Lexus IS 300h

4 Dec, 2012 7:15pm Tom Phillips

The all-new Lexus IS is due to arrive next year, and we've driven a prototype of the hybrid 3 Series rival


We'll have to wait until next year to deliver our definitive verdict, but the new hybrid IS 300h is a bold move in the diesel-loving UK. It’s clear this Lexus isn’t designed to be a sports car, but when it arrives it’ll have a competitive kit tally. And the petrol-electric powertrain gives a level of quiet comfort that a 2.0-litre diesel simply can’t match.

The all-new third-generation Lexus IS goes on sale next summer, and Auto Express has driven a near-production-ready prototype to see what the BMW 3 Series rival has in store.

Lexus provided a current IS for comparison and, when the two are parked side-by-side, it’s clear the new car retains the outgoing model’s compact proportions.

When the disguise is peeled off, we’re expecting a far more aggressive design, with Lexus’ chrome-rimmed spindle grille on the nose. Sharply styled headlights, with an L-shaped LED strip, will also feature.

Sit behind the wheel, and you realise the seats are placed lower – 20mm to be precise – for a slightly sportier driving position. The chunky steering wheel is more upright than before, too, and behind it are new, fully virtual dials borrowed from the company’s LFA supercar.

In a bold move, Lexus has ditched diesel power in favour of this newly developed IS 300h model. It mixes a 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to send about 210bhp to the rear wheels via a CVT box. Official figures have yet to be released, but the hybrid should be the class’s cleanest car, with around 65mpg and 99g/km emissions. It’s also likely to outperform rivals, doing 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds.

What we can say for sure is that the new drivetrain offers impeccable refinement. It’s quiet and smooth, especially when you compare it to some rivals’ noisy four-cylinder diesels. Interestingly, a new Active Sound Control system plays synthesised engine noise into the cabin, but as you hear real and synthesised noises at the same time, it sounds as though you’re being followed by a motorbike. We switched it off.

Our F Sport model had sports suspension and 18-inch alloys. The ride felt quite firm, although it wasn’t crashy or uncomfortable over bumpy roads. The handling is much improved, but it doesn’t feel especially sporty, like a BMW.

Even so, this latest IS is shaping up to be a contender. The hybrid is likely to be the cleanest car in this class, and could be the most refined, too. If it’s priced right, it’ll worry Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Key specs

  • Price: £32,000 (est)
  • Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl/electric motor
  • Power: 210bhp (est)
  • Transmission: CVT, rear-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds (est)
  • Top speed: 130mph (est)
  • Economy/CO2: 65mpg/99g/km (est)
  • Equipment: Active Sound Control, TFT virtual dials, sports suspension
  • On sale: June