Automotive quiz question: Which automaker has had the worst engine on the market for, oh, the last decade or so? Surprisingly, the answer is Lexus. The Japanese luxury brand's 2.5-liter V-6 offered little in the way of power, and made up for that shortcoming by delivering mediocre fuel economy. And yet, some 80 percent of IS sport sedan buyers chose it over the much stronger and not much thirstier 3.5-liter V-6.
That changes for the 2016 model year. The 2.5 has finally been thrown onto the scrapheap of history where it can wallow with Chrysler's 3.7-liter V-6 and Nissan's supercharged 3.3-liter V-6 as engines that would do better duty as boat anchors. In its place Lexus is offering a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in the new 200t model.
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The numbers show a distinct improvement in both power and fuel economy. The old 2.5 struggled to produce 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, and fuel economy was a middling 21 mpg city, 30 highway, 24 combined. The new 2.0 puts out 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and is rated at 22/33/26 mpg.
This week's test car is a 2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sport. Priced at $46,300 (with a $38,285 starting price), it is outfitted with a blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alerts and a heated driver's side mirror ($600); a navigation system with the Mark Levinson audio system ($2,645); beautiful Ultrasonic Blue Mica premium paint ($500); adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision system ($500); an F-Sport perforated leather steering wheel ($150); and the F Sport package ($3,545). The F Sport equipment includes staggered 18-inch summer tires (225/40s up front and 255/35s out back), firmer suspension settings, heated and ventilated front sport seats, aluminum pedals, a black headliner, a TFT instrument cluster, a rearview camera, and a number of visual exterior tweaks.
2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sport
After spending a week with the new engine, I can certainly say it is an improvement over the 2.5, but it could be better. It delivers power nicely from a stop, getting you around town with ease. However, highway response and overall performance is somewhat lacking compared to the competition. Somewhere between turbo lag and the 8-speed automatic transmission's reluctance to downshift, there is definite pause when you punch it for passing on the highway.