Road Test: Lexus IS 300h F Sport
Segment: Compact Executive Price: £33,495 Fuel: 60.1mpg CO2 emissions: 109g/km
Lexus claims to have cracked the seemingly impossible with the new IS 300h. A hybrid which can offer diesel-rivalling economy and CO2 emissions, with the performance and styling to attract buyers out of the compact executive sector’s most desirable premium models.
It sounds excellent on paper. There’s a combined 220bhp on offer from its petrol-electric drivetrain and, as this is a parallel hybrid, the electric motor can provide up to 100% of the driving power. In turn, the results are a currently class-leading 99g/km and 65.7mpg, without an prohibitive price hike against a diesel car. It’s very competitive.
Then there’s the way it looks. Lexus has, at times, been a victim of forgettable styling. But this latest IS makes its German rivals look decidedly sombre. With its sharp angles and drooping rear lights it’ll definitely divide opinions, but it’s hard to ignore and easier to love than its predecessor. That last point is something Lexus hasn’t achieved since the first IS launched in 1998.
Sportiness – real or implied – sells in this sector. The popularity of the M-Sport, S line and AMG Sport trims in its key rivals has been fed into the F SPORT versions now creeping in across the Lexus range. Here, it takes the concept-esque styling even further. Deeper bumpers, anthracite-coloured wheels and – arguably the most unique feature on the car – an instrument cluster straight out of the LFA hypercar all add to the basic IS’s inherent street presence.
The downside is it also adds to the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Opt for the F Sport and these rise to 60.1mpg and 109g/km respectively, eroding a little of the car’s tax advantage against the competition. But, for now, it has the advantage of not attracting the 3% BiK levy of a diesel engine.
Design and on-paper figures are only half the battle here, though. Lexus has worked to make the new IS as good to drive as it is attractive to look at, stiffening the bodyshell, introducing multi-link rear suspension and stepped ratios on its CVT gearbox to make it a focussed, driver-oriented machine. Even the packaging is better, with no intrusive battery stopping the rear bench folding flat.
For the most part it’s fairly convincing. Power delivery isn’t as lively as you might expect from a car with over 200bhp, but it’s deceptively quick to drive and doesn’t feel heavy either. Its bucket-like front seats are excellent and the low, coupe-like driving position, feels good too. The ride quality is a little harsh, which shows up rough roads mercilessly, but that’s a common feature on sports-styled saloons.
The big design disappointment is its dashboard. Lexus has done a fantastic job with the main instrument cluster, but the rest is left wanting. Material quality is good, but the large, rectangular buttons look like comparatively low-tech and the haptic touch infotainment system feels a generation behind the rest of the car. It’s awkward to use and the graphics look dated.
Good fuel economy takes a little effort as well. The IS will switch in and out of pure electric mode at less than 40mph depending on demand and battery state of charge but, while it’s quite easy to trickle along with the petrol engine switched off in town or country roads, it’s usually running on the motorway. Gentle driving in Eco mode will nudge this up to around 50mpg, but 45mpg is the norm on long trips.
Regardless, though, the IS has taken a giant leap forward in its latest guise. It’s better to look at, nicer to drive and the combination of competitive P11d pricing and low CO2 emissions will make it an attractive option for company car drivers too. And all without losing that exclusivity which makes Lexus products so unique.
With the CT 200h, IS 300h and GS 300h, Lexus has three vital sectors of the fleet market covered with competitive hybrid products at last. But despite advances in the driving experience and economy too, long-distance drivers will find the familiar diesel engine is still king of the economy crown.