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2016 Lexus IS: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2016

The 2016 Lexus IS is a true rival to the usual German compact premium sedans. That's really saying something, because this class isn't exactly short of star performers, and working out which model to buy is one of the nicest problems to have.

Like its rivals, the IS starts out with features we appreciate every day, such as a comfortable and quiet cabin and confidence-inspiring driving manners. And they're all packaged in a body that's just the right size: big enough for people and things yet compact enough to make life simple in places such as parking garages and tight city streets.

Another area where the IS has appeal is the dealership experience. Lexus is a frequent winner of satisfaction surveys from institutions such as J.D. Power, not to mention that Lexus build quality is always dependably high. Let's delve deeper into the IS.

What's New for 2016?

The IS 250 has been discontinued and replaced by the IS 200t (which uses a 4-cylinder turbo engine). A new IS 300 model joins the lineup with a 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel drive. The convertible models have also been discontinued. A heated steering wheel is available as a stand-alone option.

What We Like

Quality; comfort; silky V6 engines; overall level of standard equipment

What We Don't

Remote Touch navigation interface somewhat fiddly to use; 6-speed automatic transmission becoming dated; at this level, the rearview camera ought to be standard

How Much?

$38,275-$41,820

Fuel Economy

The IS 200t has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that develops 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The sole transmission is an 8-speed automatic, and the car is rear-wheel-drive only. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined.

The IS 300 has a 6-speed automatic transmission connected to a standard all-wheel-drive system. Propulsion is supplied by a 3.5-liter V6 making 255 hp and 236 lb-ft. EPA figures are 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined.

The IS 350 comes with either rear-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission or all-wheel drive with a 6-speed automatic transmission. This has a more powerful 3.5-liter V6: 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. With rear-wheel drive, mileage estimates are 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined; with all-wheel drive, we're looking at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The model choices are the IS 200t, IS 300 and IS 350.

Standard equipment in the IS 200t ($38,275) includes 17-inch wheels (the IS 350 gets 18-in wheels), xenon headlights, LED running lights/fog lights/taillights, heated mirrors, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a manual tilt-telescopic steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, 8-way power front seats (with power lumbar adjustment for the driver), premium vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, an 8-in display, voice command capability, Siri Eyes Free and an 8-speaker audio system with a CD player, HD Radio and satellite radio, and two USB ports.

Features are pretty much the same for the IS 300 ($40,650) and the IS 350 ($41,820) except for the engines and a few other notable exceptions.

A Premium option bundle brings LED headlights, heated/ventilated front seats and a rearview camera. Premium Plus means automatic wipers, a power adjustable steering wheel and a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. There's also a Navigation package that's eligible for the excellent 835-watt/15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.

The Luxury package incorporates equipment from the Premium and Premium Plus packages, then adds parking sensors in the front and rear, self-dimming side mirrors, leather upholstery, wood trim, a heated steering wheel and driver's-seat memory settings.

All three IS cars are eligible for the F SPORT package. This includes an all-mesh grille, 18-in wheels with wider tires at the rear (18x8 up front; 18x8.5 in back) and a choice of summer (high-performance) or all-season tires, plus LED headlights, high-friction brake pads and a sport-tuned suspension. It also entails a different front bumper design that deletes the fog lights.

Interior F SPORT features include front sport seats with extra lateral support and heated/ventilated functions, aluminum pedals, black headliner, perforated leather trim and a dedicated instrument cluster. There's even an engine sound amplifier (unavailable in the 4-cylinder IS 200t) that brings a sportier V6 snort into the cabin.

The rear-drive version of the F SPORT-equipped IS 350 comes with adaptive dampers. This particular variant can also come with a variable-ratio steering system and powered adjustment for the steering wheel.

Trunk capacity is 13.8 cu ft., better than the class average. For extra space, the rear seatbacks can also split 60/40 and fold down.

Safety

Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, traction/stability control and 10 airbags. Lexus Enform Safety Connect is also part of the deal (a free 12-month trial subscription), bringing automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location and an emergency assistance call button.

Among the options are a rearview camera, automatic headlights, front and rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and a lane departure-warning system. Adaptive cruise control (also optional) includes a collision-mitigation system that tightens the front seat belts and boosts braking power if necessary.

In government crash tests, the Lexus IS 350 scored five out of five stars overall: four for frontal crash protection and five for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the IS the top rating of Good in its main categories and made it a Top Safety Pick+.

Behind the Wheel

Top-notch materials and superb attention to detail distinguish the interior. Every area where arms and elbows come into contact with the cabin is padded, and even the dashboard uses soft-touch materials. Comfort is a major plus point, both up front and in the back, where space is more than sufficient for a couple of adults.

The Remote Touch interface that comes with the navigation system isn't up to the same standard as the rest of the car's ergonomics. It's hard to control the cursor, especially when driving. At least the voice command function works well.

The new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the IS 200t is smooth enough to sit behind a Lexus grille yet also brings a fair amount of punch. A dated transmission, heavy all-wheel-drive system and only 255 hp don't help the IS 300's case. The IS 350 has more vigor and, in rear-drive form, the better transmission.

Ride quality earns the IS another gold star. It's refined and relaxed yet also precise. The suspension of the F SPORT package is naturally firmer, although the adaptive dampers in the rear-drive IS 350 F SPORT model mean the best of both worlds.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 BMW 3 Series -- The 3 Series is the godfather of compact premium sedans and superb to drive.

2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class -- Like an S-Class, the C-Class is incredibly impressive yet smaller.

2016 Cadillac ATS -- The ATS is well rounded and world-class.

2016 Jaguar XE -- All new, this Jaguar has a slinky suspension, sleek looks and great equipment choices.

2017 Audi A4 -- A new generation of the A4 is coming soon, and the anticipation is almost unbearable.

Used Audi A6 -- The A6 is so good in so many respects that it's almost unfair on the rest of the car world.

Autotrader's Advice

At last, the 2016 Lexus IS offers a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which is the popular way to go for decent power and lower emissions. The more muscular V6 engine, however, feels completely appropriate in a luxury car.

Find a Lexus IS for sale

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Lexus IS: New Car Review - Autotrader