Lexus IS 300h review

The Lexus IS 300h compact executive saloon that stands out in its class as a tax-efficient company-car choice

£33,200 - £42,900
Hybrid

Pros

  • Superb reliability
  • Cheap company-car tax
  • Very comfortable and refined

Cons

  • Disappointing MPG
  • Intrusive CVT gearbox
  • Tricky infotainment system
Car type Fuel economy CO2 emissions 0-62mph
Hybrid 44-49mpg 104-109g/km 8.4s

The Lexus IS is a compact executive saloon first launched in 1999 as Japan’s response to the success of German rivals such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. It arrived with a sporty rear-drive chassis and punchy six-cylinder power, but never quite managed to upset the British love affair with German badges and style. In the recent past, Lexus has tried to bolster its sporty pretensions with cars like the high-performance V8-powered IS F super-saloon, at the same time as offering diesel and hybrid powered options.

While European rivals continue to excel in the high-performance sector, Lexus has pulled its horns in to concentrate on the "self-charging hybrid" powertrain message, where it has a long-standing advantage that stems from parent company Toyota’s industry-leading work with the Toyota Prius.

As it’s a 'self-charging' hybrid, the Lexus IS 300h has no requirement for plugs or cables, so owning one is a more straightforward proposition than running a PHEV, which will need connecting to the national grid on a regular basis. Compared to a PHEV or electric car, the Lexus hybrid system has much smaller batteries, which are charged by the car’s own petrol engine, but the downside is you only get a mile or so of electric-only motoring.

That means you can’t contemplate a petrol/diesel-free commute as you might with a PHEV, because the Lexus’ electric motor is designed to work primarily in concert with the petrol engine. Simply put, if the electric motor can do some of the work, the engine needs to burn less fuel for its share of the effort – reducing official MPG and tailpipe emission figures, while retaining sporty performance.

All the Lexus IS 300h models come with the same 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine and electric motor combination, providing a combined maximum output of 220bhp. They’re all rear-wheel-drive and use a CVT transmission – a relatively unusual type of automatic gearbox that has distinctive driving characteristics, but which is said to be always optimised for greatest efficiency.

You can order your IS 300h in a variety of trim levels, starting with the entry-level IS, then running through F Sport and the range-topping Takumi. All are comparatively well equipped as you’d expect from Lexus, and a variety of option packs are available, so you can get just the equipment you need.

A full safety package is standard across the board, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and traffic-sign recognition, as well as 17-inch alloys, front and rear parking sensors, seven-inch sat nav, a six-speaker stereo and dual-zone air-conditioning.

The F Sport model adds sportier styling, sports-tuned suspension, eight-way power-adjustable seats, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror The Takumi features an upgraded navigation system with a 10.3-inch screen and 15-speaker audio, as well as 18-inch alloys, blind-spot monitoring, a reversing camera, ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

On the road, the IS 300h is a rewarding drive, with plenty of grip and power. It doesn’t feel as lithe and agile as premium European rivals, though, and the CVT gearbox makes acceleration seem sluggish and strained – in spite of a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds. The cabin is practical, roomy and luxurious, although the hybrid batteries compromise boot space compared to more traditional rivals.

The Lexus hybrid’s official emissions figures mean it offers tax benefits compared to diesel rivals you might be considering, and with its luxury and performance the IS 300h can be a rewarding choice. However, our experience suggests real-life consumption may be some way off the claimed figures, and the car isn’t clean enough to qualify for London Congestion Charge exemption or any government grants.

For a more detailed look at the Lexus IS 300h, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.