The baby of the Lexus range was treated to a subtle facelift last autumn, and, more importantly, a tweaked engine with lower CO2 emissions. Ian Robertson investigates
Back in the 1980’s, the company car park was dominated by the likes of Ford Sierras and Vauxhall Cavaliers, but fast forward past the millennium and you’re more likely to see German badges up front, and it’s an image war that isn’t likely to die anytime soon. User choosers have found that premium marques offer similar costs to the more traditional Ford and Vauxhall offerings, but the badge appeal is far superior. Lexus is now trying to muscle in, with a newly refreshed IS range, aimed at the jugulars of the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
The firm’s compact model has always offered a dash of extra style compared to the default choices, and the latest IS is no different. For 2009, the baby Lexus is treated to a new front bumper and grille, together with fresh rear light clusters and re-profiled door mirrors with integrated indicators. At the business end, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine has been fettled, resulting in an improvement in fuel economy to 50.4mpg on the combined cycle. CO2 emissions are also reduced – down to 148g/km. This means that the IS 220d falls into vehicle excise duty band F. Quality has always been a Lexus watchword, and the IS offers a smart looking cabin with fine quality materials throughout. Those used to a Mondeo’s capaciousness will be disappointed though, as space is at a premium in the IS. Leg and knee space is tight in the back, and the meagre boot sets it apart from rivals – the wheelarches intrude quite heavily and restrict capacity.
Out on the road, the rear wheel drive chassis is immediately noticeable with spirited handling, offering decent turn in and copious levels of grip. The ride is firm, but never becomes uncomfortable. Lexus’ 2.2-litre turbodiesel unit feels a little pedestrian at first, but once the turbocharger kicks in, performance is brisk. The IS is at its most relaxed at motorway speeds, offering a comfortable and refined drive.
While the economy and CO2 emissions improvements are welcome, at times, the IS 220d feels too highly-geared, which means that the engine struggles, wallowing at low revs and requiring a serious gearbox workout to get the best out of it. At £24,860, the IS 220d SE-I is keenly priced, with generous equipment levels. Leather seats with electric adjustment, front and rear parking sensors, a six-disc CD autochanger and keyless entry is all fitted as standard. Residual values compare favourably with its peers and insurance costs are less than you would expect to pay for a comparable BMW 320d.
Those who doesn’t want to form part of the BMW or Audi herd could do worse than the IS. It looks smart, is finished with good quality materials and has plenty of get-up and go. That, coupled with Lexus’s reputation for scoring well in the coveted JD Power quality surveys, and near-guaranteed reliability, means buyers can’t go far wrong.
RIVALS: Audi A4 2.0 TDI SE, BMW 320d SE, Mercedes-Benz C 220 CDI Elegance
- Engine: 2231cc, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 6-speed manual
- Max Power: 175bhp at 3,600rpm
- Max Torque: 295lb ft at 2,000-2,600rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 1,500kg
- Combined Consumption: 50.4mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 148g/km (F)
- 0-62mph: 8.9secs
- Max speed: 135mph
- Insurance group: 13
Quality materials, looks smart, well equipped, overall luxuriousness
Space at a premium, high gearing blunts performance