Road Test: Lexus IS 300h
It’s still unusual in its segment, but the IS hybrid makes a lot of sense, says Alex Grant.
SECTOR Compact Executive PRICE £30,105-£39,875 FUEL 61.4-67.3mpg CO2 97-107g/km
In the 20 years since Toyota revealed the original Prius, it’s shown itself to be a manufacturer with a taste for doing things a little differently. Particularly with Lexus; a premium brand which has ditched diesel engines and understated styling in segments where both are the norm.
While the CT laid the foundations, the latest IS was the car that defined what’s now a range-wide identity. It showed hybrids could compete with diesels, both on price and performance and it looked as different as what was under the bonnet. Given the rising anti-diesel sentiment since, arguably it was ahead of its time.
Lexus hasn’t backed down. There’s no rushed diesel version, and no let-up in that unmistakeable styling with this late-life update. Quite the opposite; the new front end emphasises its sharp edges, and the headlights are even more complicated in shape than the launch model. Being different is still in vogue.
Meanwhile, new bonding methods in the bodyshell, plus a stiffer and lighter suspension setup and steering hardware derived from the GS are aimed at offering a sharper, more rewarding drive.
What hasn’t changed is the hybrid system, already updated to meet Euro 6 back in 2015. This combines a 2.5-litre petrol engine and two electric motors, one to turn the wheels, the other to charge the battery under the boot floor. These produce a generous-sounding 220bhp when needed, but with short-distance electric driving depending on load and battery charge.
It’s a mixed blessing; the IS 300h doesn’t deliver the sort of straight-line performance that the brochure figures suggest, the engine whirring reluctantly into life while accelerating, and offering little of the punchy torque delivery of a diesel engine. For all the reassuring poise that the chassis delivers, there’s not a lot of fun to be had with what’s under your right foot.
However, it’s a lovely car to cover long distances in, doing away with the rumble and vibration of diesel power and slipping imperceptibly between petrol and electric power. Hybrid perhaps doesn’t suit the sporty-looking IS as well as it does the GS, but drivers who can avoid over-burdening the petrol engine should see decent fuel economy.
Lexus knows, particularly with the 3% BiK surcharge on diesel engines, that it’s got a real opportunity to lure company car drivers. Advance versions are well-tuned to business user needs, with full leather, adaptive cruise control and heated and ventilated seats, as well as 17-inch wheels to fill out the IS’s wide arches. Satellite navigation is standard too, though it’s not a particularly intuitive system to use, and feels a generation behind what rivals are using.
But the IS is still bucking trends in the compact executive segment; a conventional hybrid up against diesel engines and a growing number of tax-efficient plug-in hybrids. But, in its latest guise, perhaps its biggest talent is offering as close to that familiar diesel ownership experience, and being utterly unchallenging with it.
What we think
In a segment with heavy user-chooser volume, the IS scores well for its dramatic styling, high levels of standard equipment and low Benefit-in-Kind liability.