Monday 11 December 2017

Lexus on a learning curve

Unlike politicians and bankers, carmakers tend to learn from their mistakes. That's why you get revisions and updates like the Lexus IS F-Sport 200d I'm reviewing this week.

But even carmakers are fallible: they don't get everything right second or third time round. In a way, that is sort of comforting. They, too, are human after all. The only distinction I would make is that the automakers get it right more often than not. Politicians? I'll leave the logical outcome of that argument to your good self.

Anyway . . . Lexus came late to the diesel game. As you know, they set great store by their hybrids -- their GS450h is an exceptional piece of work by anyone's standards.

They had a 2.2-litre diesel in their IS range up to now but have switched to a 'new' one while at the same time giving the whole car a fair old smattering of an update.

Events sweep quickly by in the motoring world and standing still is akin to oblivion. The major trend, thankfully, has been constant erosion of prices thanks to a combination of our emissions-based tax system and increasing frugality of engines, particularly diesels.

That's why this IS F-Sport diesel is now in the €156-a-year road tax band and starting prices for the range begin at €34,680. A bit of good news when it is at a premium.

The car itself benefits significantly from the visual and technical overhaul that aligns it (loosely) with the high-performance IS F. Certainly, on the outside, the lowered suspension, front-lip and subtle rear spoilers -- as well as the eye-catching blue colour and F-Sport wing badge -- give it quite a lift.

They also smartened the cabin but kept the simple and straightforward access dials to audio and ventilation. Grand so far, but I have several cribs.

Firstly, the engine was not as quiet, smooth or refined as I expected. It ticked over at a high rate, which I thought strange. Noise suppression could have been better, I felt.

And the old bugbear of sixth gear lacking any sort of poke remains. At motorway speeds it falls flat. It shouldn't, you know. You shouldn't have to be digging back into fifth at that pace.

Up through the gears, I have to say though, it was really good with plenty of pulling power matched to smoothness. I'll go further: it had real bite and that sort of power-and-push that, for me, makes a good diesel engine one of the great driving pleasures.

The lowered suspension (by 15mm) certainly added a bit of spice and sportiness to the experience but it had an unusual knock-on effect for me. You see, the front seats (leather) are sporty with side 'flanges' sprouting from their sides. That meant the gap between the lowered roofline and the higher seat entry point was -- for this lugubrious old frame -- narrowed to such an extent I had to stoop severely to get in. Funny, isn't it, how the consequences of such a 'good idea' can go unforeseen?

And, while I'm in the mood, one final whinge. The button to open the boot (you can do it remotely from the key fob as well) is obscured behind a flange above the number plate. In the recent cold, icy and miserable conditions I had a few black thoughts about the designer who put it there.

Mind you, the boot is much larger than I remember. Excellent for a variety of luggage shapes and sizes.

And I will always cherish my drive in what is a lovely, lovely cabin for two reasons. Firstly, it was really comfortable and I could not have asked for an easier car to handle and drive -- we often forget amidst all the glitz just how well Lexus does these things.

And secondly, it was the car in which I listened, rapt and for the first time in ages excited, to a Manchester United game in which that often-lugubrious enigma Berbatov scored five goals.

I still say he was a big waste of money but, sure, in the current climate what isn't?

Well, to be fair, the Lexus IS F-Sport isn't. It's a tidy, well-balanced package with a few flaws. But not as many as some I might care to mention.

LEXUS ISF-SPORT200d

What: Lexus IS F-Sport 200d, compact executive saloon (2.2-litre, diesel, 150bhp,) 6spd gearbox, rear-wheel-drive, CO2 of 134g/km; VRT is 16pc. €156 annual road tax.

Cost: From €34,680. IS F-Sport test version €38,620. Delivery, related charges extra

Target Market: Executives, families.

Plus: Equipment, price, cabin, looks, handling.

Minus: Sixth-gear pulling power, engine a tad less refined than anticipated, obscure bootlid opening button.

Standard Equipment: cruise control, air con, leather upholstery, 18-inch dark-finish alloys, heated front seats, several airbags, electric windows, excellent 13-speaker audio system with remote controls on steering wheel, rain sensing wipers.

Others to consider: Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, Saab 9-5, BMW 3-series, Volvo S60.

Star Rating: 78 / 100

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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