When you think of intelligent sports, things like Chess, Card games, Apps or maybe even a Spelling Bee (not sure that is a sport) spring to mind. But in actual fact most sports need more than just a modicum of smarts. Quick hand/eye coordination, rapid reflexes, quick decisions all require a quick mind. Out thinking or outsmarting opponents can be a real workout for the cerebral matter, sure running headlong into another player on a pitch or thumping them as hard as you can in a ring may look pretty easy (in terms of brain power) but the more tactical and well thought out the approach, the more chance of a win.
Motorsport is a perfect case in point, it requires total commitment and total dedication from the driver to the pit crew, mechanics to the team manager (sometimes this is all the same person). Lexus have brought their race circuit know how (LFA) to their new Sedan, Introducing the IS, an Intelligent Sportscar that takes away some of the guesswork and lets you concentrate on driving.
Taupo is a great venue for a sports car launch, it has the Great Lake as a key setting, glorious rural roads and the delicious curves and fast straights that is the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park – so it was the smart choice of town for Lexus to introduce us to the new 2017 IS Sedan.
The IS first hit the European streets in 1999 (IS200) and with its greater emphasis on performance this luxurious Lexus quickly gained consumer attention. Now in its 3rd Generation, Lexus have had plenty of time to tweak with the design and electronics and this year sees the latest iteration – it’s a beauty.
NZ has had a record year for car sales and the luxury market is up 9%. Lexus themselves have had a record year too with a growth of 12%. Unfortunately, over the last few years the IS itself has not fared as well; but Lexus are very upbeat about its prospects. Putting together the predicted but more conservative growth in the luxury car market, (and the same growth expectations within Lexus and their own product spread) the signs are good for the new look and revamped IS – here are some of the MY2017 changes.
Up front it has new Bi-Beam LED headlights, air dam, bumper and their trademark spindle grille, while around back it’s a little more angular, sporting re-sculpted taillights, lower valance and a fresh look to the exhaust pipes it still has the artistry appeal I have come to expect in a Lexus but it does lean towards a more powerful, more assertive look.
The interior is seeped in Takumi craftsmanship. It has a redesigned control panel, a larger palm rest (with new enter and back control buttons). The multi-media display screen has grown in size too, it now sits a proud 10.3 inches
The Lexus Safety System + package is now standard and its features include automatic high beam (that cloaks other drivers and pedestrians) lane departure and sway alerts, dynamic radar cruise control, and a pre-crash system – with those worries out of the way, let’s concentrate on the drive itself.
We took a large loop from the airport to the racetrack. It included a view of the lake and some town driving and a chance to open the IS up on the country roads with driver and car changes along the way. Knowing that we are an inquisitive lot, Lexus had brought along the 200t, the 350 and the hybrid – told you they were clever.
Before too long, we were the track for the full launch information, morning tea and more importantly tarmac time. A big part of the Lexus history and in turn their focus is their lean towards performance, as it was explained to us, they have a kind of performance pyramid with LFA up at the peak followed by the RC-F/GSF and then the F Sport (they call it Circuit to urban) – hence the need for some track time. The exercises commenced with slalom, we got to try out all models and in various settings. The 200t felt well balanced and peppy (a 2L turbo with 180kW and 350Nm did just fine) and you can really tell the difference when in sports + mode, funny that. The IS 300h was a bit of a surprise though, it handled the track events well and ran terrifically out on the rural roads – its 2.5L Hybrid (164kW combined) being way more than simply an ‘also ran’ that I had previously assumed.
But, In all honesty I found the 350 to be my car of the day, its 3.5L V6 with 233kW and 378Nm was a more enjoyable ride around the track and a car that you could get into trouble with (should you so choose).
Some would say that launching a Sedan into a market that seems hell bent on driving large SUV’s is not the wisest of decisions, but the Lexus marketing guru’s presented a strong case and their technical and design boffins offered us a compelling case (with their function and opulence story) to get behind the wheel of the new IS. Like I said in the beginning, a tactical and well thought out plan often wins out.
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