The IS saloon has been the top seller for Lexus since it was launched back in 1999 offering an alternative to the compact premium German saloons.
So what is new about the third generation IS? For a start it has much more eye-catching style. It really stands out from the field and this is perhaps a reflection of the growing confidence of the Lexus brand. They know where they are going.
This is also the first time that the IS has offered a full hybrid power train and the emission-cutting technology that Lexus has pioneered in its larger models. Power is provided by a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine combined with an electric motor. This gives the car a joint power output of 220bhp.
Many other features including the Shiftmatic CVT automatic transmission and regenerative braking help to ensure the best possible efficiency. The 300h returns up to 65mpg on the Combined Cycle and emits just 99g/km. These are remarkable figures for a car of its size and they translate into significant tax savings especially for the company driver.
Importantly, a hybrid has much lower Nitrogen oxides emissions than a diesel – and future EU taxation policy is likely to reflect this instead of just concentrating on carbon dioxide emissions, as it does at the moment. That will be bad news for diesel owners.
Despite these green credentials, the IS feels surprisingly powerful to drive and can accelerate to 62mph in 8.3 seconds with a top speed potential of 125mph. The car glides off almost silently from rest on pure electric power and switches to petrol power seamlessly once speed builds up. The F-sport version has an engineered roarty sound to add to the effect.
With rear-wheel drive and a balanced feel the IS now feels more dynamic than before. This is because of a revised suspension system that borrows from the larger GS model. There is a Drive Select system that adjusts the car’s responses to the driver’s preferences.
There are steering wheel paddles that allow you to keep the automatic in differing power bands for a more rewarding drive. Or you can just let the gearbox do its job in the background.
Inside, the crafting and layout are impeccable. There are lovely contoured leather seats, a chunky steering wheel and alloy pedals. All the materials are quality stuff and the ambience is that of a luxury car with a much higher price tag.
With its sharper styling and more responsive handling, the IS 300h is geared to attract more buyers to the benefits of hybrid power. It offers power and sophisticated electronics along with remarkable set-piece economy and emissions.
There are four grades – SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premium – and the price range is from £29,495 to £38,495. This compares well with the premium diesel competition. On average the hybrid costs around £3000 more than the V6 petrol IS250.
Few rivals can match the reputation for quality, reliability and owner satisfaction that Lexus has achieved in a relatively short space of years. The IS continues that tradition with faultless precision and throws down the gauntlet to the dominance of diesel.
LEXUS IS 300h
ENGINE – Hybrid power train with 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor giving a combined 220bhp.
PERFORMANCE – Accelerates to 62mph in 8.3 seconds, top speed potential of 125mph
ECONOMY – Up to 65mpg on Combined Cycle
EMISSIONS – From 99g/km carbon dioxide
PRICE – From £29,495