30 Minutes With: The 2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT
The 2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My fourth car of the day was one the Phoenix Bureau liked a lot when they reviewed it at the beginning of last year...the Lexus IS 200t.

Map of Quail Lodge to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Quail Lodge to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade (courtesy Google Maps).
Laureles Grade is about five and a half miles of non-stop twists and turns between Carmel Valley Road and CA 68, and thus perfect for a pack of automotive journalists and some high-grade machinery.

2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT rear view
2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT.
The IS has been around a few years in both IS 250 and IS 350 guise.  So what's the 200t about?  Well, it replaces the 250 (and the 350 is now the 300), replacing the 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V6, which, like all Lexus engines was creamy smooth, but which was a bit down on power compared to the competition, with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four.

The upsides are many, not least of all an increase of 37 horsepower and a whole lot more torque.  Plus, fuel economy improves to 22 city/33 highway, because the change in the engine room also involves deep-sixing a six-speed automatic in favor of an eight-speed unit.

In this case, less is definitely more, as the IS 200t felt awake and alive carving up the five-and-a-half miles of Laureles Grade.  Less weight over the nose, better balance and a more responsive throttle are all things that get noticed quickly on this drive.

Interior view of 2017 Lexus IS 200t
2017 Lexus IS 200t interior.
Unchanged is the IS interior, which in absolute terms is no problem, since there's not a thing wrong with it...but it is beginning to feel just a bit dated.  A few of the elements are starting to look every bit of the four model years old that they are (the grade and shading of the plastic bits and the audio system are the obvious weak points).  A thorough refresh could do wonders.

As with all the cars at Media Days, we weren't given a window sticker, so pricing is a rough guess based on Lexus' "build it" feature on their website and immediately obvious options.   Base price for the IS 200t F SPORT is $41,370.  There's an instantaneous mandatory option of the blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert that adds $600, and they put the $995 delivery processing and handling fee in at this point, too...so we're at $42,965.

Add $1,735 for navigation, and frankly, I can't prove the car had anything else.  So we're at $44,700.  And that's pretty much the sweet spot for this segment with a 2-liter turbo.  If you're of the belief that Lexuses (Lexii?) aren't serious road cars and are just sensory deprivation tanks with whipped cream in the shock absorbers, you need to update your playbook.  Start with a test drive on the next best thing to Laureles Grade you can find.