Lexus IS 300h

12 Jul, 2013 9:00am Steve Fowler

Can the new Lexus IS 300h hybrid finally top the executive car market? We find out


Lexus has taken a refreshingly different approach to executive travel to produce a serious 3 Series rival. Quality, service and refinement are unbeatable, as is a lengthy kit list, while the hybrid system is super efficient. For most of the time, the CVT gearbox will add to the sense of calm, but it can frustrate with slow responses and an odd, engineered noise, which are at odds with tidy handling.

Lexus is approaching its first quarter century, but it hasn’t yet managed to loosen the stranglehold the Germans have on the executive car market. So could this new IS, driven here for the first time in the UK, be the car to do it?

There are some things that Lexus does better than anyone else – its dealers for example. You will not get better levels of service from any other car maker – fact. Lexus topped our annual Driver Power poll last year and is a regular at the top of customer satisfaction surveys.


So you’ll get pampered by the dealers, and the car does a fair job of spoiling you, too. This top spec hybrid IS costs perilously close to £40,000 – a swifter and similarly frugal BMW 320d costs considerably less. But the Lexus counters with bells, whistles and a few more bells. And its petrol engine means fuel costs less as will company car tax.

Everything from heated and ventilated front seats (leather, of course) to an excellent surround sound audio system come as standard. The navigation, phone, audio and many car systems are controlled by Lexus’s mouse-like Remote Touch system, which has evolved nicely and is now quite simple to use. Shame, then, that the system on our car was ponderously slow to the point of stopping and we couldn’t play audio from an iPhone without the music stuttering. Even the sat-nav sounded like it had hiccups.

The feeling of well-being is enhanced by incredible refinement on the move. Drive gently and you’ll barely hear a thing from under the bonnet, not least because the car will drive on electric power whenever it can. Wind and road noise are minimal, too. Ask for more power and the 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine springs into life, yet the whole system remains smoother and quieter than any diesel.

Lexus’s choice of Continuously Variable Transmission has caused much controversy, but again, if you drive gently, your only remark will be how slick and quiet it is.

But start to press on, and the CVT’s slow reactions get a bit frustrating – there’s a bit of a time lag before power arrives. Switch to Sport mode and not only will a rev counter appear where a gauge that showed whether you were in the charge, eco or power mode used to be, but electronic steps in the transmission will become more apparent, as will an engineered engine note.

It’s an odd noise – maybe beefier than you’d expect, but also too synthesized and, like the power response, a bit delayed.

The IS does feel quite sporty, though – there’s good grip, not much body roll and steering that’s quick to react if short on feel. And the ride is firm, but comfy around town, yet gets a bit jittery on the motorway.

Where this Lexus really scores again, though, is on quality and efficiency. The interior is superbly appointed and spacious, but the dash design is a bit haphazard. Everything works with slick precision, apart from the annoying indicators that too often don’t self cancel. Outside, the paint finish is glass-like and flawless.

Our 300-mile real world test drive resulted in a decent average of 45mpg – pretty good, if some way short of the claimed 60.1 average. However, company car buyers will love the low CO2 figures and petrol engine which will keep their bills low.

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Odd. If you're going to fit a 2.5 V6 into one version, why go to the trouble of sourcing and fitting a separate 2.5 four pot for the hybrid? There can't be much in it for fuel economy. I suppose there may be some technical reason with the hybrid drivetrain, but the RX SUVs have V6s with hybird...

I have a feeling the 2.5 four pot may be part of what lets it down.

the 2.5 four pot hybrid drivetrain is used elsewhere in Toyota range overseas, so assume economies of scale is reason.

AE obviously think a diesel would be a better option than this, but what if you are a private buyer, doing a low mileage, or simply prefer petrol power?

I'm going to kick my boss and his accountant until they buy this as our next company car.

That said the car looks just a little less dramatic with the number plate covering the new grille.

It's a Atkinson cycle 4pot, similar to US Camry Hybrid. It runs a fuel efficiency optimised cycle, and is not comparable to "normal" engines of the same capacity.

Am I the only one thinking the front light cluster is ugly? It is strinking, but in a totally confusing and non-elegant way... must be a trend, I find the recent Mercedes front lights equally ungainly and overdesigned.

This car will age terribly, its main problem is that it looks sh!t. They tried too hard with the styling. It will never drive better than a BMW or one of the other German rivals with its silly engine/gearbox combo. I WANT to like this car but lets be honest, in a few years time they will be bangers and you'll be able to pick one up for a grand.

Offcourse this conclusion is obvious, it is not a new Audi, so AE cannot come up with decent and objective testresults. In German and American carmagazines the new lexus is considered on par with the BMW 3 series. The hybrid engine and CVT transmission is thought to be a very good combination.
But combine 'CVT' with 'Lexus' and AE journalist have to write crap. The whole 'test' is nonsense. Drive the new 300H yourself and drive to Mercedes and BMW, get a 320 diesel or 220 CDI, judge yourself!

Toyota and Lexus must stop to give testcars to AE, this magazine is crap and sponsored, they are not objective at all.

LOL, 'in a few years time they will be bangers'. The reality is that in 10 years time they will still be looking great and performing perfectly well, as Lexus models tend to do. Meanwhile the Audi/Mercedes/BMW owners will be experiencing build quality and and other mechanical issues!!

If you look through Jack Rix's reviews, cars from the VW group always do extremely well - 5 stars for the VW Golf and Seat Leon recently, and the text is full of superlatives; most other marques usually score 3 and get criticised. Objective, independent reviews??

True. There's a 1999 IS200 up the street from me. Still looks good, No rust on it. Paintwork still shiny. Styling hardly dated at all. Compare that with the various dated and obviously rusty Mercs you see around, often several years newer too.

That makes sense. I suppose they could of used the bigger V6 with atkinson cycle from the RX, but wouldn't have hit the magic 99 g/km.

It looks better than anything BMW or Audi make though, its a nicer place to sit, its more efficient, its cleaner, its high spec'ed and as its destined to spend 99% of its life on the motorway like the forementioned cars what does it matter if it can handle corners with class leading style.
So to be honest I cant see a way the germans beat this car. Lexus everytime.

Oh and its a petrol, no horrible shakey noisey diesel noise to contend with which imo puts it even further in front.

Because AE are talking from their rear ends. Why would you want diesel over petrol?

"Oh i think I shall take the Massey Ferguson over a Ferrari yes"

Never seen a hack yet who can make an objective analysis of a hybrid. Having driven most cars it is just a case of getting used to what you drive. The rest is pretty much the emperors new clothes. What does "keen drivers should look else where" mean?
When the real public surveys come out the reality is somewhat different.

Ever thought perhaps people like better efficiency, lower tax and better overtaking power?

There is a reason why Diesel cars outsell petrol cars.

This is a rubbish review. Car drones on? Maybe you should stop trying to hit the 0-60 times on an abandoned airfield and actually drive it on the road where it counts.

Wrong, there are more petrol cars on the road than diesels!

You misunderstood my comment, I said diesels outsell petrols - which is true.

So its all about the money mainly is what you are saying not about the driveability of the car? Also that over taking performance is lost if your not in the right gear at the right revs on a diesel, no such issue with a petrol, its always on if you like. Also amazing over taking performance can be had from petrols just as well as diesels.

If you were to remove the fleet buyers/company cars I very much doubt diesels would be outselling the petrols.

When they start putting diesels in F1 cars and supercars - might be the day I would (as a 'petrol head') consider buying one. In the mean time petrols will always be my default choice. Petrol engines will always be more fun to drive with a much wider powerband. I have always found when driving (even powerful) diesel cars there is no entertainmaint to be had, and I really laugh at people who buy open top German cars powered by a clattery diesel - not good!

I agree you need a petrol if buying a convertible. But I just find petrols flat! I can't get enough of the torque offered from diesels. I mainly drive on the motorway, if I'm sat in the middle lane doing 70-80 and need to get into the outside lane, to safely keep up with the traffic, the acceleration of a diesel between 70-100 is not even comparable to sluggish petrols. I am a petrolhead, but for me, high speed acceleration is where I get my kicks, not ragging it from traffic lights around town.

At the end of the day, It's all down to personal preference - how you like the delivery of your power.

I agree with you in part heavryright, but it all depends what you engine you are driving with. I have had the pleasure of driving a 1 year old SL65 and i cant imagine there is a diesel engine out there that could offer that kind of over taking power. One second your doing 70, you blink and your doing 100. Of course a NA 2.0 petrol prob wont have the same torque in that range as a TD 2.0 but the power is accessible in the petrol at all times, not so in diesel. Also when the roads start to get bendy the diesels generally just panic a little and will get left behind by the petrol.

Lexus ditching Diesel Engines a Huge Mistake they will Regret, the Diesel market is Huge & growing fast, with fuel prices ever increasing & cheaper road tax on offer for new low emissions diesels people are turning to diesels like never before, plus new diesels are much more smoother refined & powerfull than before with lots ov torque a single or Twin Turbos & Now DSG Gearboxes they are really smooth & fast, i recently drove a BMW 520D M sport with a 8 speed DSG gearbox it wofts to 130mph in no time at all in full auto or u can use the padel shift aswell a pleasure to drive effortless, the only cars i'd want in petrol are sports cars eg, Porsche Ferrari etc everday has to be diesel for me im to lazy the long gear ratios do it for me i don't have work the gearbox as much as petrol, plus the economy.

This magazine has an obsession when it comes to licking German bottoms. Lexus continually year after year win owners polls based on quality, reliability, comfort, good service etc etc. The only thing that's boring about Lexus is that they are always so damn good. Keep your noisy german oil burners - who cares about half a second on a test circuit - try writing some sense, your as purile as those knobs on top gear! Grow up AE!

What a rubish review/magazine AE is, they have rewrite the article completely, less negative this time. They had to much comments with their first review a couple of months ago.
The Lexus is excellent, the hybrid the best their is on the market and the paint finish is absolutely fantastic (like all Lexus and Toyota's).
And if the hybrid is nothing for you, go and shop elsewere, the 3-series, C-class are good cars too. In this segment there are no bad cars only differences in branding and imago.

Yep. It would have been nice too if they'd used those couple of months to gen up on the technology and explain how the epicyclic planetary gearset is able to mimic fixed ratios.

Those of us in the know realise it's not actually a CVT in the traditional sense, and in fact acts as a single fixed gear with variable input sources. So how does it pretend to be otherwise?

This car looks much better than the current Lexus IS, really good looking and sleek. I think it is going to sell really well, but it is still not enough to tempt me away from purchasing a new BMW 4 series next year. Hope they make a coupe version of this car as well.

This IS300h is faster than a c250 cdi. Both cars weigh the same. C250 cdi is exaggerated at 7.1 seconds while lexus claims theirs is 8.4 seconds and it still wins! hahahahahaha

youve probably driven crappy petrols then! Petrols are faster than diesels, FACT

"executive car" "£38k" + "four cylinder" = fail.

How hard would it have been to add a couple more cylinders, you know, like the original IS200 or the mk2 IS250 had..?

Key specs

  • Price: £38,495
  • Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl Hybrid
  • Transmission: CVT automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Power: 178bhp petrol engine, plus 41bhp electric motor
  • 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
  • Top speed: 125mph (limited)
  • Economy: 60.1 mpg
  • CO2: 109 g/km
  • Equipment: Sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB, Surround sound, heated/ventilated leather seats
  • On sale: Now