Lexus IS review

Our Rating: 
2013 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

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

Low emissions, comfortable ride, bold styling
Noisy CVT gearbox, no diesel, poor real-world fuel economy

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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

Engines, performance and drive


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. 

MPG, CO2 and running costs


If you’re looking for a cost-effective company car, the Lexus IS is top dog in this test.

The petrol-electric drivetrain means it doesn’t suffer the same three per cent tax penalty as its diesel rivals, while lower CO2 emissions ensure your annual bills will be over £500 cheaper than they’d be for an Infiniti Q50.
The £30,995 list price is the highest here, and buys you lots of kit, but sat-nav and heated leather seats add £3,395. Residual value is predicted at 43 per cent, although servicing will cost more than for a BMW 3 Series.

Interior, design and technology


The Lexus IS goes its own way in the compact executive saloon class, with angular styling that takes some of its inspiration from the LFA supercar. It has similar dimensions to its rivals here, but overall it seems longer and narrower, and the dynamic detailing really sets it apart.

The front end looks best from head-on, and there's a strange mix of angles, sweeps and lines.
Inside, the Lexus is similar to other models in the range. That means you get a stepped dashboard with a central display screen that’s set well back, decent-quality plastics and a smattering of satin silver trim.

Cars fitted with sat-nav add a joystick that’s used to guide the cursor around the screen.

This is a bit tricky to use on the move, as bumps can cause you to select the wrong function. One neat touch in the Lexus is its touch-sensitive heater controls – you simply slide your finger up and down the silver bar to raise or lower the temperature.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


There’s lots of space up front in the Lexus, and as 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.

Reliability and Safety


Choosing hybrid technology in your car is no longer a step into the unknown, as Lexus’ parent Toyota has developed and refined its Hybrid Synergy Drive in a number of models.

The IS uses a variation of the hybrid system from the Toyota Prius, and it’s covered by its own eight-year warranty.

Lexus dominated our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey, finishing in first place in both the manufacturer and dealer rankings. Excellent customer service was a highlight (although this’ll be something that Infiniti should be able to match), while the brand’s cars have always proven extremely reliable.

Like its rivals, the IS has a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating, and it comes with eight airbags compared to six in the 320d and Q50. But as with those cars, some of the Lexus’ most advanced safety tech is only offered as an option on the top-spec Premier model.

Disqus - noscript

Poor mans alternative to ze Germans

Great car, no issues much better than previous mercs and audis.

Not a poor mans car at all just different alternative to the german same old motors.

I love the fact there is a dig at real world economy purely because its a threat to the German diesels....pull out as many negatives as possible! This will all change when ze Germans manage to improve on their hybrid technology that they have out in the US currently....I'm sure hybrids will be the future then, and much better than a standard dirty diesel. Already, Porsche are publishing unrealistic hybrid figures, so I assume this trend will continue.
The Lexus is a lovely looking car, a much more interesting choice for the buyer who forks out their own money for a car rather than rely on work to lease them a boring Audi

Ehh... 4 stars in 4 of the criterias, and one 3 star... How can that be 3.0 overall???
This car is great, and in real life no one drives on the track with cars like this. E-CVT is smooth as anything out there.

Toyota, third largest global auto manufacturer (Wikipaedia), believes that diesel fuel will become more expensive to refine in years to come; and diesel engines will also cost more to manufacture as emission standards become more stringent. (A tin can flltering particulates will no longer be adequate).

There is also the unique satisfaction and enjoyment of driving a hybrid vehicle - perhaps not perceived by those who have only driven the car around the block.

"But beware, while the tax breaks are excellent you're unlikely to get anywhere near the 300h's claimed economy in real-world driving."

Based on what exactly? Did you check?

Thought not


Strange how the BMW 3 series gets 4 stars in all but one category, but overall is rated at 5 by Autoexpress. The Lexus gets 4 stars in all but one category and is rated at 3 stars overall. It seems that in the UK only German cars get 5 star rating on most of these reviews. I drive a 2012 320ED and I think it is a great car, but I don't understand the fascination with BMW's. Most of us sit in traffic, or drive on motorways. I can't say that I would describe the BMW as fun on any of these roads. I addition to that the engine is noisy and the stop start intrusive. I think that the hybrid is a good setup for most real world conditions. The Lexus looks very interesting, but for most people the fact that it isn't German will be enough reason not to buy one. Now if only I was in the market for a new car.

Erm, hang on a minute. You claim that it has 'poor real-world fuel economy' ... and yet the report clearly demonstrates that you haven't yet driven the IS300h!!

If the IS250 obtained 32mpg in your test (which is almost exactly what I achieved in the outgoing version I had - and loved!) then we can only assume that the IS300h will better that and get close to 40mpg. If that is the case then it definitely starts to make an economic argument for itself.

Further, I had the opportunity to see the car for myself last week, and all I can say is 'Wow'. No Audi or BMW dealer is going to let you park one anywhere near their premises.

@A330driver - who are you kidding? Poor mans alternative to a German eurobox! Hah!

I second that, the E-CVT is fantastic....I drive a lexus hybrid every day, and no German automatic can get close to the smoothness, not even that heavy/expensive hunk of junk called DSG. Granted, if driven hard, engine noise increases, but as long as your commute doesn't include the Nurburgring, then its no problem at all

Not a very surprising review considering what magazine this is. A very nice car, and had I the cash spare to buy one, I certainly would. The usual German cars are so boring now. And they may be "solidly built" and "reliable" but once you fork your own cash over, or the warranty expires, then costs are pretty high. Pfft. And last I checked, it was Japan that showed the world what reliablity was (with regards to cars).

Another typical AE review,, without looking at the overall star rating i guessed it would get 3 stars from AE !
Reviewer hasn't even driven the IS300h and already comes out with bold statements.. As it is not German or diesel, by default doesn't get good reviews
I've had enough of diesels !

An excellent car, and *at least* the equal to the Germans, whatever AE say. But Lexus, please produce an estate and/or hatchback version, because unfortunately I need more practicality than a saloon.

PS The award of only 4 stars for "reliability" was a joke. The authors own write up shows that the Lexus deserves 5 stars for this.

Would love one of these! Keep all your Eurojunk.
For now I will keep my Toyota Yaris. Very nice car.
I agree this is a very biased report.

they have a ct200h the real world figures don't match the claimed figures for that. I am assuming that they are basing their claim on that bais

I ignored the 3 star rating of the Prius reviews so glad I did. Looks like the same for the IS300.

It seems difficult to disagree with most of the comments made thus far on the results of this test. The only major problem seems to be that the car is not German.
Diesel has become more expensive and diesel cars may well be banned from city centres all over Europe soon. A petrol hybrid is suitable for both long and short journeys. A diesel is not.
I cannot comment on driving the new IS because I haven't done so but as my wife has owned three IS models from new (one 2000 and two 2500) I can say that since 1999 repairs outside normal service/tyres/brakes etc have been one sidelight bulb!
One battery was replaced under warranty.
Difficult to beat this record of reliability and costs.
Dealers are first class and do not have the seeming 'take it or leave it' attitude of some German vehicle dealers.
I sometimes take part in track days in my car. The IS is not suitable for this and it shouldn't be. It is a 4/5 seat car designed to deal with ordinary roads and motorways quietly and comfortably and at a price which is much less than say a loaded BMW 320i. Which it does.

Just as it says on the tin.

Regarding the negatives:

"Noisy CVT gearbox, no diesel, poor real-world fuel economy"

This shows that the reviewer in question has not even driven the car. The car does not have a CVT transmission. The planetary gear (which is the only transmission part) is not able to make a whining noise like old fashioned belt-driven CVTs.

To add "no diesel" would only be fair if similar German cars were marked down for having "no hybrid".

And how can you say the real-world fuel economy is poor when you have not even driven the bloody car!?

Once again Auto Express show their bias to German manufactures, I drove the new IS today and whilst I will grant it does not have the initial oomph of a turbo diesel in real world driving it is responsive enough for most. As to the so called annoying cvt gear box noise, the reviewers must have superman hearing as I had a 1 hour test drive and not once did I notice this so called annoying drone. My advise to anyone interested in the IS is take it for a test drive you're self and you decide. As for me I am trading in my 320D for a new IS 300H.

If you all hate AE, why are you here? Also, I think all the German cars deserve a higher score than these because they are more complete. German cars are more fun to drive than than equivalent non-German cars(especially Citroen DS5), has a less tacky looking interior, has a brilliant diversity of engines, and so on.

Last updated: 11 Feb, 2014