Long-term test review: Lexus IS 300h

4 Feb, 2015 10:30am Stuart Milne

Fifth report: Premium Lexus IS 300h is best enjoyed while relaxing in the back



Mileage: 13,359
Fuel economy: 43.3mpg

I find people’s opinions on cars enormously interesting, especially when it comes to upmarket models. Plenty wouldn’t pass comment on a cheap hatchback, but park something flash with a premium badge on your drive and everyone wants to chat.

Price is the great leveller here, because anyone can have a guess. And despite the £38,495 price tag of our Lexus IS 300h, friends, relatives and neighbours consistently think it costs more than £50,000. They might be on to something, though. 

The handsome exterior hides a cabin that looks, and feels, like it could easily cost more than £50,000. And the comfort it offers could come from a car costing even more. It’s almost at the level of a chauffeur car.

Despite our Premier model’s big wheels and low-profile tyres, the ride is smooth. Even the nasty ridged concrete surfaces on my local A-roads don’t upset the calmness. And then there’s the noise – or complete lack of it. Unless you’re accelerating hard and have the engine sound synthesiser turned up to 11, there’s almost total serenity in the cabin.


It is, by any measure, an extremely comfortable car in which to soothe away the miles. But during my time with the car, I’ve never felt the need to drive the IS just for the sake of it. It’s easy enough to drive, but the steering is too light for my tastes and lacks the feedback of a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class.

The brakes, which are connected to a host of regenerative charging apparatus, lack a positive feel. Although that’s not a problem around town, I find it hard to modulate the pedal when braking hard, especially in the wet. It can be tough to tell the line between braking too hard and not braking hard enough.

There’s plenty of space in the front, and passengers in the rear have enough space to relax. Lexus make some of the comfiest seats in the business, too.

So it’s a car that’s better to be driven in than to drive. Judging by Lexus’ superb performance in the Driver Power  2014 satisfaction survey, owners don’t find that a particular problem.

Lexus IS 300h: report 4

Fourth report: We need some supercar-style aural thrills from our Lexus IS 300h exec

Mileage: 10,045 miles
Real-world fuel economy: 43.3mpg

Anybody who knows me knows that I like a bit of noise in my life. Give me a car with a sports exhaust and I’m as happy as Larry – my inner child even requires me to hold on to the gears in every tunnel I come across.

However, our Lexus IS 300h doesn’t exactly quench my thirst for aural thrills. What I’d really like is the fantastic noise that comes as standard with the Lexus LFA supercar, but while the IS is never going to get a roaring 552bhp V10 under the bonnet, there may be a way to enjoy its Formula One-inspired soundtrack.

Our Premier model is loaded with kit, including a rotary switch to the right of the steering wheel labelled ‘ASC’. When I first got behind the wheel of the IS, this switch didn’t appear to do anything obvious. But when we visited Lexus Edgware Road for our ‘official’ handover, the sales exec explained it was the Active Sound Control switch, which pipes artificial engine noise into the cabin when in Sport mode. 

BMW offers a similar setting with some of its M cars, as does Ford in its Focus and Fiesta ST, but I don’t find the sound in the Lexus particularly pleasant. It’s a four-cylinder drone, matching engine revs rather than road speed, and it sounds pretty bland when you floor the throttle. Seeing as it’s a synthetic noise, it got me thinking: why not change it for something more pleasurable? 

Imagine if the IS sounded like the boxer-engined Toyota GT86, or went old school with the sound of a twin-cam AE86 Corolla. Or there’s the V8 rumble from the new Lexus RC F coupe, while the LFA’s growl at idle and scream at 9,000rpm would take it to another level.

In reality, the ASC switch is a gimmick that the IS 300h really doesn’t need. It’s at odds with the saloon’s excellent ability as a relaxed and comfortable cruiser. While it’s not the most involving car to drive, even in Sport mode there’s enjoyment to be had in making swift and near-silent progress. Plus, you don’t need the engine noise ringing around to remind you that you’re travelling fast.

At least there’s a bit of an LFA feel in the way the IS 300h looks. While some executive car makers engage in cloning to ensure their models carry the same corporate DNA, Lexus has managed to produce models that look different, but are clearly from the same stable. The LFA’s smooth nose and wide bodywork would be difficult to replicate in executive form anyway, but there are similarities to the IS in the lights and lower grilles, while the saloon’s digital cockpit also draws some inspiration from the supercar.

One thing that the LFA and the efficient IS 300h don’t share, though, is the running costs. A return of 43.3mpg from the hybrid is poorer than the best of 52.6mpg we achieved when we did some driver training, but part of that can be put down to a number of long-distance holiday trips that the car has made up north recently. These journeys mean our Lexus has now ticked over 10,000 miles, so a service
is due. Now, if I can only get the technician to reprogram the ASC system while he’s changing the oil...

Lexus IS 300h: report 3

We get some expert tips to squeeze maximum efficiency from relaxing Lexus IS 300h

Mileage: 5,289 miles 
Real world fuel economy: 52.6mpg

I guess I had it coming. In my last report on our Lexus IS 300h, I said the fuel economy was good, but could have been better. No sooner had the issue hit the shops than Lexus got in touch to offer me a session with a ‘hybrid guru’ to get the most out of the car’s petrol-electric drivetrain.

When the day came for my ‘training’, I was half expecting a sage old man draped in orange cloth to come my way, reciting zen-like mantras about economy. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. My instructor was Steve Croughan from DriveSense, one of the UK’s leading driver training organisations, and the one that provides Lexus dealers with the know-how to help customers get the most from their cars.

Steve has plenty of experience behind the wheel, and he’s a fan of the IS 300h. Like me, he finds it relaxing to drive, but he also loves trying to help owners extract the maximum mileage from their cars. So, with the trip computer reset and an average of 47.2mpg to beat, we headed out on a variety of roads to put his hybrid tips to the test.

The first change Steve made was to turn the dial on the centre console from Normal to Eco mode. I’ll admit I’ve mostly kept the car in Normal, but Steve recommended the switch. It helps the hybrid system maintain electric drive for as long as possible. The change does dull throttle response, but once you’re used to it, Eco mode offers around a five per cent improvement over Normal.

That was one practical change, and the other is to do some serious forward planning. While a two-second gap to the car in front is a reasonable space when driving, Steve recommended a larger distance. This gives the hybrid system plenty of opportunity to plough energy back into the battery as you coast to a halt. Indeed, the hybrid system can only recoup a certain amount of energy, and under heavy braking, some of this is lost.

Another of Steve’s recommendations was to keep your foot on the brake when waiting in traffic – some owners move their cars to park, but this uses more energy, as the IS doesn’t optimise the hybrid system when parked.

So how did I do? It’s too early to say for sure, but our brief journey saw the trip computer register 52.6mpg – that’s 5mpg better than before. Thanks Steve!

Lexus IS 300h: report 2

Our Lexus IS 300h compact exec is so easy to drive, our man thinks his baby son could manage it

Mileage: 3,120 miles Real world fuel economy: 47.2mpg

If you want your daily commute to be child’s play, then there’s no car better than the Lexus IS 300h. Indeed, if he could reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel, I’m sure my 18-month-old son could have a fair crack at driving it!

The Lexus is proving to be a relaxing companion, and it has a few gadgets to help take the strain out of driving. Keyless entry means you don’t need to fumble for the key to unlock the car, while the easy entry system moves the driver’s seat and steering wheel back to improve access. This does cut into rear passenger space, though, which is annoying when my son is strapped in and his feet are squashed up by the chair.

When you’re on the move, not many cars are as comfortable as the IS. The light steering is devoid of feedback, but you only need the lightest of touches to get the Lexus pointing in the right direction. And the petrol-electric drivetrain has plenty of power from a standstill, so it’s a front-runner in the traffic light grand prix.

It’s in town where the IS 300h really shines. The brakes are on the sharp side, but once you’re used to them, you adapt your driving to recoup as much energy as possible back into the battery. And the charge is reused as soon as you drive off, as the electric motor cuts in first, before the petrol engine. The switch from all-electric to hybrid drive is seamless, too, with no jerks from the drivetrain.

Our top-spec Premier model is pricey, but it’s loaded with goodies to keep you occupied. There are heated and cooled leather seats, sat-nav, cruise control and a comprehensive infotainment system. This features a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a WiFi connection, while the Mark Levinson sound system sounds great. But the joystick controller for the infotainment system is a bit fiddly to use on the move, and the set-up has had trouble detecting my music via the USB connection.

Our IS is also performing admirably at the pumps. We’ve managed a best of 47.2mpg, although economy varies depending on the kind of driving you’re doing. That was after a lot of urban miles, while a motorway run saw returns drop to 34.6mpg.

Either way, the IS 300h’s relaxed character means that while it’s not the most exciting car to drive, it’s still a pleasure to get behind the wheel. Now, how to get the keys back...

Lexus IS 300h: report 1

Handover experience shows why Lexus dealers are the best

Mileage: 1,436
Real-world mpg: 40mpg

Collecting a new car from a dealership should always be a satisfying experience, but how many dealers are so happy to see you that they give you flowers? If you buy a Lexus, then that’s exactly what you can expect.

Lexus dealers have come out on top in our Driver Power satisfaction survey every year since we started rating franchises in 2002, and with the arrival of our new IS 300h, we wanted to find out what it is that puts the brand ahead of its rivals. So we headed to Lexus Edgware Road to collect our car.

On arrival, we were greeted by customer service manager Brandon Horn, who was friendly and made sure we were kept topped up with refreshments during the whole handover experience. Soon we were ushered into a plush meeting room, where sales executive Indy Patel went through some details in the user manual and logbook. This is also the stage at which Indy would finalise the financial arrangements.

Then it was on to the handover, which happened in the bay immediately next door. Indy admitted that a lot of owners didn’t even realise that their new car was right there with them, and seeing their brand new model hidden under a fitted dust cover in a dedicated showroom was a pleasant surprise.

Peeling back the sheet revealed our shiny new Atlantic Blue IS 300h, and Indy then guided us through many of the car’s features. This was pretty exhaustive, as our Premier-spec model has a long list of standard equipment. 

There were no worries about getting a flat battery, as the handover bay has its own exhaust system that allows you to keep the car running with the bay doors shut. It also demonstrated how quiet the hybrid system is, even when the engine is running.

And then it was on to the test drive, as many customers like to take their new cars straight out of the showroom and on to the road. The streets of north-west London aren’t the greatest place to experience a new car, but our first spin did at least show off how refined the IS 300h is. The petrol-electric system is pretty quiet most of the time, and while those 18-inch alloys mean the ride is on the firm side, it’s not uncomfortable.

Once back at the dealer, Brandon rounded off the experience with flowers and a box of chocolates, and we were off to enjoy life at the wheel of our new car.

Unfortunately, less than 1,000 miles into our time with the Lexus, we picked up a cracked windscreen, and we had a less than glowing service from AA Auto Windscreens. The problem has been fixed now, however.

Insurance quote (below) provided by the AA for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

Key specs

  • On fleet since: January 2014
  • Price new: £38,495
  • Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl, 178bhp, plus 141bhp electric motor
  • CO2/tax: 109g/km/£20
  • Equipment: Atlantic Blue metallic paint (£610)
  • Insurance group/quote: Group: 34 Quote: £414
  • Mileage/economy: 13,359/43.3mpg
  • Any problems?: Cracked windscreen, fixed under insurance policy