It’s taken a while but Lexus has finally introduced a variant of the IS saloon with a petrol turbo engine. Using the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor found in the NX200t crossover, the Lexus IS200t essentially replaces the IS250 in Lexus Malaysia’s product line-up. The IS300h carries on unchanged and receives spec upgrades consisting of 10 airbags, Blind Spot Monitor and Cross Traffic Alert as standard.
As with the IS250, there are three distinct flavours of IS200t – Premium, Luxury and F Sport – priced at three varying points; kicking off at RM297,800. The Premium and Luxury variants are mechanically identical and differ mainly in how many ticks of the spec sheet each has. It’s quite an extensive list but as one retails for a considerable RM52,100 more than the other, there better be some considerable differences.If you prefer the sportiest version then for the princely sum of RM384,900 the IS 200t F Sport can be yours. Aside from all the toys the Luxury spec car has, the F Sport gets more aggressive styling, LFA style 18-inch wheels, sporty front seats, adaptive dampers and a Sport S+ mode on its driving mode selector. The retail price however makes it the most expensive car by far in a class packed with talented rivals.
On paper, the IS200t is exactly what Lexus needs to take on the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and Infiniti Q50. The turbo engine produces 245hp at 5800rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1650-4400rpm – significant improvements on the 205hp at 6400rpm and 252Nm at 4800rpm for the 2.5-litre V6 in the IS250. It also puts its power down through an 8-speed automatic, which is a big upgrade over the 6-speed Super ECT transmission used in the old car. Claimed performance numbers are 0-100km/h in 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 230km/h, which again are significant improvements over the IS250.
Taken at face value, all these numbers seem competitive as the BMW 328i M-Sport, Mercedes-Benz C250 Exclusive and Infiniti Q50 2.0t GT Premium Sport also have 350Nm of torque, but the Lexus has 30hp more than the Merc and Infiniti and is actually on par with the BMW. Its eight forward ratios also match its Bavarian rival and is one more than the other two can manage. Then you look at the claimed performance numbers.
As it turns out, the BMW 328i M-Sport is miles ahead posting a 0-100km/h time of just 5.9 seconds and a 250km/h top speed. Its fellow German from Stuttgart also has a 250km/h top speed and can cover the century sprint in 6.6 seconds. Even the Infiniti Q50, which shares an engine and gearbox with the C-Class, can manage benchmarks of 7.2 seconds and 245km/h, and it’s the biggest and heaviest car by far.
Quite why the Lexus IS200t has such underwhelming performance figures is a mystery, but these are differences in performance that will actually be felt on the road. Sure, you would think that car buyers with over RM300,000 to spend on a compact executive saloon would be above such banal concerns like acceleration numbers and top speed, but they matter when moving away from the lights and when comparing notes with friends.
Compounding the issue of its performance shortfall is the price of the Lexus IS200t. The entry-level Premium spec car is RM297,800 with the price going up to RM349,900 if you want Luxury spec. The F Sport is RM384,800 making it not only pricey but almost comically so when you do some comparative shopping.
Consider if you will its rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The BMW 328i M-Sport stickers at RM308,800 while a Mercedes-Benz C250 Exclusive is actually cheaper at RM299,888. You could argue as CKD cars the two Germans have an advantage but then how do you explain the fully-imported Infiniti Q50 2.0t GT Premium Sport having a RM285,800 price tag? Is the Infiniti built in a third world country using scrap metal and leather sourced from the carcass of a wildebeest? In fact, the closet rival in terms of price is the Infiniti Q50 Hybrid at just over RM390,000 but since it has 302hp and can do 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds, it’s a bit of an unfair comparison.
The Ringgit’s downward spiral hasn’t helped, but there’s just no easy way for Lexus to justify the near RM100,000 premium a Lexus IS200t Sport costs over a comparable rival, and while we haven’t driven it on Malaysian roads, it’s safe to say the car will never be able to make up the difference. Yes, the IS200t is an ostensibly sporty-looking sedan, the interior quality tops the class, and there’s the reassuring factor of Lexus ownership, but paying the combined price of an Infiniti Q50 as well as a Honda HR-V, and having change in your pocket for an iPhone 6s requires either undying love for the brand or an act of irrationality.