Lexus have spent a fair amount of time over the past decade to poke their elegantly designed noses into the pastures of the Germans. However, Germans are a very tight set bunch and the somewhat poor economy and not too inspiring performance figures of the mark 2 IS left the luxury arm of Toyota in the dust. We spied our first glimpse of the mark 3 IS in 2012 and then in January we saw a very similar looking car get a few styling tweaks and a re-badging as the IS.
The IS300h is kept moving by a naturally aspirated 2.5L 4 cylinder petrol engine providing 178bhp and bolting on a 141bhp electric motor. All the power goes to the rear wheels and the total output comes in at a rather lavish 220bhp. The petrol engine runs on the Atkinson combustion cycle which increases engine efficiency and the new fuel injection system positions injectors in both the port and the chamber. Combining all of this means the jolt to 62mph will take a somewhat uninspiring 8.3 seconds (the BMW 320d takes a mere 7.4 seconds) and will top out at 125mph. Helping you get there is the unbelievably smooth and well crafted electric CVT gearbox. Where this gearbox feels excellent around small village roads or motorway cruising, though it can come across somewhat sterile when trying to give the IS300h the full beans. Giving the car a good dose of the right pedal does leave you feeling disconnected from the whole driving experience and the presence of the vaguely raspy sounds funnelled into the car to replicate the genuine growl of a non-hybrid does take some of the real joie-de-vivre of the car.
This isn’t a high powered sports car though. It definitely puts a smile on your face and will leave your bank account fairly intact due to it’s low tax bands. The base specification IS300h comes in at just under 100g/km in terms of emissions and even with the sportier tyres of the F-sport spec you’ll only be paying pennies due to mere 109g/km. This is the grand finale of Lexus’ rollout of hybrids in every model and the combined mpg figure is an impressive 60.1mpg while the urban figure is an equally good 57.6mpg. With the benefit in kind of 11% as well as the sub-100 figure on the SE spec you’ll be saving a fair bit of money on the comparable BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics, and company car drivers can also expect an impressive reduction in their annual tax bill as well by moving away from the German competitors.
Inside you’ll be greeted by the beautiful design we’ve all come to expect from the Japanese kings of luxury with a cockpit inspired by the £350,000 Lexus LFA supercar. The wheel is luxurious and the digital dials give the car the super-modern feel and the exquisitely comfortable leather seats (albeit at a premium of £1,400) hug you around every single twist and turn. An easy to use multimedia and navigation system is paired with a clear 7” screen and my only real niggle is that the ‘joystick’ style control is somewhat over-responsive. Sound inside the car is excellent with a powerful 6-speaker audio system and DAB radio as standard. There is also ans aux-in cable input for MP3 players and USB ports for connecting smartphones. The rear-view camera makes parking the IS300h a dream and the dual-zone climate control is easy to use with excellent touch-pad style temperature controls which you can increase or decrease by sliding your finger up or down. Heated and electric seats in the front as well as 60:40 split-folding rear seats in the back mean space and comfort with the added bonus of ‘smart entry’ which means once you’ve pushed the big shiny start button the drivers seat and steering wheel will return to its previous position making entering and exiting the car very easy.
Outside, the car is just art. Lexus do styling very well and the F-sport bumpers and mesh grille give the car real panache coupled with the metallic white paint (a £610 extra). LED lights all round and seductive 18inch F-sport alloy wheels add the finishing touches and even in the sleepy villages of north Berkshire, this car was turning heads. The rear legroom is good and headroom is excellent as well. In the boot you’ve got 450 litres to play with as well.
On the road price for a Lexus IS300h F-sport is £33,495. Other models available include the IS250 which uses a naturally aspirated V6 to generate a shade over 200bhp with a standard automatic box which will whisk you to 62 in 8.1 seconds, but much like we’ve seen with BMW, Audi and Mercedes, this bigger engine will not be as popular is the more economic diesels/hybrids and are aimed more at the US market. The IS250 starts at £26,495 while a base model IS300h without the F-sport gear will set you back a mere £29,495 which slots nicely with the competition.
To conclude, I genuinely enjoyed every second I was in this car, in fact it’s the best Lexus I’ve ever driven. Sure the CVT gearbox was occasionally frustrating and the underwhelming performance figures did cause some grief, but I didn’t settle into the beautifully crafted leather sport seats expecting a rocket ship. I doubt the IS300h will topple the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes; but that’s not to say it’s a bad car. Class leading style and comfort, coupled with the reliability of a Toyota subsidiary and the low tax band, not to mention a competitive price tag, will undoubtedly make waves in the boardrooms of the Germans.