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
Lexus is trying hard to make more of an emotional connection with its customers, and the stunning new design of the Lexus IS is an important part of that. The spindle front grille ties it in with the rest of the Lexus family, but the boomerang-style LED running lights, upswept side sills and sculpted rear lights are specific to the IS. Go for the F Sport trim and you get larger 18-inch alloys, a unique finish for the grille and deeper bodywork. On the inside, the quality is superb, while the overall design is similar to the CT200h. F Sport models get a speedometer that slides to one side revealing a digital screen, just like the LFA supercar.
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 has an excellent reputation for reliability and consistently finishes near the top of our Driver Power reliability survey. It's parent company Toyota has had some well-publiscised trouble with recalls in recent years, but Lexus has a much cleaner track record. Despite the added complexity of its hybrid powertrain, the 300h should be particularly reliable to run. That's because there's no clutch, starter or alternator are (they are integrated into the hybrid system) so none of these components need servicing or replacing during the car's lifetime, avoiding potentially costly bills. The Hybrid's battery has also been designed to last the lifetime of the car.
With dimensions 75mm longer than its predecessor (70mm of which has been added to the wheelbase and 5mm to the front overhang) and 10mm wider, the new IS has grown slightly inside. Thanks to the extra length in the wheelbase and a new thinner front seat design rear legroom has increased by 85mm. The boot is slightly bigger too, so even with the batteries underneath the the floor in the hybrid model there's still 450-litres of space and 60:40 split folding rear seats. New multimedia services should make everyday tasks that little easier - for example a new parking navigation service delivers live information on pricing and availability in over 42,000 car parks throughout Europe. A sensational 15-speaker, 835W Mark Levinson stereo is fitted as standard on top-spec Premier models, and can be added as an option on F Sport and Luxury trim levels.
With claimed fuel economy of around 32mpg, the IS 250 won't be particularly cheap to run, but then Lexus only expects it to sell in small numbers. The big-seller will be the IS 300h, which has been designed to appeal strongly to fleet buyers, thanks to its class-leading economy and emissions of 65.7mpg and 99g/km respectively. In fact, factor in its lower maintenance costs, and Lexus claims the 300h will cost you nearly £1,000 less per year, for the first three years, than an Audi A4 2.0 TDI SE. But beware, while the tax breaks are excellent you're unlikely to get anywhere near the 300h's claimed economy in real-world driving.