Major revisions to Lexus’ compact exec make it a better IS – but still no rival to the best
Petrol-electric powertrains have always been Lexus’ preferred alternative to diesel. For a long time the company looked out of step with the world as a result – but all of a sudden it’s started to look a lot like it knew something the rest of us didn’t all along.
These engines are smooth and quiet compared to diesels, and that should be ideal for the air of refined luxury Lexus stands for. Unfortunately, it also stands for CVT auto boxes, and this means a wildly soaring engine note when you get on the gas.
So it’s refined, but not all the time. Easy as she goes and the engine is quiet, obedient and smooth as silk. But a 220bhp output gives you the right to expect good things to happen.
They do, a bit, but it’s too little too late. Instant throttle response is the opposite of what happens – first you have to wait while the CVT unit winds itself up then, with the 2.5-litre hybrid engine now whining away in a spinning froth, you at last get a bit of action. We’re not sure if it really feels like 220bhp’s worth of action, but by this stage it’s a relief just to start going faster.
Lexus IS300h Premier
Engine: 2.5-litre, petrol with electric motor
Torque: 221lb ft
Top speed: 125mph
Fuel economy: 60.1mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 107g/km, 18%
So there’s definitely a compromise to the car’s refinement there. Which is a shame, because aside from those regular bursts of frenzied revving the cabin is a predictably exquisite place to be. Material quality is immaculate, as is the standard of fit and finish.
There’s a fly in the ointment, though. The company is showing signs of becoming bolder with its vehicle design, but it’s been frustratingly conservative at times with the IS’ switchgear. The overall design looks a bit last-generation and, in particular, the mouse-style multimedia controller makes you wonder if anyone at Lexus has ever actually sat in a BMW. If you can’t beat ’em, guys, join ’em.
The IS certainly can’t beat the 3 Series for dynamics, but here Lexus does appear to be trying to join ‘em as it’s much better than the previous model. The steering has plenty more in the way of feel and accuracy, and the suspension tells you way more about what it’s up to. You can really enjoy driving this car – even if the fun will always be tempered by a colossal ‘if only’ followed by a stream of gearbox-related contumely.
It’s sometimes said that Bob Dylan has a voice that’s basically terrible – but perfect for singing Bob Dylan songs. In the same sort of way, this new IS is an absolutely perfect IS… but, when you look at what Jag, Audi and BMW are doing, it’s not that much of a modern compact exec.
Lexus goes its own way with this car. It did that with hybrid engines and look what happened, so don’t let’s judge – but beautifully carried off though the IS is, we think it’s out of step with the rest of the market, and not the other way round.