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.