Lexus RX200t and IS 200t road test and review
FOUR cars, one engine.
Lexus took the wraps off its first turbocharged petrol engine last year, and it's already been implemented in three of its most popular models - the RX large and NX mid-size sports utility vehicles and the IS compact and GS large sedans.
First launched last year, the force-fed powerplant has played a pivotal sales success role as nine new Lexus models have entered showrooms over the past year.
With a renewed focus on sportier variants, collectively it has helped the Japanese luxury marque get off to its best sales start to a calendar year.
This new donk is not only motivating the SUV, but also buyers. Last month it helped the RX achieve nearly 200 sales nationally - the best result for the new fourth generation model since it was launched last year.
While generating different figures, it's the same heart which beats within these two distinctly different offerings.
Serenity accompanies every visit to a Lexus cabin.
We're said it before, but some buyers who don't travel regularly in premium offerings might be disappointed by the tyre rumble of the Europeans. Not so in a Lexus.
No matter which derivative you choose, raucous V8-powered RC-F aside, it's refined and hushed.
Those seeking ease of entry and exit will appreciate the RX ride height. Many drivers also appreciate the jacked-up positioning of an SUV.
While the sedan is lower it's certainly not in sports car territory.
Both offer cosseting seats with electronic driver seat and steering wheel adjustment.
Styling sits on the conservative side of the fence and most aspects of the cabin are easily operated.
The mouse-style controlled for the primary menu can take some practice, as you navigate your way around and you feel a pulse through the control when on a menu topic.
Both vehicles can handle five adults, although the transmission tunnel has an impact for those riding in the back of the IS.
On the road
Hardly a bombshell, it's the IS which offers the best performance of the duo. You can't defy gravity, and the RX has a tendency to rock and roll in the bends while feeling the bulk of its weight gain.
Gaining some extra mumbo courtesy of exhaust layout and engine management system changes, the IS a reliable yet fun steer. Pushing hard into the curves it bites into the bitumen with rear-wheel drive delivering an engaging experience along with nicely weighted steering.
Those five extra kilowatts and an eight-speed transmission help access peak torque below 2000rpm.
Keen drivers will especially appreciate the Sport and Sport+ drive modes where the self-shifter feels the most confident.
While turbocharged, the performance won't have you reaching for a neck brace. Power delivery is smooth and the automatic gear changes are well timed in both variants ... but there are paddle shifters for those who really want to explore the powertrain's full potential.
What do you get?
With the RX, there is only the Luxury specification. That doesn't mean you miss out, as Lexus packs a lot of kit into its cars.
Among the complimentary items are 10-way power front seats, leather trim, 12-speaker audio system with digital radio, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone charger, 20-inch medium grey alloy wheels, sat nav and 20cm colour screen.
When it comes to the range-topping Sports Luxury version of the IS, it gets similar gear as well as a sunroof, woodgrain trim, Mark Levinson 15-speaker audio and electric rear sunshade.
Safety is first class in both, with the likes of 10 airbags, the usual suite of technical safety gear like anti-lock brakes and traction/stability control, but these models both come with adaptive radar cruise control which keeps you a safe distance from the vehicle in front; blind spot monitor that issues a warning if you go to change lanes and a vehicle is there; a function which warns you from straying in your lane and an alert system when reversing out of car parks to prevent you hitting a moving object.
In the case of the RX, it's up against the Infiniti QX70 ($75,900), Jaguar F-Pace 35t Prestige ($84,030), BMW X5 25d ($86,200), Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.6 Overland ($72,000) and Volkswagen Touareg 150 TDI ($67,990).
The IS gets more standard kit than its competition, but still faces the Audi A4 Quattro Sport Plus ($68,700), BMW 330i ($69,900), and the Mercedes-Benz C300 Hybrid ($71,900).
Fuel consumption of both was reasonably thrifty during our tests, both achieving less than nine litres for every 100km of premium unleaded.
There is no capped price servicing, but Lexus is traditionally less expensive than other premium rivals, while you also get a free loan car when servicing during the warranty period.
Vital musts are looked after, such as dual cup holders front and back as well as bottle holders in the doors. Rear seats also drop in both variants, and surprisingly the IS actually has 14 litres more boot space, although the loading cavity combined with 40/20/40 folding rear pew is where the RX shines (the IS folds 40/60).
Lexus has made big ground in the styling sector, and the F Sport editions have proved extremely popular.
Both the sedan and the SUV are bold offerings with the now trademark spindle grille worn loud and proud.
These two offerings are leaders in within the Lexus stable.
Having driven this entry-level RX and then a circa $100,000 hybrid option, I'd still opt for the 200t.
As for the IS, the turbo and rear-wheel drive combination finally make the most of this vehicle's capabilities.
Previously six-cylinder engines felt more like four-potters, whereas this new partnership is an engaging and fun combination.
What matters most
What we liked: Pristine finishes, dexterity of the IS, expansive space in the RX.
What we'd like to see: Faster operation of automatic RX boot opening, extra space in console, less touchy passenger seat alert.
Warranty and servicing: Four-year 100,000km warranty. Servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km.
Model: 2016 Lexus RX 200t Luxury and IS 200t Sports Luxury.
Details: Five-seat rear-wheel drive compact luxury sedan or front-wheel drive large luxury sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin scroll turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 175kW @56000rpm (180kW @5800rpm in IS) and peak torque of 350Nm @ 4000pm (350Nm @ 1650rpm in IS).
Transmission: RX six-speed automatic; IS eight-speed automatic.
Consumption: RX 8.1 litres/100km (combined average); IS 7.5 litres/100km.
Bottom line plus on-roads: RX Luxury $73,000, IS Sports Luxury $76,500.
Driving experience: 17/20
Features and equipment: 19/20
Functionality and comfort: 16/20
Value for money: 19/20
Style and design: 16/20