Lexus IS review
The Lexus IS is a premium saloon aimed at the BMW 3 Series. It takes a different approach though, offering only petrol and hybrid options
Rather than copying the competition, Lexus has forged its own path with the new IS saloon. Sharper steering, firmer suspension (especially in the F Sport model) and a more rigid chassis mean it handles better than its predecessor, but still retains the refinement Lexus is famous for. There is no diesel option this time around, just two petrol-powered versions are available in the UK - the IS 250 uses a V6, while the hybrid IS 300h combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and returns class-leading CO2 emissions of 99g/km. Bold styling, inside and out, has been carried over from the LF-CC concept, while an even sportier coupe version is expected to arrive a year after the saloon's launch.
Our choice: IS 300h F Sport
The latest IS is longer and wider than its predecessor, but the detailing is fussy, and the overall shape isn’t as cohesive as its rivals’ here. Its best angle is from dead ahead, where the aggressive grille, bulging bonnet and flared wheelarches help the Lexus to stand out. The LED running lights look as if they’re integrated with the headlamps, but they’re actually set into the front bumper in separate units. At the back, you can see elements of the larger GS, although the kick-up in the rear window line, the raised bootlid and pinched lights don’t flow together smoothly. The tail end looks rather messy as a result. The interior is similar to those of other Lexus models, so it’s all logically arranged, while the stepped dashboard is a distinctive design cue. Quality is first rate, with soft-touch materials, high-quality plastics and an excellent finish. Specify sat-nav, and Lexus adds its joystick controller to navigate through the screens. However, this isn’t as intuitive to use as the dial controllers seen in the other cars here, as you need to focus on the screen for a relatively long time to ensure you’ve selected the right option – and this is obviously only really safe to do when you’re at a standstill.
The new IS uses an updated version of its predecessor's chassis, which is now more rigid and uses 20 per cent firmer suspension (the F Sport model is firmer still) with revised geometry. The result is excellent stability in the corners, plenty of grip and very little body roll. Well-weighted steering and strong brakes inspire confidence, too - the problem though is the lacklustre engine line-up. The 300h is smooth and refined at very low city speeds and on the motorway, but attempt to extract any performance and the whining CVT gearbox, lazy throttle response and sluggish acceleration (despite an output of 220bhp) spoil the fun. With its torque-converter six-speed automatic gearbox and 204bhp 2.5-litre V6 engine the IS 250 is more responsive, but never feels particularly sporty. In an attempt to up the fun, there are wheel mounted paddles for both models, and a dial that lets you control the volume of sythetic engine noise that's pumped into the cabin.
Lexus’ parent company Toyota has been developing hybrid technology since the late nineties, and its use in the IS now means the company’s entire range is available with petrol-electric power. In fact, Lexus is so confident about the robustness of the technology that it’s covered by a separate five-year warranty – the rest of the car gets the standard three-year package. Euro NCAP has yet to test the new IS, but you can be sure it’s a safe car. There are eight airbags as standard, plus a pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet, and also included are blind spot monitoring and rear traffic alert – the latter helps when reversing out of parking spaces. Unfortunately, Lane Departure and Pre-Crash Safety systems are only optional on the top-of-the-range Premier model. Whichever version you go for, you can be sure of first-class customer service from Lexus dealers. A winning combination of professionalism and courtesy has seen the company’s franchises consistently come out on top in Auto Express’ Driver Power satisfaction surveys over the years.
There’s lots of space up front in the Lexus, and ass the new Lexus IS is larger than its predecessor there's more legroom in the rear. Boot capacity isn't too great at 480-litres, and the hybrid loses 30-litres of boot space, too. On the plus side, rear folding seats do offer plenty of extra space for luggage items. Lexus' new parking navigation service means finding a car park is no longer a hassle - it also displays price information so you can easily avoid extortionate prices if you're driving in a busy city.
The Lexus IS is available with either a 2.5-litre V6 petrol or a 2.5-litre hybrid petrol engine. The 2.5-litre hybrid - found in the Lexus IS 300h - returns a claimed 65.7mpg, combined with an impressive 99g/km of CO2 emissions. This doesn't quite match the performance figures of the BMW 320d, at 68.9mpg, but it does challenge the Audi A4 TDIe. Plus, Lexus insist that the IS 300h is £1,000 cheaper to run per year in the first three years than the Audi A4, thanks to low emissions which ensure that tax is cheap. The Lexus IS really excels as a company car, though, as it uses petrol power it doesn't suffer form the three per cent Benefit-in-Kind surcharge that's applied to all diesels. Be wary of the faster, more powerful IS 250, though; it's expensive to run and only returns 32mpg.