The Lexus IS 300h is the ultimate car for those who want style, quality and the eco credentials to match
AT A time when diesel engines are the biggest sellers in the executive car market, Lexus is gambling on its petrol-electric hybrid technology. The Japanese manufacturer wants to be the go-to brand for anyone wanting a premium hybrid car. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz may sell more cars, but they don’t sell many hybrids. In the UK, there’s a reason for that. Here British drivers really like the performance characteristics of diesel engines and with diesel car economy and emissions approaching that of hybrids, many people can’t see the point of a hybrid car.
This third generation model is the first IS to get the hybrid treatment. Its 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor has a combined power output of 220bhp and can return as much as 65.7mpg while emitting less than 99g/km of CO2 (SE version). These are impressive figures, matched only by the best diesels in the executive market, and beating them hands down in terms of emissions. But can it convince more UK buyers to choose a petrol hybrid instead?
Lexus wants its brand to be sportier and more design-led, something that is immediately apparent when looking at the LFA supercar-inspired exterior design. The spindle grille and knife-sharp animal-like LED running lights are nice touches. So is the dynamic crease on the flanks, which suggests the car delivers so much torque it’s actually twisting itself.
I’ve been at the wheel of both the IS 250 and IS 300h hybrid models in and around Vienna. The IS 300h is the better car. The interior is stylish, restrained, comfortable and visually very interesting thanks to a layered dashboard and tasteful integration of multimedia and audio. It is also fantastically well made. For me this is the single biggest selling point of the IS. My Luxury-trimmed version – there are four equipment grades, SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier – is finished with wood and leather and is comfortable and stylish.
The optional Levinson audio system, which offers 15 speakers and 5.1-channel surround sound, is fantastic. The touch-sensitive sliding climate controls are very cool, just tap or slide your finger over them to operate. The joystick controller, which operates the in-car infotainment system still takes a bit of getting used to and is tricky to operate when you’re driving.
The car has a strange – some might say unnecessary – active sound control (ASC) system that generates artificial engine noise and then delivers it into the cabin. It makes a variety of noises depending on road speed. One second it’s a Lancaster bomber, the next it’s a vacuum cleaner. At times it even sounds like a motorcycle. It’s fun to play around with – you can discuss with your passengers which engine noise it most sounds like – but sometimes the artificial noise is so out of whack with the actual engine speed that it sounds like you’re racing against yourself. Thankfully the dial to operate it is tucked down out of view next to the steering column – it’s better left alone. Instead, return to the relaxed and quiet contemplation that you would otherwise be having in this most refined of cabins.
Through the bends, the IS proves to be more agile and have better handling than ever, although the ECVT transmission sometimes struggles to deliver power when you put your foot down, meaning acceleration isn’t always instant.
The IS 300h has surprising levels of refinement and comfort, particularly on the motorway, when the engine and road noise seem blissfully detached. You have to drive it a little differently to other cars to get the best from it but if you value those extra miles to the gallon – and its eco credentials – this could be the car for you.
THE FACTS: LEXUS IS 300H LUXURY
0-62MPH: 8.3 secs
TOP SPEED: 125mph
CO2 G/KM: X103g/km
MPG COMBINED: 64.2mpg
DESIGN Four Stars
PERFORMANCE Four Stars
PRACTICALITY Four Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Four Stars