Lexus IS 200t F Sport: Luxury Performance Compact

By Frank A. Aukofer, April 9th, 2016

Usually when you hear "entry level," you think "cheap" -- or at least inexpensive. But even luxury/performance cars offer entry-level models, which is the reason for the 2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sport compact sedan.

The idea is to have something aspirational in the lineup for younger customers, especially those on their way up the economic ladder. If they like what they get, perhaps they'll stick with the brand and spend more on the next model.

That, at least, is the theory, to which almost every manufacturer subscribes. Exceptions include sticker shockers like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche, and other builders of exotics.

Elsewhere, entry luxury models include the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLA and C-Class sedans, Audi A3 and A4, and Cadillac ATS.

These are hardly cheap cars. Many buyers of moderately priced Chevys, Fords, Kias, Dodges, and others would certainly be pleased to be seated in the likes of the Lexus IS 200t. It's all about where you're coming from.

Objectively, however, the entry-level luxury/performance cars stand on their own. That's the case with the Lexus IS 200t, and especially with the F Sport option.

It is a capable, middling powerful sports sedan that is a bit pricey for a four-door in the compact class. Our test car had a base price of $38,275 and, with options, had a bottom-line sticker of $44,205. You can find any number of competent compacts for up to 20 grand less.

But you won't get the combination of energy and handling that the 200t F Sport and others of its ilk deliver. Power comes from a turbocharged 241-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 258 lb.-ft. of torque, enough to propel the 3,500-pound sedan to 60 mph in a breath under 7 seconds, according to the manufacturer's specifications. Top speed is listed at 143 mph, though few other than test drivers will experience it. City/highway/combined fuel consumption deserves respect at 22/32/26 mpg.

The IS 200t is a sort of fraternal twin to the Lexus entry-level crossover SUV, the NX 200t: They share the same engine, though with slightly different tuning. But the NX is equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the IS uses an eight-speed automatic with manual paddle shifters on the F Sport version

Nevertheless, the acceleration is not outstanding. If you want more off-the-line grunt, you can move up to the IS 350, with a V-6 and 306 horses under the hood, which can nail 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds, Lexus says.

But what would be the point in modern traffic? The tested 200t is more than adequate in any circumstance you're likely to encounter on the public roads. Moreover, the F Sport option delivers a tuned suspension system for optimum handling, along with driver-selectable modes for economy, normal, and sport driving.

Any enthusiast worth the name will opt for better handling over horsepower any day -- unless, of course, he or she is some of kind of street drag racer. Folks of that bent can seek out the Dodge Charger Wildcat.

But for everyday motoring with the capability to shoot holes in traffic and slingshot smoothly around curves on mountain roads, while at the same time delivering relaxed commuting, this Lexus cuts it. Like other vehicles from Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, the IS 200t goes about its chores unobtrusively.

Be warned that it is a rear-drive car in an age when front-wheel drive proliferates. That means if you live in a Snow Belt neighborhood, you might want to skip slippery excitement and check out something like an Acura TLX. Also, if you need the peace of mind, the Lexus IS lineup includes an all-wheel-drive 300 model with a 255-hp V-6 engine.

Given decent conditions, the F Sport's rear drive is the optimum setup for a high-performing sports sedan. Enthusiasts argue that if tactile steering sensations and balanced maneuvering are your preference, rear drive wins out over front drive.

Besides the adaptive variable suspension system and high-friction brake pads, the F Sport option includes comfort and appearance items: aluminum sport pedals, heated and ventilated sport front seats with power adjustments, 18-inch alloy wheels, and F Sport badging and logos.

The F Sport option costs $3,545. It's a worthwhile addition to this sports sedan of the Lexus lineage, which means that it does everything it's supposed to in a Downton Abbey-like dignified and quiet manner.

Specifications

Base price $38,275 (as tested: $44,205)
Curb weight 3,583 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbo 4-cyl. w/EFI
Epa mileage rating 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 17.4 gal.
Horsepower (net) 241 at 5800 rpm
Overall length 183.7 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 258 at 1650 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger RWD compact sedan
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