The Lexus IS might be a pastiche of its European junior executive sports saloons, but it’s just not able to cut it against such fearsome competition. The basics are there, but peek at any office car park and you’ll see plenty BMW roundels, Mercedes-Benz stars, Audi rings and very few — if any — Lexus badges.
Blame the European premium makers’ utter dominance of this hotly contested class, with cars so good, and so competitively priced for your average business user that even mainstream manufacturers are struggling against them. So the Lexus IS 200d SE, depsite being cheaper than its rivals, is in for a very tough time.
If there’s one area where the IS 200d cuts it then it’s in the head turning stakes. That’s as much down to its relative rarity as its smart, unfussy lines. There’s a real solidity to it, helped greatly by tight body panels you might struggle to get a cigarette paper between and some solid surfacing and lustrous paintwork. The lights, always something of a Lexus signature, are technically styled front and rear; the IS wearing its advancing years well. Once the leader for interiors the IS’s cabin feels a bit ordinary now, though build is exemplary and the instrumentation clear.
Packaging isn’t something any of the IS’s rivals do particularly well and the Japanese contender is little better. The rear seats are a bit short on head, leg and footroom, making them best reserved for children or smaller friends and colleagues. Given the typical junior executive’s likely golf addiction the boot’s not massively accommodating either, making squeezing in the sticks problematic if you’re also giving a friend a lift to the club. Cubby space isn’t too plentiful either, but the low door pockets pull out for access, and fit large bottles.
Performance & handling
As this segment is defined by cars bought with company money, there’s little point in considering anything other than the diesel model. Badged 200d it’s actually a 2.2-litre unit, which given its pricing bodes well on paper against its rivals. However, the 2.2-litre engine in the IS is seriously outgunned on the road by its rivals.
Work the diesel hard, as you have to thanks to the long gearing, and you’ll reach 62mph in 10.2 seconds — at least a second slower than any of its rivals. There’s none of the easily accessed torque and swelling punch that defines a nicely sorted, premium diesel powerplant. The six-speed manual does swap cogs quickly enough though, and the handling is respectable, but lacking the crisp accuracy of a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C Class. Add in some tyre noise, lifeless steering and there’s little incentive to take any time searching out an alternative route home other than the motorway.
Economy & environment
The IS 220d isn’t just outgunned by its rivals on the road, it’s decimated at the pumps and on emissions. That’s a problem in a marketplace where Benefit In Kind company car tax is king and is dictated by emissions. Its 55.4mpg combined consumption figure is some 10mpg behind Audi’s similarly priced A4 2.0 TDIe and 13.5mpg behind the albeit more expensive BMW 320d EfficientDynamics. Emissions of 134g/km put it in the 20% BIK band, compared with numerous sub 120g/km — and even sub 110g/km — offerings from rivals.
Equipment & value
So the IS 200d is lacking in many areas, but it does make up for that with reasonably generous standard equipment levels. The pricing is competitive, too, though that’ll be offset a bit by its greater running costs and tax liability for company drivers.
It comes with telephone connection as standard, there’s cruise control and a push to start button — if that, err, pushes your button. Standard climate control, MP3/USB connectivity also features, while you’ll grip a leather steering wheel and sit on suede effect seats here without paying any extra.
Traction and stability control, plentiful airbags and triple three point rear seatbelts with warning lights help the IS score a must-have five star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests. Being introduced in 2006 means it’s not quite as cutting edge on the safety front as many rivals, with innovative features like driver drowsiness monitoring and lane-keeping assistance not offered.
Viewed in isolation, there’s a lot to like about the Lexus IS200d. Sadly, there are plenty of other cars, and many excellent contenders in its segment, so ultimately there’s not much to love here.
Its Germanic rivals not only provide a more thrilling drive, but do so while being more economical and tax-friendly for company car buyers. That last bit is absolutely crucial, and is one of the key reasons why this Lexus has never really made a huge impact in the UK. Expect its replacement imminently.
Model tested: Lexus IS 200d SE
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
Emissions: 134g/km CO2