Advertisement
In-depth reviews

Lexus IS review

The Lexus IS is a compact executive saloon aimed at the BMW 3 Series. It takes a different approach with its hybrid powertrain

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Price
£32,279 to £43,579
  • Low emissions, comfortable seats, bold styling
  • Fiddly infotainment system, annoying CVT gearbox, poor real-world fuel economy

Lexus is an executive car maker that forges its own path, and the IS saloon is all the evidence you need of its unique selling points. Like the rest of the range, there are no diesel versions on offer, and instead you get hybrid drive to help you cut your running costs. The styling forges its own path, too, with plenty of angular lines and sharp detailing, and the cabin has a high-class finish.

Advertisement - Article continues below

• Best executive cars to buy

The first Lexus IS arrived in 1999, although it was sold in Japan as the Toyota Altezza from 1998. The IS 200 saloon came exclusively with a 2.0-litre straight-six, while the IS 300 estate came with a 3.0-litre engine. The Mk2 IS arrived in 2005, and this time around it came with sharper styling and a diesel was also offered for a brief period, although the estate was dropped and an IS C convertible was added. This model also spawned the first high-performance Lexus, the IS F, which featured a 5.0-litre V8 and eight-speed auto box to rival models like the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

But it was all change again in 2013 when the IS Mk3 arrived. With parent firm Toyota expanding its hybrid aspirations across the range, the IS 300h saw a hybrid system debut in the compact saloon for the first time, and the diesel was banished to the history books. The Mk3 is the current IS model on sale, and the range was updated in 2016 with slightly fresher looks and new kit. The IS is only sold as a four-door saloon - if you want something different, your only alternative is the Lexus RC coupe.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The range used to comprise two models, the hybrid IS 300h and the IS 200t four-cylinder turbo petrol. The 200t has since been discontinued, however, leaving the 2.5-litre petrol-electric IS 300h as the sole model in the range.

Both cars have auto gearboxes, the hybrid featuring a CVT-style box, while the turbo has an eight-speed auto.

There are five trim levels on offer: Executive Edition, Sport, Advance, F Sport and Premier. The Executive Edition is pitched towards company car users, as it's well equipped but has low emissions to boost its Benefit In Kind tax rating. At the top of the range, the Premier model is fully loaded with extras, with electric everything and a host of hi-tech kit. F Sport models are the sporty variants, with sharper looks and lowered suspension to boost their appeal.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The only natural rival for the Lexus IS used to be the Infiniti Q50, as this was the only other compact executive saloon that comes with hybrid drive.

Advertisement - Article continues below

However, the IS now faces an increasing number of hybrid rivals such as the BMW 3 Series 330e and the Mercedes C-Class C 350 e though. Both these carsh are plug-in models, allowing them to offer greater flexibility and economy than the IS, together with lower company car tax rates.

While the BMW and Mercedes PHEVs are more expensive than the IS they, unlike the Lexus, qualify for Category 2 of the Government's plug-in car grant. The £2,500 discount this effectively provides means you should be able to bag a 330e or C 350 e for the same price as a mid-spec IS.

The Lexus IS is a desirable, stylish and well-built alternative to more mainstream compact executive saloons. Rather than copying the competition, Lexus has forged its own path with the IS, and that's what makes it appealing to many buyers.

It’s brimming with kit, and the interior is crafted from sumptuous materials that wouldn’t look out of place in a more expensive executive car. The exclusive use of hybrid drive over diesel means it's an attractive proposition for company car buyers, and means the IS is a quiet and refined place to spend time. However, it's not the most exciting car to drive.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

This car scored 3.8 on our sister site DrivingElectric

Engines, performance and drive

The Lexus falls short of its German rivals for handling and the CVT means driving the IS isn't as fun as it could be

The  IS uses an updated version of its predecessor's chassis, which is now more rigid and uses slightly firmer suspension (the F Sport model is firmer still) with revised geometry. The result is excellent stability in the corners, plenty of grip and very little body roll. Well-weighted steering and strong brakes inspire confidence, too - the problem though is the lackluster engine line-up.

The IS 300h is smooth and refined, but attempt to extract any performance and the whining CVT gearbox, lazy throttle response and sluggish acceleration (despite an output of 220bhp) spoil the fun. The IS 200t is more responsive, but never feels particularly sporty. In an attempt to up the fun, there are wheel mounted paddles for both models – but you’re better off leaving the IS to its own devices. A BMW 3 Series is more entertaining on a twisty back road, as is a Jaguar XE.

Engines

Lexus IS buyers used to get a choice of two engines: the efficient IS 300h hybrid capable of 67mpg, and a turbocharged petrol called the IS 200t. The IS 200t has now gone the way of the discontinued V6-engined IS 250, however, meaning it's a hybrid or nothing.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

That's not too much of a disaster though, as we have previously recommended the IS 300h hybrid as the best model in the range. It’s not the smoothest ride, and the CVT gearbox can prove frustrating if you’re in a hurry, but on the whole, it’s a capable, efficient and quiet executive car.

The 300h has the ability to run on electric power alone around town to help save precious petrol, though you’ll struggle to get more than a couple of miles out of the batteries before it defaults to the combustion engine. 

The IS 200t petrol on the other hand, struck us as a compromised choice. It was the fastest model on offer, but the slow automatic gearbox couldn't compete with slicker shifting rivals, while combined fuel economy can’t compare to its hybrid sibling.

MPG, CO2 and Running Costs

No diesel option, but the efficient hybrid will please cost-conscious company car drivers

If you’re looking for a cost-effective company car, the Lexus IS is a fine bet. The petrol-electric drivetrain in the IS 300h means it doesn’t suffer the same three per cent tax penalty as its diesel rivals, while lower CO2 emissions ensure your annual bills will be kept low. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

Another variety of IS that is no longer offered is the entry-level IS 300h SE, which benefited from rock-bottom 97g/km CO2 emissions and 67.3mpg economy. The IS lineup now starts with the Executive Edition though, which emits 104g/km of CO2 and returns 61.4mpg. That may not be a huge increase, but the extra CO2 is enough to bump the IS 300h up a company car tax band.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

If hybrid isn’t your cup of tea, you'll have to look on the used market, as the IS 200t turbocharged petrol is no longer offered. Either way, its 39.2mpg economy and 167g/km CO2 emissions meant it was something of a niche choice - not least when a BMW 320i will do 48.7mpg, and a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo-petrol Audi A4 emits just 126g/km of CO2. The Lexus’s list price is a little on the high side compared to the alternatives, but it gets you a load of kit as standard.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The IS will cost you between £115 and £135 in CO2-based first-year road tax depending on which trim you chose, as bigger alloy wheels lead to slightly higher CO2 emissions. This bill is typically bundled into on-the-road prices.

After that first year, the IS' hybrid status means you'll get a £10 discount on your annual tax bill, which will stand at £130. Note if you choose a top-spec IS costing over £40,000 (or manage to add enough options to a lowlier model to raise its price up to or past this point), you'll pay an extra £310 a year from years two to six of the car's life.

Insurance groups

Insurance groups for the Lexus IS start at around 31, with a mid-spec IS 300h Luxury sits in group 33. For comparison, a basic BMW 3 Series starts around group 28, rising to 43 for a 335d xDrive Luxury.

Depreciation

The Lexus fares pretty well in terms of depreciation, with even top-spec models retaining between 45 and 48 per cent of their value after three years. 

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The BMW 3 Series is – if anything – a little worse. Values for BMW’s big seller range from 39 per cent for the thirstier petrols, to almost 50 per cent for the most efficient, entry-level diesels. Most fall in the 42 to 45 per cent bracket, though.

Interior, design and technology

The Lexus IS is beautifully built, with some of the most comfortable seats in the business. It’s let down by a dated infotainment system, though.

The Lexus IS goes its own way in the compact executive saloon class, with angular styling that takes some of its inspiration from the LFA supercar. It has similar dimensions to its rivals, but overall it seems longer and narrower, and the dynamic detailing really sets it apart.

It’s a striking design, there’s no doubt about that, and a 2017 facelift has brought it right up to date with the rest of the Lexus range. It's not as striking as the Alfa Romeo Giulia, but it's still one of the most distinctive cars in this class.

Inside, the Lexus is similar to other models in the range. That means you get a stepped dashboard with a central display screen that’s set well back, decent-quality plastics and a smattering of satin silver trim. Cars fitted with sat-nav add a joystick that’s used to guide the cursor around the screen. It may sound like a good idea in principle, but in reality it’s terribly hard to navigate – and the infotainment graphics are showing their age.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

All versions bar the entry-level Executive Edition model include sat-nav as standard – so in our eyes it’s worth upgrading to Sport for an additional £1,000.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

That said, all cars come with ‘Lexus media display’ and a six-speaker stereo. Cruise control, keyless entry and dual zone climate control are all included, too. A superb Mark Levinson stereo is available as an optional extra across the range. 

The problem for us is the system used to control the car’s functions. Pairing your phone is easy enough, but setting the sat-nav is a nightmare. It’s unreasonably difficult to navigate using the mouse-like cursor – and while this is likely to become easier with practice, it’s just not as intuitive as the BMW or Audi equivalent.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

Opt for the popular IS 300h hybrid and you’ll sacrifice 30 litres of bootspace due to the bulky batteries under the floor

There’s lots of space up front in the Lexus IS, though it does get a bit tighter in the back. The seats are plush and supremely comfortable over long journeys – but if you’ve got a bad back it might be worth avoiding the firmer F Sport models. 

Lexus' new parking navigation service means finding a car park is no longer a hassle, either – it also displays price information so you can easily avoid extortionate prices if you're driving in a busy city.

Size

The Lexus IS is similar in size to cars like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class – though its sharp lines make it look a bit more compact. Inside you’ll find less headroom due to the sloping roofline, and unfortunately there’s no practical estate model. If you want a Lexus with more boot space, you’ll need to look at the NX SUV.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

The current Lexus IS is a big improvement over the previous-gen car. It’s bigger inside thanks to thinner front seats – resulting in more rear legroom - though it's still not enough for tall passengers. It’s a shame Lexus couldn’t make the transmission tunnel a bit smaller, though, as it makes things a bit tricky for those in the middle seat. There’s more space up front, and plenty of room for you to scatter bits and bobs around the cabin. 

Boot 

Back when it was on sale, the standard IS 200t’s boot was on a par with all its main rivals – matching the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4’s 480-litre load area. However, the fuel-efficient IS 300h hybrid, now the only powertrain option, sacrifices 30 of those litres to make room for the bulky batteries. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does dent the IS’s otherwise decent practicality somewhat.

All models come with split-fold rear seats, allowing for easy transportation of longer items. There’s no versatile estate model unfortunately, handing yet another advantage to German rivals.

Reliability and Safety

The Lexus IS topped the 2015 Auto Express Driver Power owner satisfaction survey

The Lexus IS is one of the best cars on sale, according our Driver Power survey respondents.. It topped our owner satisfaction survey in 2015, and still managed 11th place in 2018, despite having been on sale since 2013. Owners praise the IS for its running costs, drivetrain, interior comfort and exterior styling. Only its infotainment score let it down slightly; having experienced the IS's frustrating user interface, that's a criticism we understand.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The IS uses a variation of the hybrid system from the Toyota Prius, and it’s covered by its own eight-year warranty.

Like its rivals, the IS has a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating. It comes with eight airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assistance, traffic sign recognition and auto-dip headlights as standard.

Warranty

Unlike parent company Toyota, which offers a five-year warranty, Lexus only covers its cars for three years or 60,000 miles. However, the IS 300h's hybrid components and batteries are covered for five years or 60,000 miles. In addition to the standard warranty, owners get a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty and three-year paintwork warranty.

Rivals offer similar cover, with both the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 getting a three-year warranty.

Servicing

Lexus owners shouldn’t have to spend much time at their dealer, not least because it was voted as one of the most reliable cars in the 2015 Driver Power survey, and was still doing well in our 2018 poll.

Servicing is required once a year or every 15,000 miles – whichever comes first. Necessary work alternates between intermediate and full services, costing £265 and £495 respectively. At 40,000, 60,000 and 100,000 miles the IS needs a bit more attention, with ‘Full 40’, 'Full 60' and ‘Full 100’ checks.

This car scored 3.8 on our sister site DrivingElectric

Advertisement

Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    300h 4dr CVT Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £32,279

Most Economical

  • Name
    300h 4dr CVT Auto [Comfort Pack]
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £33,479

Fastest

  • Name
    300h 4dr CVT Auto [Comfort Pack]
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £33,479
Advertisement

More on IS

New 2020 Lexus IS revealed with sharp new looks and updated tech
Lexus IS
16 Jun 2020

New 2020 Lexus IS revealed with sharp new looks and updated tech

Brand’s Mercedes C-Class rival gets redesign inside and out and updated infotainment, but UK launch not happening
Used Lexus IS review
Used Lexus IS - front
Lexus IS Saloon
8 Jun 2018

Used Lexus IS review

A full used buyer’s guide on the Lexus IS covering the Mk2 IS (2005-2013) and the Mk3 IS (2013-date)
Lexus IS vs Jaguar XE
Lexus IS vs Jaguar XE - header
Lexus IS
20 Feb 2017

Lexus IS vs Jaguar XE

The new Lexus IS adds more style to its hybrid package, but can it beat the Jaguar XE?
Advertisement
New Lexus IS facelift 2017 review
Lexus IS 2017 - front tracking
Lexus IS Saloon
19 Jan 2017

New Lexus IS facelift 2017 review

The facelifted Lexus IS should not be forgotten in the crowded compact executive market class
New 2017 Lexus IS facelift: UK prices announced
Lexus IS 2016 front
Lexus IS
15 Dec 2016

New 2017 Lexus IS facelift: UK prices announced

Refreshed Audi A4 rivals goes on sale in January from £29,995, with new tech, a visual redesign and tweaked suspension
Compact Executive Car of the Year 2016: Jaguar XE
New Car Awards 2016: Compact Executive Car of the Year - Jaguar XE
Jaguar XE
6 Jul 2016

Compact Executive Car of the Year 2016: Jaguar XE

The Jaguar XE is the 2016 Auto Express Compact Executive Car of the Year, with the BMW 3 Series and Lexus IS commended
Lexus IS 200t F Sport 2015 review
Lexus IS 200t F Sport front
Lexus IS Saloon
26 Nov 2015

Lexus IS 200t F Sport 2015 review

Lexus is known for hybrids but can the exclusively petrol powered IS 200t bring its compact exec closer to the BMW 3 Series?
Lexus IS 200t to get 241bhp turbo petrol engine
Lexus IS 200t first pic
Lexus IS
26 Jun 2015

Lexus IS 200t to get 241bhp turbo petrol engine

The Lexus IS 200t goes on sale later this year, with four-cylinder turbo from NX crossover
Luxurious new Lexus IS 300h Advance announced
Lexus IS Saloon
7 Apr 2015

Luxurious new Lexus IS 300h Advance announced

Luxurious Advance trim revealed, alongside more efficient hybrid engine
Advertisement
Long-term test review: Lexus IS 300h
Lexus IS Saloon
4 Feb 2015

Long-term test review: Lexus IS 300h

Fifth report: Premium Lexus IS 300h is best enjoyed while relaxing in the back
Mercedes C300 BlueTEC Hybrid vs Lexus IS 300h
Mercedes C-Class
12 Nov 2014

Mercedes C300 BlueTEC Hybrid vs Lexus IS 300h

Mercedes promises to mix luxury and efficiency with its new hybrid C-Class - here it takes on the Lexus IS 300h
Advertisement
Lexus IS 250 F Sport review
Lexus IS F Saloon
13 Sep 2013

Lexus IS 250 F Sport review

We try out the raciest version of the Lexus IS compact executive saloon – the 250 F Sport
Lexus IS 250
Lexus IS 250 front tracking
Lexus IS Saloon
8 Apr 2013

Lexus IS 250

We get behind the wheel of the all-new Lexus IS saloon, ahead of its arrival on UK roads in the summer
New Lexus IS revealed
New Lexus IS front three-quarters
Lexus IS
15 Jan 2013

New Lexus IS revealed

Full details and pictures of the all-new Lexus IS, following its public debut at the Detroit Motor Show
Lexus IS C (2010-2015) review
Lexus IS C front tracking
Lexus IS Convertible
19 Jun 2012

Lexus IS C (2010-2015) review

With the Lexus IS C, the Japanese maker drops the top of its popluar saloon, but raises the price without living up to expectation
Advertisement
Lexus IS F review
Lexus IS F Saloon
11 Jun 2012

Lexus IS F review

The Lexus IS F is the firm's first pure performance car, and its big V8 and rear-drive chassis make for an entertaining combination
Lexus IS F
2011 Lexus IS F
Lexus IS Saloon
23 Dec 2010

Lexus IS F

Lexus' flagship V8 powered four-door saloon gets a range of updates for 2011, but how does it stack up to the competition? We get behind the wheel to …
Lexus IS 200d
Lexus IS 200d
Lexus IS Saloon
3 Dec 2010

Lexus IS 200d

Diesel engine cleans up compact exec challenger
Lexus IS F
Lexus IS F
Lexus IS Saloon
15 Mar 2010

Lexus IS F

Revised version of Japanese firm’s super saloon is sharper to drive than ever
Lexus IS 250C SE-L
Lexus IS Convertible
14 Aug 2009

Lexus IS 250C SE-L

Is folding hard-top version of compact exec a Brit hit? We reveal all.
Lexus IS 250C
Lexus IS Saloon
26 Jun 2009

Lexus IS 250C

Japanese firm raises the roof for style and quality with folding hard-top compact exec
Advertisement
Lexus IS 250C
Lexus IS250C
Lexus IS Saloon
2 Jun 2009

Lexus IS 250C

Does coupe-cabriolet finally add some fun to exec range?
Cadillac CTS vs Lexus IS
Lexus Caddy group
Lexus IS Saloon
26 Sep 2008

Cadillac CTS vs Lexus IS

The dramatic new CTS saloon promises to put US giant Cadillac on the map in this country. We see if it’s a better choice than the Lexus IS