MALAHAT, B.C. — The changes to the 2017 Lexus IS are subtle but visually and even emotionally substantial. All of them are designed to enliven the look and feel of a Lexus compact luxury sedan well and capable of entertaining you for hours on a tricky and tight track like the Vancouver Island

2017 Lexus IS 200t

2017 Lexus IS 200t

Motorsport Circuit near Victoria, B.C.

Yes, that’s where we found ourselves, lapping about on a private course that sells memberships to driving enthusiasts, not unlike your typical country club. The circuit here is tight and twisty, with numerous elevation changes that make it feel like you’re piloting a roller-coaster car. Passengers here are sure to get car queasy after a handful of laps, and even some of the journo drivers on hand had to stop after a few minutes of non-stop ups and downs.

We sampled all manner of IS models, from the rear-drive IS 200t RWD ($40,150), to the V-6 all-wheel-

The forward view out of the Lexus IS 350 AWD.

The forward view out of the Lexus IS 350 AWD.

drive models, the IS 300 AWD ($42,95) and IS 350 AWD ($53,350). Sprinkled among the group were sedans with the F-Sport package of performance and styling options that adds $4,800 to the IS 200t.

The IS, in a nutshell, is a lovely and tidy compact sedan, one with excellent quality, a very quiet ride, precise responses, strong braking and all manner of high-tech features. Yes, yes, the cabin is tight and an over-sized centre console and stack eats up an enormous amount of space.

The centre stack/console takes up an enormous amount of precious cabin space.

The centre stack/console takes up an enormous amount of precious cabin space.

But overall, this little Lexus represents a true challenge to the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz’ C-Class, Audi A4 and even Infiniti’s Q50. Purists are not likely to stray from the German entries, though a test drive might surprise them.

In any case, with a nod to the brutal competition in this class, Lexus has facelifted the 2017 IS, from nose to tail and in between – including a bit of unseen engineering that has made the body more rigid, which in turn improves driving responses and ride comfort.

To the details:

The controversial and not universally loved spindle grille on the 2017 Lexus IS has larger air intakes in the front bumper and you’ll find new LED headlamps up front, too. The raciest F-Sport models now get a kind of 3-D mesh pattern, too.

At the rear, you’ll find redesigned combination lamps and new rectangular chrome exhaust tips.

The new seating is comfortable and supportive.

The new seating is comfortable and supportive.

The least expensive model, the IS200t ($40,150) with its sprightly four-cylinder engine — 241 horsepower/258 pound-feet of torque, eight-speed automatic transmission — has new 17-inch alloy wheels, while F-Sport versions get offset wheels with a kind of LFA supercar flair for 2017, says Lexus.

Engines? The pick of the litter is the turbo four. It’s fun and lively, and because it weighs less than V-6, it’s a better fit for enthusiasts, not to mention more fuel efficient. On top of that, the four comes with an excellent eight-speed autobox which you can make your own through the paddle shifters.

The rear space is a little more generous for 2017.

The rear space is a little more generous for 2017.

For the record, the IS 300 has a V-6 rated at 255 hp/236 lb. ft. of torque, while the IS 350’s V-6 produces 306 hp./277 lb. ft. of torque. Both get a six-speed automatic because the bigger engine takes up too much room to fit the eight-speed under that shapely hood.

Now inside, a 10.3-inch multimedia display is available and the Remote Touch interface is less finicky. The seats are more richly padded using a sort of Botox-like process – foam is injected into the upholstery, eliminating wrinkles and making for better, less slippery support in cornering. There’s a tiny bit of added space in the rear and the rear seatbacks fold 60/40.

Purists may not approve, but the available leather seat coverings are not as appealing as the faux seat material, something called NuLuxe. This synthetic fabric looks and feels rich, but is lighter than cowhide and puts out less CO2 in the manufacturing process. It promises to be more durable than leather, as well.

The cluster.

The cluster.

The Lexus designers have given the cabin the once-over – from trim bits to interior panels, switches and stitching. Note the new steering wheel and the smaller information display between the tachometer and speedometer.

And audio?  The starter system is 10-speaker unit, and there is an eardrum-busting Mark Levinson option rated at 835 watts, with 15 speakers.

Finally, safety. Every IS gets the basic Lexus Safety System: radar cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beams and a pre-collision system capable of detecting pedestrians. If you pay attention to your driving and your surroundings, you don’t need any of this, but it’s standard just the same.

I am no fan of the spindle grille, but without question, the IS is a lovely, entertaining sedan and if you get one, it’ll last longer than you might choose to love it.

What the IS lacks in German cachet is made up for in reliability and comfort.


Price range: $40,150-$53,350). F-Sport package adds $4,800 on the IS 200t.

Engines: 2.0-litre turbo (241 hp/258 pound-feet of torque); 3.5-litre V-6 (255 hp/236 lb. ft. torque); 3.5-litre V-6 (306 hp/277 lb. ft. of torque).

Drive: rear- and all-wheel.

Transmission: six- and eight-speed.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/7.3 hwy for the I4, 12.5 city/9.2 hwy for the V-6 using premium unleaded.

Comparables: Audi A4, Jaguar XE, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS, Volvo S60, Cadillac ATS.


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