- Much-improved interior design
- Bold exterior design
- Strong V-6 engine
- LFA-inspired details
- No manual transmission
- Serious turbo/transmission lag (200t)
- Hybrid unavailable in the U.S.
- Spindle grille can be overpowering for some
The 2016 Lexus IS doesn't quite hit the high-water mark set by German rivals, but it's a pleasantly capable compact luxury car.
Although its design remains essentially unchanged, the 2016 Lexus IS sees a reconfigured three-tier lineup that caters to a variety of buyers with 4- and 6-cylinder engines, rear- and all-wheel drive, and F Sport packages across the range.
The most noticeable piece of design on the Lexus IS is the "spindle" grille at the front of the car. F Sport models get an all-black mesh grille inside the spindle shape, creating a gaping, aggressive maw. Standard IS sedans get a slightly more normal look with horizontal bars filling the upper two-thirds of the spindle opening. Sculpted sides and pointed tail lights give a dynamic feel to the profile, while the simple, clean rear end finishes the new look on a tight and tidy note.
Inside, a tiered dashboard adds an upscale feel to the design, while the center stack's controls are simple and cleanly laid out. The steering wheel shape continues the upgraded look and feel, and in F Sport models, an LFA supercar-inspired digital instrument display takes the IS to the next level.
Interior materials look and feel refined and high-quality. Seats are comfortable, though F Sport models could use a little extra bolstering, and there's reasonable space for rear passengers. While the trunk is still on the small end of the spectrum for the class at 13.8 cubic feet, it's big enough for most purposes.
A new IS 200t serves as the new entry-level model, and features a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that pumps out 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque; it's mated to an 8-speed transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. A newly created mid-level IS 300 has a 3.5 V-6 rated at 255 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. It's available only with all-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Unchanged from last year is the IS 350, with a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque; it's the only IS that can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive.
Even the 200t is quick enough, with a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.9 seconds. It does, though, display a quirk we've noticed in other Lexus model with the same powertrain: a noticeable delay while the turbocharger and transmission decide how to react to a gas pedal pressed to the floor. We haven't yet driven the IS 300, but this isn't an issue in the IS 350. Steering precision and feel is good for an electric-boost system. The optional variable-ratio steering in IS 350 F Sport models sharpens the car's responses noticeably, but doesn't improve feedback.
Standard safety equipment in the 2016 Lexus IS includes a full complement of airbags, with driver's and front passenger's knee airbags; front seat-mounted side airbags; front and rear side curtain airbags; and the usual side and frontal airbags. LED daytime running lights are standard, as is vehicle stability and traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and an energy-absorbing crash structure. Optional safety features include blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dynamic radar-based cruise control, lane departure warning, park assist, and a back-up camera.
The Lexus IS offers a strong set of standard equipment, including an audio system with eight speakers, a 7.0-inch screen, CD player and radio with HD Radio capability, MP3/WMA/USB and iPod handling, voice recognition, and streaming audio via Bluetooth. Other standard features include power accessories, manual-tilt steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seats, programmable electronic settings memory, and electrochromic mirrors.
Many optional upgrades are available, including standalone options like 18-inch wheels, an all-weather package, and a range of safety features. Package upgrades include a navigation system which brings GPS navigation, a rearview camera, and access to Lexus' Enform telematics system. A Mark Levinson audio system can be added, bringing with it 15 speakers and 7.1-channel surround sound. A premium package adds twin projector LED headlamps and heated/ventilated seats, while the luxury package adds those features plus rain-sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring, leather-trimmed interior elements, and wood trim among other features.
The IS 200t gets the best gas mileage of the bunch: 22 mpg city, 33 highway, 26 combined, according to the EPA. The efficiency outlook is a bit more bleak for the V-6s. Expect 19/26/21 mpg with the IS 300, while an IS 350 will return 19/28/22 mpg (rear-wheel drive) or 19/26/21 mpg (all-wheel drive).