A Sammy Hagar song filled my mind as I turned on to my favorite driving road in the hills of Northern California in the 2017 Lexus IS 200t F Sport. 45 constant miles of twists and turns had me driving with one foot on the brake and one on the gas, all the better to get back on the throttle as quickly as possible. As I came to a straightaway, I smashed on the throttle and gave a shout, "I can't drive fifty fiiiiive!"
The IS, Lexus' entry-level sedan, comes in a few iterations, including all-wheel drive and an available V6. But I rocked the rear-wheel drive version running a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine, and equipped with the F Sport package. While this example may be the least powerful IS available, I found the car to be a well-balanced machine with plenty of zip to carve corners and enough comfort to give the German sport sedans a run for their euros.
With 241 horsepower on tap, the IS 200t has enough power to be an enjoyable ride, but not so much as to get you in trouble. 258 pound-feet of torque pulls to the red line smoothly. There is a bit of a delay when you give it the beans, but not much. After that slight hiccup, the car's acceleration is super smooth and a lot of fun.
It dives into corners willingly and exits them in a composed manner, even though there is no limited-slip differential to help power out of those turns. The ride on the F Sport-tuned suspension is a bit on the stiff side, but it is in no way uncomfortable and it helps keep the sedan from leaning in the turns. The chassis can handle quick changes in direction with ease, encouraging a heavy foot through all but the tightest of transitions.
The IS comes with four drive modes, Eco, Sport, Normal and Snow, although I was unable to evaluate the Snow mode here in sunny California. The system modifies throttle, steering and transmission response, but it's tough to tell the difference between Sport and Normal. Eco mode takes it one step further, modulating engine output and climate settings, all in the name of fuel efficiency. The EPA gives the IS a rating of 22 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined. During my week with my heavy foot, I only saw 21 mpg.
In the turns the eight-speed automatic transmission wants to upshift a shade too quickly and downshift a bit too slowly for my taste, even in Sport mode. Fortunately, it can be shifted manually using the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. The shifts aren't the snappiest in the business, but being able to control the shift points makes for a more connected driving experience.
Unfortunately, where I didn't feel connected was in the steering. While it has a nice weight to it, especially at speed, there is minimal feedback. It's tough to know exactly where you're placing the car or how much grip is left in the Bridgestone Turanza summer tires. Still, turn-in is sharp and it has a nice weight to it, and my complaints here are minimal.
En-formulate a new system, please
If there is one thing that makes me long for the days of low-tech eight-track cassette players it's the available Remote Touch controller of the Lexus Enform infotainment system. The mouse/joystick/hateful handle from hell is inaccurate, often overshooting my desired icon. You can customize the feedback force for the Remote Touch controller, but no matter how tight I set it, the joystick was always more of a PITA than it is worth. Remote Touch only comes with the optional navigation package. If you're not keen on spending an extra $1,735, you'll get a rotary knob that is much easier to control.
The system isn't intuitive and has so many menus and sub-menus it borders on the ridiculous. It took nine clicks to get from the home screen to one completely stored preset, and the navigation doesn't have one-box address entry for navigation.