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
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.