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Lexus IS 300h Premier

Click to view picture gallery“The new Lexus IS four-door
  compact executive saloon, which
  arrived in the UK in July, sells in
  a sector dominated by diesel-
  powered models such as the BMW
  320, Audi A4 and the Mercedes C220
strange then that you cant
  buy this third-generation IS with a
  diesel engine

THE NEW IS LINE-UP offers a pair of 2.5-litre powerplants: the unleaded-drinking, V6-powered IS 250; and a hybrid four-cylinder 2.5 with an electric motor the IS 300h. Lexus say their strategic direction for the brand is not to have a diesel engine option (for now anyway) because petrol hybrid running costs more than match those for diesels, and the cost of hybrid powertrain technology is now significantly lower.

All models are rear-wheel drive and have an automatic transmission — this latest IS sports saloon is the first IS to be equipped with the Lexus Hybrid Drive System. The levels of equipment and specification for both powerplants are SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier, with prices running from 26,495 to 38,495.

UK sales of the IS are expected to have an 80% bias towards business users (most through a lease scheme) with the 300h hybrid model making the most sense even though it is around 3,000 more expensive to buy than the non-hybrid IS 250.

“The boot is both larger
and more user-friendly

because the hybrid
battery is located
beneath the boot floor in
the space normally
occupied by a spare
wheel (you don’t get
one), there a useful 450
litres of load space.
With CO2 emissions for the 300h ranging from 99 to 109g/km, road tax is either free-of-charge for life or, at worst, only free for the first year — but then just 20 for subsequent years. The IS 250 V6 petrol models emit 199 or 213g/km (depending on road wheel size) and incur 475/620 first year and 260/280 second year road tax charges.

The exterior styling is fronted by a new interpretation of Lexus's 'spindle' grille design, giving the IS greater road presence and a stronger brand identity. Overall it looks a much more dynamic and sporting car with its combination of sculptured lines and the sharper front-end treatment that includes signature daytime running lights.

The side profile of the new four-door bodyshell adopts a sports coupe roofline that combined with the upswept treatment for the rear sill sections helps create a 'pacey' look. Despite the increase in overall length (75mm), the doorframes feel tight for access and the headroom — when getting in and out of the car — is not that plentiful for tall users. However, once inside the front headroom is good although tall rear passengers might find it 'snug'.

The interior is all-new. While maintaining the refinement and quality that are fundamental to Lexus, it introduces a more sporting and focused environment for the driver. The roomier accommodation has been achieved thanks to a significant (85mm) improvement in rear-seat knee-room courtesy of a 70mm-longer wheelbase. The boot is both larger and more user-friendly; because the hybrid battery is located beneath the boot floor in the area normally occupied by a spare wheel (you don't get one), there are 450 litres of load space (the non-hybrid IS 250 provides 480 litres).

Throughout the interior the use of high quality materials and finishes are typical Lexus, but now with a more modern and less conservative result. The modern, classy look includes an interesting counterpoint: a precision-machined, analogue clock with surface-emitting illumination.

The upper display area houses a seven-inch LCD multi-display screen, set at an ideal distance for at-a-glance viewing from the wheel. The lower operation zone gives access to system controls including Lexus's second generation Remote Touch Interface.

This new IS follows the brand's latest GS and LS models in adopting a Drive Mode Select system, and a change in meter illumination from blue to red when sports driving modes are engaged.

Lexus's first electrostatic switches for controlling the AirCon are located in the centre console and operated by fingertip touch. And the steering wheel is also the first in a Lexus to co-ordinate multimedia system control with both meter and centre console displays.

“Throughout the interior
the use of high quality
materials and finishes
are typical Lexus, but
now with a more modern
and less conservative
result. The modern,
classy look includes an
interesting counterpoint:
a precision-machined
analogue clock with
My Premier spec test car came with leather upholstery with the usual power-operation, memory, and heated front seats that also featured fan cooling through the perforated seat material — much appreciated in the recent hot weather!

All the usual goodies ranging from electric windows and door mirrors, rear-view camera, parking sensors, cruise control, auto lights and wipers, Bluetooth, DAB radio, 15-speaker surround sound system, electrically-adjustable steering column and 60:40 split folding rear seats are standard-fit items.

Lexus claims the driving dynamics have been engineered to help deliver a better and more involving driving experience — said to be a principal goal in the new model's development programme.

The handling certainly felt sharper and more controlled, although the ride was on the firm side with the thumps and bumps of potholes transmitted inside the car — in fact, the road noise intrusion was very noticeable. Some of this noise is due to the fact that the petrol-hybrid system is so quiet that others noises become more prominent; and the large 18-inch wheels with low-pro rubber do not promote quiet or smooth travel.

A new Drive Mode Select system lets the driver choose from up to five modes — Eco, Snow, Normal, Sport/Sport S and Sport S+ (the latter on the IS 300h F Sport fitted with optional Adaptive Variable Suspension) — to achieve their preferred balance of economy, comfort, performance and handling characteristics. On the full hybrid IS 300h there's also an all-electric EV mode.

As with all Lexus hybrids, the new IS 300h is a full hybrid that can be driven in petrol or purely electric modes, or using a combination of both. Its Lexus Hybrid Drive features a new 178bhp 2.5-litre, four-pot petrol engine with 163lb ft of torque mated to a compact, high-output 141bhp/221lb ft water-cooled permanent magnet electric motor. The two powerplants (both independently and in tandem as required) drive the rear wheels.

In addition to the petrol engine and electric motor, the hybrid drive system also comprises a generator, a high-performance nickel-metal hydride battery, a power split device which combines and reallocates power from the engine, electric motor and generator as required, and a compact power control unit that governs the high-speed interaction of the different components.

The hybrid combination of the petrol engine and electric motor harmonise seamlessly but without the urge afforded by new-generation sports turbodiesel or turbocharged petrol units which are now common in the premium brands in this segment.

Pushed hard in Sport modes the engine stills feels 'flat' and become noisy. However, in a more relaxed driving mode the hybrid system is hushed and smooth and the electronic CVT auto transmission works well enough. In short, it's more 'classy refinement' than 'sporty'.

“Top speed is an
unremarkable 125mph
but the zero to 62mph
looks good enough
on paper at 8.3 seconds
although in real-life it
feels more sluggish
than that.
Top speed is an unremarkable (at least in this class) 125mph but the zero to 62mph looks good enough on paper at 8.3 seconds although in real-life it feels more sluggish than that. Real-world fuel economy is more of an issue. My test car has an official Combined Cycle figure of 60.1mpg but in practical day-to-day usage the figure was a less than impressive 40mpg.

Of course the fuel use was significantly better when the electric motor had an opportunity to play its part, such as urban and country road driving. But on motorways, where there is limited input from the electric motor, the fuel economy was considerably reduced.

Also to consider before you sign on the dotted line are the firm ride (on the large wheels spec), foot-operated parking brake, lack of a spare wheel and the fact that it's not as fuel efficient overall for all types of driving conditions as a modern turbodiesel.

Reasons to buy include the sportier 'exec' styling, low running costs (it's also more tax-efficient than a diesel), luxurious spec, build quality, and its exclusivity value over an Audi, BMW or Merc. And it's ideal for company car users.

Hybrids, I've found, work — but there are compromises which new-age turbodiesels do not suffer from. If it's driving endless business miles on a motorway, diesel wins; if it's more commuter driving with plenty of stops and starts and 40 to 50mph 'speed up-slow down' motoring, then hybrid wins. The true winner when it comes to hybrid use is the company car/business user-chooser driver who will pay far less in personal tax. —
David Miles

Lexus IS 300h Premier | 38,495
Top speed: 125mph | 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds | Average Test MPG: 40mpg
Power: 178bhp | Torque: 163lb ft | CO2 109g/km