Why this car really scared me

This lovely Lexus sedan has one major flaw

2016 LEXUS IS200t F Sport 4-DR SEDAN

I have been reviewing cars for a long time, and I have witnessed many ebbs and flows in the types of vehicles, the accouterments that are in fashion and in the overall quality of each specific line. While Lexus has always been a very nice brand, very luxurious, it too – like every other line – goes through periods of stagnation and innovation.

This last couple of years has been one of innovation, after a few years of letting well enough alone and keeping popular vehicles a little past their prime. Lexus, right now, is in full bloom, regaining its position as one of the top luxury brands on earth. In every segment of the marketplace – small sedans, large sedans, SUVs and crossovers of various sizes – anyone looking at the competition like Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Infiniti, and who leaves Lexus out of the mix, is missing out. This luxury division of Toyota is at the top of its game.

But that doesn’t mean they can do no wrong. Case in point is this IS 220t compact sedan, aimed to be the entry-level Lexus. I thought it drove great. I thought it was among the best handling vehicles of this type I have ever driven. I was thoroughly delighted with every single thing about it – except one. And this one thing, for me, is a deal killer.

Turbo lag. The turbo lag is so annoying, so scary in fact, that I simply cannot recommend this vehicle (in this configuration).

My wife and I decided to leave Denver early on a Saturday morning and take the IS 200t on an extended mountain tour for the day – part of our effort to see more of Colorado – and we drove up I-70 to Copper Mountain, got on the road to Leadville, visited, then went down to Buena Vista, toured, then headed up into the Collegiate Peaks on Mt. Princeton in search of the little ghost town of St. Elmo. After that we went to Fairplay, up over the pass into Breckenridge, down to Frisco for dinner, and then back to Denver. All in all a 12-hour day with amazing scenery.

But we pulled off many times on side roads off those two-lane mountain highways to see the river or to have lunch, and every single time I had to merge back into 55-mph traffic, my heart sank. You only get these small gaps to get back on the highway, and often you need a little oomph to make the merging effortless. The 200t, even with the gas pedal to the metal, as they say, would move out like it was a bicycle in low gear on an incline for what seemed like several seconds.

Then the turbo would kick in and it would shoot off like a rocket. When you’re doing this type of maneuver, merging left or right, seconds matter, and this Lexus always offered anxious seconds. I tried it in every driving mode – ECO, normal, Sport and Snow – and it didn’t make a difference.

 I raise this as a real concern, because I don’t believe the average car buyer doing the cursory test drive at a dealer would ever get the opportunity I had to put it through paces, only to discover much too late that this turbo lag will regularly scare the bejesus out of you.

Lexus has slogans for every type of car in the line, and the one for the IS is “Choose Your Fast Lane.” The car looks fast, and is once the turbo kicks in, but I would think you’d have to look at something else in the IS lineup. The 200t, a rear wheel drive vehicle, is powered by a 2.0-liter 4 banger featuring some 241 horsepower, coupled with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and together it is rated at 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway. There are, however, a few other powerplants in the lineup that I am sure would be better.

There’s the IS 300, featuring a 3.5-liter V6 with 255 hp, and no turbo, that comes in All Wheel Drive, and an IS 350 with the same six cylinder engine tricked out to 305 hp, but again no turbo (it comes in both RWD and AWD). As I said earlier I loved everything about the car except the unacceptable turbo lag, so I believe I am safe in assuming that the IS 300 and 350 are great vehicles – the base prices are $39,700 and $40,970, respectively, and each can be upgraded with the Lexus performance package called F Sport for about $3,000 more.

The IS 200t I drove carried a base price of $37,325, and they added on the F Sport package for $3,545, and a few other things (plus a $940 destination charge), bringing the total to $44,235. Curiously, the F Sport package in the 300 and 350 were less expensive — $1k less in the 350. Hmmm?

 But I wonder about the F Sport thing. The engine is the same, so it’s not really a performance issue (although they say they performance tune the suspension). Mostly the F is façade stuff: a sportier front bumper with spindle grille, LED headlamps, 18” split 5-spoke wheels (17” is standard), a different instrument cluster, heated and ventilated front seats, and little touches like sportier shift knob, aluminum pedals and a back-up monitor. There’s also an F Sport perforated leather steering wheel with paddle shifters.

Another major package, costing $1,505, added in the navigation system, and the Lexus Enform app suite – all voice-activated if you want.

I’m not going to go through all of the stuff – this is a Lexus; all the luxury stuff and modern technology is in there, trust me, and very easy and intuitive to use. You’ll want for nothing. The car is quiet, comfortable even on a long drive, and really a very pleasurable package.     

The IS, I’m sure, is a wonderful automobile. As I said, I absolutely loved everything about it except one thing: the turbo lag. Worst I’ve experienced in any turbocharged car in many, many years. If you want a great smaller luxury sedan then by all means go test drive the IS 300 and IS 350.

But stay away from the IS 200t unless you like scaring the bejesus out of yourself.

RATING: ONE WHEEL (OUT OF FOUR)         

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation