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Unchanged styling masks big changes under the hood for the 2016 Lexus IS

The Lexus IS was designed to take on German sports sedans like the BMW 3 Series, and for 2016 it gets an update that brings it in line with the latest trend followed by those benchmark models.

Until now, the IS was one of the only cars in its class not to offer a turbocharged engine. Lexus has changed that, giving the IS the 2.0-liter turbo four introduced last year on the NX crossover, along with a handful of other updates.

The new IS 200t model replaces last year’s IS 250 and its naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter V6. Available with rear-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission only, it boasts 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough for 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 143 mph, Lexus says.

Lexus also added another 3.5-liter V6 model that slots into its lineup above the IS 200t, but below the current IS 350. The IS 300 has 255 hp, 236 lb-ft of torque, a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive. It will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, and top out at 131 mph.

The IS 350 is the only carryover model for 2016, and the only one available with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Power output is unchanged at 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive models get an eight-speed automatic, while all-wheel drive models make due with two fewer gears.

With the most power, it’s not surprising that the IS 350 is the quickest IS model, doing 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with rear-wheel drive, and 5.7 seconds with all-wheel drive. However, it’s not any faster; rear-wheel drive models still top out at 143 mph, while all-wheel drive cars manage 131 mph.

Other than the reshuffled engine lineup, the IS doesn’t get many major changes for 2016. It retains the controversial styling that’s inspired double-takes since 2014, complete with Lexus’ obligatory “spindle grille,” unusually-shaped headlights with LED slashes, and lots of other dramatic folds and curves.

Like other Lexus models, the 2016 IS does get the Lexus Enform Service Connect telematics services, which allows owners to manage vehicle maintenance using an (iOS-only) app or a website. Lexus provides the first year for free and owners pay a subscription fee beyond that.

Other teach features include Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, a seven-inch central display screen paired with a 4.2-inch vertical display in the gauge cluster, and an optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. An available F Sport package adds some light performance upgrades.

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