When luxury offshoot Lexus first entered the North American market in 1989, the focus was clear right from the start—vehicles that were comparable in quality to the very best in the world at a fraction of the price. Outright performance didn’t figure into the brand’s mission until much later; the year was 2008, to be exact, when the Lexus F line debuted with, first, the IS F sport sedan and, later, the LFA supercar.
The latter was a curious offering—so exclusive, so expensive, and so unattainable, it was a halo car without the corresponding immediate halo effect. Only 500 examples of the LFA were built before production ceased in 2012; the V10-powered supercar, which initially retailed for $375,000 (U.S.), remains a rare sight to this very day. But the Lexus brand is finally getting serious about performance.
In 2014, they released the Lexus RC F, a riotous sports car that encourages drifting as much as driving. A year later, the GS F, a 467 horsepower sport sedan from the iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove school, appeared on the scene. Now, we have a refreshed version of the IS compact sedan—and it’s the best IS yet.
While there’s no F Sport version of the latest IS yet (the original IS F was discontinued in 2013), what’s clear from piloting the base IS 200t and top-shelf IS 350 is that the car can accommodate a much higher performing powertrain. The 200t is the nominal entry-level model, but in many respects, it’s the one that will appeal most to true driving enthusiasts.
The 200t is the nominal entry-level model, but in many respects, it’s the one that will appeal most to true driving enthusiasts.
The main reasons: It’s the only IS available with rear-wheel drive, an 8-speed automatic transmission (the others make do with 6 forward gears) and a sound amplifier that gives the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine a more menacing tone.
In driving this version around a rainy Cowichan Bay and then around a slick Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC), the true nature of this compact sport sedan revealed itself: solid, predictable, composed, and no small amount of fun. Of course, the power-hungry out there will want the IS 350; powered by a 3.5-litre V6, this version features AWD and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Is it more suited to racetrack duty and rainy roads? Sure, probably.
What’s most apparent from driving both versions of the latest Lexus is this: the time is ripe for the return of the Lexus IS F. It’s still a rumour at this point, but given the recent appearances of the RC F and the GS F, there’s no reason to think another powerful addition to the Lexus fleet isn’t right around the corner.
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