As the 24 Hours of LeMons brain trust prepares for the Hell On Wheels Rally, I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to help strategize. My photographs of the '16 Land Cruiser and '16 RC-F came out so well that I decided to stick with Toyota products to keep the roll going, and so I got into this vividly Redline (that's a color name) 2016 Lexus IS200t with the F Sport package.
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $37,325
AS TESTED PRICE: $45,650
DRIVETRAIN: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, RWD, 8-speed automatic transmission
OUTPUT: 241 hp, 258 lb-ft
CURB WEIGHT: 3,583 lbs
0-60 MPH: 6.9 seconds
FUEL ECONOMY: 22/33/26 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 24.6 mpg
OPTIONS: Blind spot monitor, F Sport package, navigation system/Mark Levinson audio system, illuminated door sills, cargo net, trunk mat
PROS: Great interior materials, build quality, fuel economy
CONS: Frustrating throttle-response delays, a bit slow off the line
What this car isn't is even slightly crazy. There is nothing senseless about it; it would be an excellent gamble that you could drive it 10,000 miles per year for 20 years, then trade it in for a 2027 Lexus Maglev Edition Plutonium HoverSaucer, which would be piloted by a friendly robot while you play "Scrabble" and eat algae out of a squeeze tube. Everything in the interior feels pleasant to the touch and looks ritzy-yet-long-wearing, and nobody could ever accuse you of making a stupid car-buying decision with the IS200t.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 engine can switch between the Otto and Atkinson cycles for better efficiency (you can't tell when the switch is happening, of course), and its 241 horses pull quite well under most driving conditions. Off the line, it's a little sluggish when you mash the gas pedal, and commands given to the transmission via the shifter paddles are not obeyed very quickly. On the plus side, the IS200t F Sport stays admirably level through hard corners, and the grip from the gooey Dunlop summer tires is impressive, yet the suspension smooths out real-world potholes in a non-punitive manner.
Per the rules of automotive journalism, this is my cue to suggest that a manual transmission would be a fine idea in this car … but about 19 of them would be sold per year, and Toyota isn't stupid.
So, it's about the same price as the Lexus ES350, but better-looking, a bit faster to accelerate, slightly more fuel-efficient and generally sportier with its rear-wheel drive and sticky tires. It's not quite as spacious as the ES -- anyone over about 5 feet 9 is going to be sad if forced to ride in the back seat -- but it will commute just as well and is a lot more fun when presented with an empty patch of twisty road.