Lexus IS 300h review
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. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other options for drivers looking for clean tailpipe emissions – and the company-car tax benefits they bring. Buyers may also be tempted by self-charging hybrid models like the Infiniti Q50 and Ford Mondeo Hybrid.
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’s 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 Executive Edition, then running through Sport, Advance and F-Sport (also with optional Plus and Premier packs) to the range-topping Premier. All are comparatively well equipped as you’d expect from Lexus, although while the Executive Edition includes a seven-inch display, six-speaker stereo and reversing camera, you don’t get navigation.
You do get a full safety package, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and traffic-sign recognition, as well as four driving modes, a reversing camera, heated seats and 17-inch alloys. Sport trim brings satellite navigation, bigger wheels and black body styling parts, while the Advance has navigation and leather upholstery without the more aggressive Sport styling. The various F-Sport models add more sporty details and features with the option of adjustable suspension, while the Premier features an upgraded navigation system with 10.3-inch screen and 15-speaker audio.
On the road, the Lexus 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.