First Drive: Lexus IS 300h
Sector: Compact executive Price: £24,495–£38,485 Fuel: 60.1–65.7mpg CO2: 99–109g/km
Forget the sub-100g/km for a moment and take a look at the styling. Different. Striking. Bold. That first one is key, as really it’s pretty difficult to get too excited by the Germanic triplets that this new Lexus IS300h is hoping to steal sales from.
Faced with the reality of either the default choices of an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, all with something diesely under their respective bonnets, the Lexus does rather stand out. Thank that bold styling, those overly fussy front lights and an interior that might look all hi-tech and interesting now, but will have all the appeal of an old Aiwa midi Hi-Fi system in a few years.
So the interior might have the whiff of graphic equaliser about it, and a control for the optional sat nav and infotainment that will take you the life of its lease to master, but likewise you have to congratulate Lexus for daring to be different in a world dominated by Germanic efficiency and relative cabin greyness.
The powertrain exemplifies this. Lexus tried to offer a diesel choice with the second-generation IS, but it resolutely failed to tickle anyone against its obvious competition. So it’s stuck to what it knows instead, popping an electric motor and a four-cylinder petrol engine under that edgily styled bodywork.
The specs say the electric motor has 141bhp and the four-cylinder petrol engine – which Lexus describes as Atkinson cycle – offers 178bhp. Some man maths might have you thinking that the IS 300h has a German-troubling 319bhp on offer, but the reality is somewhat less. Quite where all those extra ponies have gone is a mystery, but Lexus quotes a combined output of 220bhp, which is respectable, if not as exciting as you might have hoped.
Driving it requires a change in expectations too, as if you’re used to the easy mid-range urgency of a turbodiesel you’ll be disappointed. The IS 300h needs working hard, and even then it never feels particularly brisk. Around town it’s commendably quiet, and the suspension is pleasingly supple, but the opportunities to really exploit the electric-petrol system and drive on batteries alone are few, and short-lived.
Sure, the numbers say in SE specification you’ll have a 99g/km car, which has obvious benefits to your company car costs, so too does the 65.7mpg potential on the official combined cycle, but opt for anything above SE and that CO2 rises marginally and the mpg worsens also.
SE has everything you could realistically need, unless you need parking sensors front and rear and the wipers to come on themselves. You might want a map in the back or a TomTom on your windscreen too, as navs are an option on all but the highest-spec Premium.
Looked at purely as a numbers game, the Lexus makes good sense, though being a contender in this marketplace it’s keen to point to the car’s dynamic appeal. Yes, it’s been Nürburgring-honed and Lexus’ engineers have dreamt up clever new ways of making it stiffer and sharper, but despite all this that drivetrain never really cuts it against what the chassis can offer.
It’s difficult not to imagine at least one of the test drivers mentioning pulling the steering wheel paddles for the E-CVT transmission does nothing but change a number in the central display, either.
Accept it for what it is though, bigger inside than before, and different, and the numbers might just add up. Just not for everyone though. But then, that’s the point?
The premium sector is still very much a Germanic choice of three, but Lexus offers those left-fielders a cost-effective and striking alternative if you dare to be different. Figures make some sense if the bottom line is your sole motivation, though interesting an aside as it is, it’s still rather lacking in overall appeal.