, who 'worked' at GM "Research" labs, to come work for us as a 'temp' lecturer and get paid extra. He had no objection from GM, came during the day (around 2 PM), two hours drive round trip, plus the 1.5 hour lecture, twice weekly. (basically he goofed off two entire afternoons out of the five) He told me they gave him a different model new car every month, everything (even gas) paid. Instead of him paying parking, I told him to give me the cars and I drove them for those 90 mins, did my shopping etc. Almost ALL sucked, except the Eldo coupe with the Northstar. That was a nice engine with plenty of power (by 90s standards). One time they gave him the accursed Caddy Catera, which was as fun driving as having sex with a fish, AND to make it worse, the driver's door handle broke and my friend told me GM had to pay an arm and a leg to fix it, needed to replace almost the whole damned door!
  • 3-On-The-Tree I only buy Toyota cars. But if the Chinese cars are cheap people will buy them. They don’t care about the above issues that were stated in this forum.
  • Tassos Ford models are like dumb Hollywood movies. The original is far better than their god damned sequels. This was true of the Mustang vs the II, AND the Capri vs its second gen, and their BEV PORKER atrocities many decades later