26 Jun

Sexy looks, superb build quality, decent suspension and a powerful engine delivering lots of grunt to the rear wheels in a safe, taut-handling chassis.

Story Gavin Foster

Toyota’s luxury car brand, Lexus, has had the Germans in its crosshairs since the arrival of its first model in 1989, and its products have since proven to be amongst the finest luxury cars in the world.

The newly-facelifted Lexus IS 200t that rolled into my driveway raised a question that plagues me every time I get to drive a Lexus – every three years or so. Why do South Africans buy a zillion bland Toyota Corollas a week, and eschew the much more upmarket brand produced by the same manufacturer’s subsidiary? Sure, they’re expensive, but every time I pilot one, I’m struck by just how right everything feels.

The three-model Lexus IS line-up had a facelift in December 2016 with new grilles, lights and bumpers, exhaust pipes and wheels, as well as a revised multimedia system with a 10.3-inch Teflon LCD screen in the two more expensive derivatives. The car is available as the IS 200t, with a recently-launched four-cylinder two-litre twin-scroll turbo motor delivering 180 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque, and an IS 350 F-Sport that doles out 233 kW and 378 Nm from a naturally-aspirated 3.5 litre quad-cam V6.

Curiously, the version with the smaller engine is 8kg heavier than the V6, and performance is not too disparate with the 0-100km/h sprint being dispensed with in a claimed 5,9 seconds for the V6 and 7,0 for the two-litre. The smaller engine, on the other hand, trumps the larger in top speed at a claimed 230km/h against 225. The
IS 200t comes with two levels of trim – E and EX.

The Lexus IS 200t  test car felt, to me, absolutely right in almost every way that mattered. It went well, it felt classy, it looked great, it was very solidly screwed together, and – importantly – there weren’t 10 of them parked next to each other at the shopping mall.

The interior has been criticised by some as being old-fashioned, but I disagree and, anyway, that ain’t necessarily a bad thing. Black leather upholstery with bold stitching and brushed satin trim are still classy, and the driving position is very snug and sporting. The most impressive thing, though, is the feeling of quality. The suspension is firm but supple, the power delivery is strong from 2 000 rpm, and the car goes where it’s pointed. There are steering wheel mounted paddle-shifts, and a trip through the eight gears with the driving mode switched to Sport is well worth the trouble if your day needs to be brightened up a little. The V6 version would provide better sound effects, but it’s debatable as to whether that justifies the extra expense.

The Lexus is loaded with electronic technology, and one of the most interesting features is to be found in the eight-speed automatic transmission that is fitted to all the IS models sold here. This works in tandem with a G-Force monitor and the traction control to hold or change shift points during hard cornering. That’s not the sort of thing you’re likely to need in your daily commute around Durban, but then, you don’t need a top speed of 230km/h either! Both would be handy on a track day.

There are, of course, negative aspects to driving a car like this every day. The long, low snout is likely to become an issue for careless drivers when dealing with speed-humps or ramps, and the big wheels and expensive low-profile 225 /45 R17 tyres are seriously at risk in pothole territory. However, the rewards of driving a car that’s this good and still reasonably exclusive make it all worthwhile if you enjoy quality cars.

Pricing starts at R601 900 for the Lexus IS 200t , while the 350 F-Sport will set you back
R728 800.

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