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First drive: 2017MY Lexus IS 300h. Image by Lexus.

First drive: 2017MY Lexus IS 300h
Lexus adds some minor updates to the IS saloon. It's still a well-built and quirky alternative to the German stalwarts.

 



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Lexus IS 300h

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

With the current iteration of the IS saloon entering middle age, Lexus has freshened up the car in an attempt to keep up with the rest of the compact exec genre. There's nothing ground-breaking about the upgrades, and those who prefer a sporty drive should steer clear as ever, but refinement, quality and value are still the car's strong points, and many people will be quite content with that.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Lexus IS 300h F Sport
Pricing: IS range from 29,995
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, plus electric motor
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, E-CVT automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 107g/km (VED Band B, 10 per annum)
Combined economy: 61.4mpg
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Power: 223hp at 6,000rpm (total system output)
Torque: 221Nm at 4,200- to 5,400rpm (petrol engine only), 300Nm from electric motor

What's this?

With over one million examples sold over its three generations, the Lexus IS has been one of the Japanese company's top performers since its introduction in 1999. The current model has been around since 2013 and even though it still looks quite fresh, Lexus has decided to give it a quick facelift. There are also some chassis changes and additional safety features.

Slightly different front and rear lights, bigger front air intakes and reshaped grille mesh are the most obvious visual changes across the board, while the F Sport trim gets some more black detailing and a more strongly defined 'face'. New paint options and alloys complete the external updates, and Lexus claims a slight improvement in aerodynamic efficiency compared to the outgoing model.

Human-machine interface (HMI) is a term that gets bandied about a lot in the realms of interior design, and while the stepped dash is mostly unchanged in the IS, improvements have been made to the ergonomics of the cabin. The RC coupe parts bin was raided for the new steering wheel, while various switches have either been relocated or tweaked. The infotainment screen has swollen in size, but is still controlled by the Remote Touch Interface mouse, something that could do with improvement in terms of speed and ease of use. Fear not, because if it gets too frustrating you can always watch the main dials on the dashboard move around, LFA-style.

The base SE model starts at 29,995, and despite the fact that the IS 200t (with its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine) will still be offered, Lexus expects 90 per cent of buyers to opt for the hybrid powertrain. Our F Sport test car came in at 34,745, and with six hybrid variants on offer there should be something for everyone. Lexus prefers to sell defined trim levels instead of a big individual options list, and every model comes with a decent amount of standard equipment.

How does it drive?

While the chassis revisions are aimed at bringing about a more enjoyable driving experience, the result is a little hard to quantify. Retuned shocks and springs, a different rear anti-roll bar and stiffer bushings and front suspension arms are the result of Lexus taking customer feedback on board, but you'd have to drive the old and new cars back-to-back to discern any real improvement. The steering is a tad heavier, but feels numb and uncommunicative, the ride on optional 18-inch wheels gets a little busy over uneven surfaces and the car's mass is writ large in every direction change. The lazy power delivery (a calling card of the CVT auto) doesn't help the cause one bit, and the on-paper power and torque figures don't translate into much real-world pace. The IS 200t's lower weight and more traditional eight-speed automatic gearbox give it the edge in terms of handling and engagement, but neither car is a match for the likes of BMW's 3 Series.

Best thing to do then, is pop it back into D and sit back, because the IS is still a great cruiser. You may find yourself stopping for fuel more often than you'd like though, as the quoted economy figures demand an extremely feather-footed driving style. There's been an enhancement of the safety features too, and Lexus Safety System + is standard on every model bar the SE. An interesting and useful addition is the sway warning feature, which can alert the driver if it detects erratic inputs because of concentration loss or tiredness.

Verdict

A fine car as it is, the upgrades do add some extra appeal to the Lexus IS. It's a pity that the driving experience doesn't quite do the chassis improvements justice, but if you are happy to trade enjoyment for refinement then the Lexus is a sound choice. It's well made, good value and looks the part, but will still be viewed as a left-field alternative compared to the usual suspects in its class. There's nothing wrong with that, and as a car to cover miles with minimal fuss it's highly recommended. Just don't expect any fireworks.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

2 2 2 2 2 Driving Dynamics

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Powertrain


Maurice Malone - 20 Jan 2017









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