An entry level vehicle for an automaker is the company’s greetings card to new buyers, shoppers with a little less money than they might like to have and generally cautious car buyers reluctant to jump into any line with checkbook at the ready. It’s the cheapest car in any class for a car company and often a welcome mat to the youngest possible new car buyers.
So, that entry level ride is always an important car to get right, considering that whole “first impression” business. For luxury automakers, the entry level starts at a quality and price point lesser car brands might assign to their top offerings, but the idea of blending quality and affordability remains in effect.
The entry level sedan for Lexus is the IS. Starting just north of $40,000, savvy buyers can get a hold of one in the high $30K range. Out of the box, it offers a six cylinder engine, eight speed transmission and four-wheel independent suspension.
It’s a proper sized sedan with reasonable space to seat five. Though it’s one of Lexus’ smallest rides, there’s ample space in the trunk for any luxurious gear you need to take in your luxury car.
That’s the key word with the IS – luxury. Just because this is the first step sedan for Toyota’s fancier sister company, there are no shortcuts taken. It is well and truly a Lexus in every sense of the word. A cow gave its skin for the interior. There’s power everything. It brings along the very strong Toyota/Lexus infotainment system. It’s the cheapest Lexus sedan simply because it’s the smallest — not because it’s half-hearted.
During a recent week-long test ride, this reporter got a hold of the 2016 IS F Sport – the top trim level in the IS line. That F Sport moniker settles on Lexus versions built for additional performance. BMW has their M series. Mercedes-Benz nods to AMG. Jaguar uses an R badge. For Lexus, F Sport harkens back to the Fuji Test Track the automaker employs. All such models are enhanced and tuned for maximum fun and excitement.
For the 2016 Lexus IS F Sport, the special additions run front to back. The sport-tuned engine produces 306 horsepower while managing 28 overall MPG. Additional F Sport improvements include Adaptive Variable Suspension, Sport S+ available driving mode and Variable Gear-Ratio Steering (RWD).
The overall result is a more responsive IS. An F Sport experience isn’t as powerful as any of the Lexus F models. Yes, it gets confusing — but F versions such as the GS F and the long lost IS F are more strictly high performance. The IS F Sport is still a comfortable, manageable luxury ride. It just scoots a bit more on demand.
As for styling, any Lexus isn’t known for being the flashiest luxury car. The lines on the IS are subtle and overly aggressive. However, it does offer up the signature, slanting Lexus grille and 18-inch wheels.
If the Lexus task here was to create an entry level car that other automakers might offer as their top of the line, we’ll give them a mission accomplished.