The 2016 Lexus IS lineup brings two new models: the IS 200t and IS 300. The IS 200t uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder, while the IS 300 is all-wheel drive only, using detuned 3.5-liter V6. They join the 2016 Lexus IS 350, using a more powerful version of that V6 with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. This third-generation Lexus IS was introduced for 2014.
An F Sport package is available for any IS, a performance enhancement that changes the character of the car, so the IS is basically six different cars.
The turbo-four, rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 200t offers 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, with its paddle-shifting 8-speed transmission. It’s no rocket but it’s quick enough, 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds. But the powertrain has a quirk we’ve seen and commented on in other Lexuses, a lag time between your foot and the engine’s acceleration, a long pause in the programming before the transmission and turbocharger wake up.
The V6 in the all-wheel-drive Lexus IS 300 makes 255 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. The IS 350 wrings 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque out of that 3.5-liter V6. The Lexus IS has good electric power steering, but the F Sport models upgrade to variable-rate steering, among other changes that enhance the dynamics and spirit of the car.
Naturally, the Lexus IS 200t gets the best mileage, EPA rated 22/33/26 mpg City/Highway/Combined. The Lexus IS 300 is rated 19/26/21 mpg, and Lexus IS 350 19/28/22 mpg, with 1 mpg less for all-wheel drive.
Standard equipment includes 10 airbags, LED daytime running lights, 60/40 rear seats, eight-speaker sound system, Bluetooth and voice recognition, but not a rearview camera nor navigation. Optional safety equipment besides the camera includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dynamic radar-based cruise control, lane departure warning, and park assist. Optional fun equipment includes 18-inch wheels, twin projector LED headlamps, and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system.
There are some quirky touches. The LED daytime running lights are aligned in a strip below the headlamps, the taillamps wrap around the rear fender and then spike, and there is an awkward duct behind the front fender.
The seats are comfortable, although F Sports could use more bolstering, and there’s reasonable room in the rear. The trunk is a smallish 13.8 cubic feet.
We haven’t yet driven an IS 300, with its detuned V6, 6-speed transmission, and all-wheel drive, still quicker than the 200t. It’s not about power or acceleration with that car, it’s about traction. The test will be on ice and snow. It’s intended for wintry states.
The IS 350’s V6 makes a very healthy 306 horsepower, with 277 pound-feet of torque, and will blow the car to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. All-wheel drive is good when it snows, but we’ll take ours without, and go for the driving dynamics of rear-wheel drive. Besides, the 8-speed automatic shifts quicker and smoother than the 6-speed.
The IS F Sports come with Adaptive Variable Suspension system, which takes any roll out of the cornering, if not all of the understeer at the outer limits, even with rear-wheel drive. What’s left is barely significant.