Lexus IS review
The Lexus IS is designed to take on the very best cars in the compact executive sector
German companies dominate the compact executive sector, but there are alternatives. Step forward the Lexus IS: a four-door saloon that is intended to go toe-to-toe with cars like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. The range includes a trio of engines, but the IS 200d is the most obvious candidate in this sector of the market. It features a 2.2-litre diesel and has CO2 emissions of 134g/km. Other options include the IS 250, which uses a 2.5-litre V6 petrol, and the storming 411bhp IS F. 2013 sees the arrival of an all-new model, which ditches the diesel engine in favour of an IS300h petrol-electric hybrid model.
Our choice: IS 200d F Sport
The second generation IS was launched in 2006 and still looks modern today. Its sharply creased flanks and distinctive rear light clusters ensure it won’t look out of place in a corporate car park. Racy F Sport models stand out thanks to a mesh grille, rear spoiler, LED daytime running lights and bigger 18-inch alloys. Inside the cabin has a similar layout to the LS limousine, so it's well built, but rather bland.
In a sector dominated by cars that match agile handling with excellent refinement and comfort, the IS doesn’t really cut it. The gearshift on manual cars is clunky and the diesel model has a narrow power band and tall gearing, so you have to work it hard to make the most of its performance. Unfortunately, diesels don’t even come with the option of an auto. At least refinement is good and the suspension on standard cars (F Sport models get a stiffer set-up) provides decent comfort. The 2.5-litre V6 is smooth but thirsty.
Lexus has a brilliant reputation for reliability and while parent company Toyota has endured its fair share of woes on this front, you can expect the IS to be a reliable choice. It’s safe, too. Under the old Euro NCAP rating system the car was awarded an impressive five stars for adult protection, four for child protection and two for pedestrian safety. It features no fewer than eight airbags, including knee bags for both the driver and front passenger as standard.
The Lexus IS is beginning to show its age here as there isn’t as much adjustment available to the driving position as you get in cars like the VW Passat or BMW 3 Series. In the back a combination of the car’s sloping roofline and large transmission tunnel compromises passenger space. You do get a useful 398-litre boot but even this isn’t perfect because the fixed rear seats don’t fold flat, which makes carrying longer items a problem.
The diesel Lexus IS makes the most sense and it’s easy to see why. Official CO2 emissions of 134g/km and claimed economy of 55.4mpg make it the most frugal model in the line-up. However, the latest European rivals are both cleaner and more efficient. The 2.5-litre V6 will deliver real-world economy of around 30mpg and a hefty annual bill for road tax thanks to its CO2 output of 194/km.