Lexus IS 300h Luxury 4dr
Bold new look should attract attention from younger buyers
- Bold looks elevate status of 3 Series rival
- Hybrid variant is refined
- High level of standard specification
- Cabin ambience easily justifies price tag
- No diesel option, only petrol and hybrid
- Some minor controls could be more intuitive
- Rear seat space is acceptable but not overly generous
- Brand still struggles in face of more established German opposition
With the compact executive saloon market a fiercely competitive one, Lexus' third attempt at making the IS a viable alternative centres on boosting its visual appeal and further refining its now trademark petrol-electric hybrid powertrain.
At one level the IS follows in the same tyre tracks as its European rival, promising high levels of refinement and comfort. Lexus is well known for focusing on the detail, and this IS boasts build quality to rival anything in this market sector.
Lexus also likes to do things differently, which in the case of the IS has resulted in a radical overhaul of the exterior and the pursuit of the petrol-electric powertrain option. And this time Lexus is gambling big by dropping its sole diesel alternative, making the range petrol only if you include the straight 2.5-litre variant.
If you're in the mood for a change from the usual diet of executive saloons, Lexus can offer you an IS bursting with standard equipment and capable of delivering one of the most refined experience on the market. Make no mistake, this is a top notch effort.
It's not all plain sailing, however. What you gain in terms of the refinement you lose a little in terms of the car's dynamic range. All the pieces are there but Lexus doesn't quite make the car gel in the way BMW has with its 3 Series. In hybrid guise the IS still demonstrates that a continuously variable auto gearbox doesn't quite have the skills to match a conventional auto, and keen drivers will notice the slightly detached feel of the car's steering.
Our verdict on the Lexus IS 300h Luxury 4dr
For most buyers keen to try something different, the Lexus IS will prove to be a pleasingly satisfying experience. Exceptionally well built and appointed, refinement and comfort levels are exemplary. The hybrid variant presents a genuine chance to reduce your fuel and tax bills, while visually the car makes a bold statement. Keen drivers might not feel fully satisfied but, as an illustration of the brand's recent progress, this is good effort from the Japanese firm.
Opting for the hybrid IS will ensure you benefit from low fuel consumption rates and qualification for one of the lowest CO2 bands available. This last detail is likely more of an attraction for business users keen to minimize their tax exposure. Elsewhere, with the IS very well equipped, there's little need to dip into the admittedly modest cost options list.
Space and practicality
A little bigger in all the key areas, this IS proves comfortable accommodating for both front and now rear seat occupants. There's also a useful amount of oddment storage space, along with a good size boot that in hybrid 300h guise is no longer compromised by the intrusion of the hybrid hardware.
Controls and display
The set-up of the main controls and displays in the IS can be said to be logical. Even without the help of the handbook it is easy to operate and understand the layout. With touchscreen control for many of the entertainment, climate and navigation functions plus further controls on the steering wheel, getting the most out of the car is easy.
Opt for the overtly sporting F Sport variant and you will notice a firmer than normal ride, even for a Lexus. Stick to the regular trim levels and the firm's super-smooth character returns. Overall, though, road, wind and engine noise is refreshingly low, while the seats prove supportive, as does the adjustable driving position.
You pretty much get everything as standard here, which means keyless locking and ignition - a useful feature to remove the hassle of fumbling for a key in a dark car park. Deadlocks, an immobiliser and a comprehensive alarm system complete the defenses.
Although the firm doesn't really shout about it, Lexus has just a good a safety record as its European rivals. A high standard of specification is included right across the IS range, with numerous airbags plus a sophisticated traction and stability system.
As the IS brand has evolved, so has the driving experience. Ever closer to that of its German rivals, this IS retains rear-wheel drive and shows promises in terms of engaging the ken driver. While the straight petrol variant is not rocketship, the hybrid variant promises enhanced acceleration and, crucially, quiet running in EV mode at low speeds. You don't feel as engaged as you would in, say, a BMW but the overall experience is no much more enjoyable.
Family car appeal
Look past the car's decidedly child un-friendly luxury interior and a family could certainly fit within the confines of an IS. Its boot is big enough to cope with most eventualities, although it's fair to say the IS is really a car for a grown up family assuming a people carrier or SUV isn't the preferred choice.
First car appeal
It's unlikely that a novice driver will be attracted to the IS, although it is certainly easy to drive, thanks in part to the purchase price and performance potential.
Quality and image
Drawing level with the German opposition when it comes to cabin materials and build quality, there's no question that Lexus is worthy of praise. In image terms the Lexus does lag behind the opposition, although sportier version like the F-Sport and previous generation ISF do help boost the brand image.
With this latest generation IS comes an expanded cabin and easier access fore and aft for occupants. Doors open wide and even rear seat access is much improved. There's little trouble a gaining access to the car's boot, which opens without fuss or the need for much physical effort.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
Like many cars, the main focus here is the car's infotainment system located centrally in the fascia. It's the hub for the majority of the car's functions, and after a modest learning period is reasonably intuitive. The usual outputs and sources are present, from radio and CD to Bluetooth and MP3 player connectivity, while a Mark Levinsion branded upgrade promises a higher quality output.
Colours and trim
The car's bold looks work best when accompanied by a bright exterior colour. In contrast, dark colours do little to flatter the car's complex lines and angles. The same is true inside the cabin, with lighter trim shades doing much to lift the otherwise somber cabin ambience.
With the aid of parking sensors and a camera, parking the IS is surprisingly easy, with the electronic helpers negating the obstacle of the car's high boot line. Light and accurate steering plus good forward vision complete the experience.
Space saver spare wheel beneath the boot floor
Petrol engine options - 2.5-litre (204bhp), 2.4-litre hybrid (220bhp). Transmission options: six-speed automatic and CVT auto for hybrid variant. Trim levels: SE, Luxury, F Sport, Premier.
BMW 3 Series Still an incredibly popular choice thanks to dynamics, design and brand image
Audi A4 No hybrid option but popular thanks to huge range, good engines and smart design
Volvo S60 Left-field choice delivers good efficiency along with understated appearance
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Despite image, isn't a terribly adventurous proposition