As we gingerly navigate our way around the rain-drenched track, the instructor’s voice crackles over the walkie-talkie: “Just a touch of the brakes now…..remember your weight distribution…..take this turn in a nice smooth arc….nice and easy…..keep your eyes up and look for the curb markers….”
A couple of minutes later, we’ve made our way around the track and accelerate down the pit straight to do it again……faster. “Well done, everyone,” adds our instructor.
And boy howdy, is it raining. A classic west coast downpour, with big fat raindrops bouncing off the pavement and a sodden cloud ceiling that has descended to the treetops. Standing water is everywhere on the track and this is about as wet as things can get. The fact that no one slides off the course is in itself a minor miracle.
The course is the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, a newly constructed track just outside of Duncan, BC, that has all the things needed to make it a great racing venue: plenty of elevation changes, hairpin turns, off-camber corners, quick straight-aways, and beautifully smooth asphalt. I love the smell of a fresh race-track in the morning…..it smells like….in this case, Lexus.
We’re here to check out the new 2017 IS; the company’s revamp of its “entry” luxury/performance sedan, now available in three models with several trim levels. It can also be had with conventional rear-wheel-drive, or, in the case of the 300 and 350 versions, all-wheel-drive.
Whatever you choose, you’re getting a state of the art upscale sedan that will surprise you with its power and road-holding ability. At the track, we drove all models about as hard as you can - given the weather- and praise for the car’s stick-ability was virtually unanimous.
The base version – the 200t – is powered by a turbocharged four cylinder engine that develops some 241 horsepower and is in itself a paragon of automotive technology. As well as featuring direct and port fuel injection, it has both Atkinson and Otto cycle technology. In a nutshell, the Atkinson system delays complete valve closure during the combustion cycle for maximum fuel efficiency – at the expense of optimum power - while the Otto cycle does the reverse. This system is also used in Toyota’s Tacoma pickup and it’s seamless and unobtrusive. Transmission is an eight-speed automatic only.
As you would expect in a car with a starting price of over forty large, the 200t is loaded with modcons and engineering goodies, including touch control display, radar cruise control, navi, lane departure alert, and automatic high headlight beams. Taking a page from Mercedes’ playbook, perhaps, the base interior fabric is what the company calls NuLuxe, a synthetic material made from urethane fibre that is apparently lighter and more environmentally friendly than leather. MB-Tex, anyone?
Moving on to the 300 and 350 models, these two develop 255 and 306 horsepower, respectively, delivered via a 3.5 litre V6 with two stages of tuning. Both versions have all-wheel-drive, with a six-speed automatic transmission. Lexus is offering a plethora of trim levels and options packages with these two, including Luxury and F-Sport models, that among other things, can be had with full leather interior, heated steering wheel, heated/ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rear cross traffic alert (this really came in handy during the ride and drive, BTW), and 18-inch alloy wheels. The list of options and extras with these two is extensive, and range from just under $43,000 for the base 300AWD to almost $55,000 for the top of the line 350 F-Sport.
This latter model, incidentally, makes the most lovely noises under full throttle, and on the track, it’s as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. The crappy weather kind of put the kibosh on any serious gamboling, and Lexus’ driving instructors, though they set a lively pace, were careful not to let anyone get in over their head.
One note here. Lexus has tweaked the front end of the ’17 IS, but I still have mixed feelings about the “spindle” grille. It definitely works better on some models than others, but, regardless, it’s Toyota/Lexus’ corporate “look” for the time being and is here to stay.