2004 Lexus IS 200 Sports 2.0 6 cylinder from Australia and New Zealand
All style and no substance - the most disappointing car I have owned
1. Accelerator getting stuck on full throttle.
Happened 3 times - twice when I was driving, once when my brother was driving. Had it checked multiple times, but the sporadic nature of the fault made it hard to troubleshoot. Never found the cause.
First time it happened was on a main road during a busy time of the day - I was extremely lucky that there was a green light and that the right lane was free - I was able to hold my foot 100% on the brake, take a sharp left turn at a dangerous speed, and then pull the handbrake up and shut off the engine. Could have been fatal if the circumstances were less favorable.
Other times were less scary as it was in less dangerous circumstances, and the pedal managed to dislodged itself after a toying with it a bit.
2. CD stacker eating discs.
A known issue for the IS200, the CD stacker tends to fail, get jammed up on a disc and simply displays an error code. Won't work again until you eject the disc and re-insert it. Also prone to scratching discs. Many IS200s will have the source unit replaced by aftermarket units for this reason.
3. Keys snapping.
Another known issue for the IS200, the plastic shell/fob that the key and transponder reside in is made of extremely thin (~ 1.5mm thick) and frail plastic that is prone to snapping just from the basic force it takes to turn the key in the ignition.
I had two standard keys for my IS200 plus the regular master key. The master key is fine and is very solid, but the regular keys both snapped clean in half. Luckily you can buy a replacement key off eBay for relatively cheap, get it cut, and then switch in the transponder - but still frustrating from a company who's entire reputation is based on quality. I've never had a key snap in half from any prior car I've owned.
4. Easily wearing trim.
Not sure if you'd consider this a fault so much as a really stupid design idea, but about 60% of the IS200's interior surface (entire dash, gear surround, etc) is covered by a type of soft-touch paint. This paint scratches EXTREMELY easily - if you lightly run a finger nail, drop your phone on it, sit something on the dash - it will scratch. It seems like all you have to do is LOOK at it and it will scratch.
The problem with this is that is pretty much impossible to repair those scratches (short of swapping out the entire dash) so you're stuck with it, and when it comes time to sell the car, it makes it much harder to do so because nobody wants to buy a car with a scratch covered dash.
Similarly the chrome gear knob initially looks metal, but is actually just plastic with chrome paint over the top. That chrome paint rubs off over time, leaving you with a cheap, tacky, scratched up, plastic looking gear knob.
Again this is not a big deal, but it's not what you expect of a brand that is all about quality.
If there are two words I can think of that perfectly sum up my experience with this car, they are "disappointing" and "mediocre".
Allow me to elaborate.
First of all, you have the Lexus brand name - any time you have a car with the Lexus badge, you naturally have a certain set of expectations in terms of things like quality, reliability and comfort - three things that essentially define the Lexus brand.
Then the IS200 itself seems to have almost cult status out there for its supposedly sporty character - "rear wheel drive", "50/50 weight balance", "great chassis", "sports sedan". Just a few of the phrases you often hear being thrown around in reference to the IS200.
Now to address the above...
1. Quality and Design.
I've already gone into this in the "things that went wrong" section. Poorly selected interior finish that wears badly and can't be easily repaired, keys that snap in two from regular use, CD stackers that jam up - not really things I expect of a Lexus.
The CD player is a mechanical thing so I can forgive that, but the trim and key wear are design flaws that could have been avoided with common sense - clear cases of "form over function", and the type of thing I'd expect from a euro, not a Lexus.
The paint quality is very nice - didn't fade and the car (on the outside) still looked near immaculate when I had it.
Overall quality was good too (bar the aforementioned gripes). All knobs, buttons and switches felt smooth and solid, the doors closed with a solid thud, and there were no rattles or squeaks to speak of.
Though this is subjective, I do think exterior styling of the car was a positive. Its proportions (compact, with sharp lines) give it a solid, yet athletic look. The detailing (like the door handles, head-lights, subtle body kit, fog-lights and tail-lights) give the car an appearance that is both sporty and youthful, while still looking mature and classy. I do feel that the styling of the car is probably its biggest win, and I think Lexus did a good job in that regard. I don't think it has the type of styling that leaves you drooling (as something like an Alfa 159 Ti might), but it's a nice looking car from every angle.
Can't really complain here. While the stuck throttle could have killed me, I don't think that's a common issue - and beyond that the car pretty much started and ran first time, every time. Controls all worked, electronics mostly all worked (except the stereo), so I'd say reliability was pretty good - a solid 7-8 out of 10 given the mileage of the car.
3. Comfort and Practicality.
This is the first area where Lexus really dropped the ball. The seats seem fine at first, but they offer back support. My brother and I both found we were getting lower back strain/pain when driving the car for any longer than around 30-35 minutes.
Sitting in the front felt quite cramped - the lack of width (combined with the overly bulky door trims) meant that the inner door handle was constantly poking in to my side and/or leg, and (as an individual with broad shoulders) I found myself often knocking shoulders with the person next to me.
People who sat in the back commented on how uncomfortable those seats were as well. Overly flat, overly firm, and not a lot of leg or head room.
Large bumps (speed humps, pot-holes, etc) were felt surprisingly harshly despite the fact that this wasn't the sport-luxury model and didn't have the lower profile 17" wheel/tyre package. It certainly wasn't anything resembling plush.
On the plus side it was pretty quiet. Outside noise is well insulated, and you don't hear much when you go over bumps (even if you do certainly feel them).
Lack of a trip computer was a surprise for what is described as a "premium compact sports/luxury sedan", and one that was priced at upwards of AU $60,000 when new. Similarly surprising is the lack of steering wheel controls for the audio, and the lack of dual zone climate control. I got all these features on my lowly Alfa 147 Twin-Spark, which was almost half the price when new.
The gearbox is smooth and the engine idles without the slightest hint of shaking/rattling, so no complaints there. No interior rattles or squeaks to speak of, which is also nice.
The turning circle is very small and the car has a fairly straight/square shape, so parking and maneuvering the car is extremely easy - a convenient thing.
The boot/trunk is pretty average - adequate enough for the average shopping run, but not really deep or tall enough to fit very bulky items. It's on the small side for a sedan. The rear seats also do not fold down, so if you want to load long items you're limited to what will fit through the ski port.
The dash looks funky at first, with the chrono-style gauges. Over time though the odd scaling and layout just makes it awkward and hard to read. A gimmick and an oddly "function over form" move.
The electric folding mirrors were a handy touch - useful and well implemented.
Here is the next area where the IS200 falls short.
While the engine runs smoothly, the exhaust note is not pleasant no matter what side of the sports/luxury argument you fall on. At cruising speed it gives you an unpleasant "drone" noise that is a long way from being either luxurious or rorty/sporty. When revved out the engine starts to sound a bit rough and harsh, and never sounds willing or enthusiastic - there is no sweet "rev happy" note to this engine.
The gearbox, while smooth, is slow and vague and (being a 4 speed) feels a bit prehistoric. You pretty much have to drive it in 'pseudo manual' mode to make it change gear when you want it to, and even then it often feels delayed.
Performance wise, well... there is none. The car is horribly lacking in low RPM torque, which makes the car frustrating to drive in basic every day circumstances. Something as simple as pulling out of a side street (in the flow of traffic) becomes stressful because the car is so slow off the mark that I would have to allow for double or triple the gap size before attempting to merge - otherwise I'm too afraid that I wouldn't get up to speed in time and would risk blocking traffic.
The engine gets a LITTLE bit more enthusiastic once you get some revs on board - it starts to come alive a little at around 4,000 RPM and starts to feel at least adequate (not enthusiastic, just adequate), but that only lasts until around 5,500 RPM or so, and after this it dies off again. The lack of low RPM torque hurts its potential role as a luxury cruiser, while the lack of a willingness to pull at higher RPM limits its appeal as a sports sedan. Ultimately it falls into the mediocrity that lies in the middle. The manual may be a BIT better, but given the limited ability of the motor itself, I doubt it would help much.
The suspension brings much the same dilemma. In corners, the IS200 is far from sporty. Body roll is pretty significant despite the car's relatively light weight, turn in is quite vague and a little on the slow side, and the car doesn't feel especially stable either. During fast direction changes the rear end is too soft, and it feels like it's going to spin. During long sweeping corners the rear becomes unstable and feels like it's going to come out. In-between corners it feels fine, but hardly enthusiastic.
The extremely dead / vague (yet surprisingly heavy) steering doesn't help the situation, as slow steering and heavy weighting makes the turn-in feel even slower than it is, and lack of feel only exaggerates the car's unstable feel. An overly skinny wheel with (what feels like) slippery fake leather doesn't help either - it can make the wheel hard to grip and uncomfortable to use over long periods of time. I actually found myself getting sore palms at times from gripping it excessively hard (to compensate for the thin, slippery surface).
The brakes were extremely weak and lacked good (or consistent) feel. Initial pedal feel is very soft and squishy with no stopping power, then as you push down further the pedal gets hard and the car finally starts to pull up - there is an "everything or nothing" feel to the brakes and they don't inspire confidence.
The throttle is similarly awkward. There is a perceived delay between the time you press the pedal and the time the car reacts and starts to move. You push a bit and nothing seems to happen, push a bit more and the car jumps suddenly, push a bit more and again not much happens - very lacking in consistency through the accelerator's travel.
Overall the car doesn't feel balanced, stable or agile... nor does it feel especially soft, plush or comfortable. It attempts to find a balance between sports and luxury, but ultimately fails at both.
5. Running Costs.
Despite being relatively light weight, and having a smallish (2L) engine that doesn't use forced induction or rev a whole lot, I never managed a combined (70% freeway, 30% city) fuel figure ranging from 11.5L/100km (in the best of times) and 14L/100km (at worst) - with the average tended to settling around 12.0L/100km. For such a lethargic car with such a modestly tuned motor, this never made sense to me. I'm sure it's the gearing that's at fault (4 speed surely didn't help) but if the car was geared for performance (over economy) then that just makes the complete lack of performance even more depressing.
Insurance was also inexplicably high. I paid AU $950 a year to insure my Liberty B4 (a 190kw twin turbo), about $900 to insure my 1989 MX-5 (a 20 year old convertible with no security at all), around $1,200 to insure my Alfa 147 Twin Spark Selespeed (a euro hatch with an expensive gearbox prone to breaking) and around $1,600 to insure my current Alfa 147 GTA (a pretty rare, 180kw, euro prestige car). I could not get the IS200 insured for less than $2,200 a year. Why?!? It's a fairly safe car, not high powered, not that mechanically complex (basic 4 speed auto and an N/A six cylinder) and not much of a theft risk - so why such a ridiculously high insurance figure? My only explanation is high cost of parts/repairs, which brings me to my next point...
Finding spare parts or aftermarket parts for this car was next to impossible. Given the popularity of the car (and the fact that it's Japanese) I thought parts would be cheap and readily available - couldn't be further from the truth. Look for IS200 / Altezza parts on eBay and you'll find next to nothing. The ones you do find will be ludicrously expensive. The ones you can't find you'll need to buy brand new, and Lexus prices their parts stupidly high. Even the wheel setup is odd, so finding aftermarket wheels that fit is difficult!
I had no problems finding reasonably priced parts for my MX-5, Liberty B4 (aka Legacy RSK) or my Alfa 147 GTA, even though all are seemingly pretty uncommon cars. The Lexus - no such luck.
The IS200 had, without a doubt, the highest maintenance costs of any car I've ever owned... and yet it never offered any standout reasons (performance, luxury, technology, features, desirability, etc) to justify paying that type of money just to keep it going.
I had some trouble with some of my prior cars, so my reason for buying the Lexus (aside from that I always wanted an IS200) was the hope of saving on maintenance costs thanks to Lexus reliability. The gigantic running costs meant that simply ownership and maintenance of this car cost more than ANY of my prior cars did in the form of mechanical repairs... meaning that the high maintenance costs basically offset any benefit that the reliability would otherwise offer.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 15th September, 2016