The Lexus IS has always been nipping at the heels of the BMW 3-series. But not anymore.
The car is now fitted with a lovely turbo and its gearbox has been upgraded to an eight-speeder. It is now more sporty, more efficient and more yummy all round.
Maximum output from its dual- cycle 2-litre engine goes up to 241bhp, from a relatively miserly 223bhp its 2.5-litre predecessor generated. Peak torque goes from 221Nm to 350Nm and from a low engine speed of 1,650rpm.
The car's eight-speed gearbox is tuned for immediacy in the initial cogs and relaxed, long-legged strides in the upper ones. This makes for an immensely rewarding drive, with gap-filling spontaneity when you need it and leisurely cruising when the road opens up.
Most times though, the transmission is humming happily in seventh gear. The eighth gear rarely comes into play under local driving conditions.
Never mind. It is the newfound punchiness and sparkling linearity of the drivetrain that you revel in most.
Price: From $194,000 with COE
Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with paddle shift
Power: 241bhp at 5,800rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1,650-4,400rpm
0-100kmh: 7 seconds
Top speed: 230kmh
Fuel consumption: 7.5 litres/100km
Agent: Borneo Motors
The car clocks the century sprint in seven seconds, down from 8.5 previously. Thanks largely to its eight-speeder, top velocity is now a more convincing 230kmh, up from 200kmh.
These numbers put the IS200t in between the BMW 320i and 330i, a position no previous IS with a similar displacement could attain.
At the same time, these numbers translate to not only a punchy performance, but a peachy one as well. Its 2-litre power plant spins strongly and sweetly, and power is transmitted to the wheels and then the tarmac in a silky and seamless manner.
The turbo is never intrusive and there is no trace of lag across the seemingly endless rev range. True to Lexus' DNA, brute force has never felt so gentle.
The car's chassis has always been well-honed for enthusiastic driving. The trouble was, it never had an engine-gearbox combo which could exploit this forte fully. Until now.
With its buffed-up juicer and well-tuned transmission, the car no longer feels like it is pulling a parachute. It leaps and pirouettes, taking the driver along on its dance of joy.
Throttle response is exquisite, with every gram of foot pressure turning into acceleration. From the lights, the car breaks away from the pack cleanly and effortlessly.
And more importantly, it does so without a tinge of waywardness. No screeching rubber, no wagging tail, no rude juddering as the gearbox struggles to keep up with your enthusiasm.
At the wheel, there is only serenity, which is broken now and then when you carry too much speed into a corner. The car is deceptively fast and preserves its momentum long after your foot has left the accelerator.
The IS200t is near-perfect. The only flaw remains its bulging transmission tunnel that splits the cabin floor down the middle, making it uncomfortable for the centre occupant in the second row.
But with such a wonderful drivetrain for company, who needs passengers?