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First Drive

Road Test: Lexus IS 200 2.0 4dr

£18,684 when new
Published: 01 Mar 2000
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SPEC HIGHLIGHTS

  • BHP

    153bhp

  • 0-62

    9.5s

  • CO2

    231g/km

  • Max Speed

    134Mph

  • Insurance
    group

    25E

Recently, it's been alarmingly easy to provoke a bout of fisticuffs in the Top Gear office. You simply needed to make a suggestion as to what the next car to join our long-term test fleet should be to provoke a ruckus.

Just a couple of years ago, the funsters among us were winning the car-choice battle. Hence we ended up with a bunch of long-termers that tipped the balance just a smidge too far towards the silly side. Our car park bulged with such niche products as a Hyundai Coupe, a SEAT Cordoba SX coupe, a Jaguar XK8 coupe, a Jeep Wrangler, a Mazda MX-5 and a BMW M-Roadster. All great fun... except for those with sprogs or DIY crud to shift around.

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Since then, mature members of the TG team have been multiplying likes guppies. So, the priorities of prams and nappy-changing clobber have taken over; for some, at least. The pro-practicality backlash has arrived in the form of such sensible wheels as a Volvo V70, a Nissan Primera and a Skoda Octavia diesel estate.

A compromise was clearly required to calm the fast-escalating conflict of interests. The search was on for a car that would keep all of us happy: something that boasts four-door good-sense, that has a decent boot, is sufficiently gadget-laden to ease the commute home and yet is also stylish and good fun to drive.

Peace eventually broke out with the arrival of our Lexus IS200 Sport. It's compact enough to never feel a handful, yet has the four-person carrying capacity to keep the more prolific TG testers sweet. For the £23,000 asking price, the IS200 is also remarkably well-specified.

The junior Lexus has been accused of plagiarising the BMW 3-Series and it is, indeed, remarkably like an old-shape 320i to drive (which is a good thing). Just like the Beemer, it's blessed with a two-litre, 24-valve straight-six engine feeding its modest 153bhp to the rear wheels. Similarly, its cleanly-revving power-plant needs a thorough caning to give anything like its best. Now the engine has bedded in over nearly 2,500 miles, it seems to permanently live between the beginning of its power band at 4,500rpm and the red line at 6,250rpm.

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A six-speed 'box helps make the best of such buzzy antics. Unfortunately, just like the last generation 3-Series, the IS200 displays some jerky driveline shunt if the combination of gear ratio, revs and clutch isn't perfectly matched up.

Whereas the latest 3-Series suffers dulled responses, the IS200 is eager to play. Dump the kids at granny's, switch the traction control off and even our Sport-spec car's whopping 17-inch rubber can be provoked to slip free and give a naughty shimmy at the back. A Torsen limited-slip differential helps keep slidiness both progressive and reassuringly controllable.

More Sport clobber includes natty drilled alloy pedals, stainless-steel sill trims and the world's most subtle rear spoiler. Life with the Lexus is made easy by the sort of add-ons thrown in as standard that would see you draining a year's salary on the options list of its German rivals. Aircon, heated seats, part-leather trim, electric windows, alarm and a six-disc, in-dash CD-autochanger are all included.

So, have we had any problems with the IS200? No, and we wouldn't have expected to after such a short time - especially considering the Lexus marque's impressive showing in recent JD Power customer satisfaction surveys.Contention has only briefly returned to the TG team regarding why we're too technophobic to have sussed out how to work the optional flip-up satnav system, what the point of the magnifying rear-view mirror is, and who should clean the already-grubby cream seats and carpets.

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Overall, however, the IS200 is keeping more of us happy more of the time than any of our recent long-term test subjects... which leaves me free to enjoy our Ford Racing Puma long-termer when it arrives at the office in May!

Peter Grunert

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