Lexus IS

Small executive car with a comfortable ride

7.1
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 17 reviews
  • Great looks
  • Smooth powertrains
  • Low tax for hybrid models
  • V6 is thirsty
  • Hybrid saps the fun away
  • Some models are expensive
 

£26,505 - £39,035 Price range

 

5 Seats

 

30 - 67 MPG

Review

If you are looking for an alternative to established small executive saloons such as the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes C-Class, then the Lexus IS could be the car for you. 

Its striking looks make for a refreshing change sat next to the German competition. Lexus has given the IS slashes and curves in all the right places and F Sport models get a body kit and large wheels, which add plenty of purpose to the car’s stance. The Lexus’ relative rarity no doubt also helps with its appeal.

The sharp-suited exterior hides a thoroughly modern interior that’s beautifully built and comes with plenty of standard kit. The only black mark is the car’s joystick control for the infotainment system, which isn’t as simple to use as rival controls such as BMW’s iDrive.

Even the basic IS model fills its boots with toys including a seven-inch central display, climate control and cruise control. Lexus boasts an excellent record for customer satisfaction, too, which should make for a pleasurable ownership experience. Top-of-the-range models are noted for their Mark Levinson stereo, which provides crystal-clear sound and bone-shattering bass.

There are two flavours of IS models to choose from – the conventional petrol IS250 and the hi-tech IS300h petrol-electric hybrid. The latter is surprisingly cheap to run, but comes as standard with an annoying CVT gearbox. It’s smooth in operation, but causes the engine to emit a constant drone  under acceleration that’s at odds with the otherwise relaxing Lexus. On the other hand, the six-cylinder petrol engine in the IS250 offers the sportiest drive, but boy do you pay for it at the petrol pumps.

All versions of the IS corner flatly and have a tautness to their suspension setup that make them fun to drive. The Lexus’ rear-wheel-drive setup gives it a balanced feel in the corners, which front-wheel-drive versions of the Audi A4 can’t match but, since the demise of the V8-powered IS-F, you wouldn’t describe any IS as being particularly quick.

Opinions on the IS’s cabin are mixed. On the one hand it’s impeccably built, very well equipped and a great deal more spacious than before. On the other, there are reservations over the interior design, familiar consternation and the Lexus ‘Remote Touch’ infotainment interface, and a few quibbles over perceived quality.

What it does do well is comfort, while rear seat passengers get more space than they used to thanks to a longer wheelbase. Many are keen on the unusual layered dashboard design that groups buttons and displays into different levels, and there are positive comments about the F Sport’s LFA-style reconfigurable instruments.

On a subjective level, some testers say it feels like little more than a “big, expensive calculator”, while another says it’s “ten times more special” than anything Audi or BMW makes in the class. You’d best try it out yourself…

Again, opinion varies greatly here – it really is a divisive car! One thing everyone agrees on is that the IS is a relaxing vehicle to travel in, whichever model you pick. The hybrid particularly so, wafting along with a silence that no other vehicle in the class can match. All the controls are “smooth” too, operating with a silky high-quality feel.

In terms of fun, the verdict is less unanimous. The IS 250 is probably the model to have here, its most positive review getting a “truly entertaining” rating with responsive brakes, sharp steering, “supreme body control” and plenty of grip.

It’s generally best in F Sport trim if you’re a sporty driver, but ditch the F Sport trim and select the hybrid, and things become a bit more “stately”. In fact, that hybrid model is the IS’s main downfall for handling.

The hybrid fights back on economy, of course. Called the IS 300h, it’s a 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor combo, delivering around 200 horsepower, reaching 60 in 8 seconds and at its most efficient, breaking the 64 mpg barrier. In SE trim, you get free vehicle tax too, thanks to a 99 g/km rating – good for associated BIK rates for business users.

It’s exceedingly refined, but as is often the case with hybrids many testers are less than keen with the way it gets down the road. Performance is fine (even good for the class) but the drone of the engine under hard acceleration puts many off. Drop the pace a little and refinement is excellent, though.

The IS 250 has a different problem. Its V6 “warbles” a nice tune, it’s responsive, and it makes better use of the chassis. But at 30 mpg and nearly 200 g/km of CO2 at its most efficient – for a £260 VED bill – it’s miles off the pace of modern turbocharged rivals.

Reviews for the IS 250 would suggest a generally positive outlook, but if anything the engine itself is the weak link in the car’s chain.

Even then, there’s little wrong with the way the engine goes about its business – reviewers quite like the tuneful naturally-aspirated V6, which “warbles” above 4,000 rpm where you’ll also find most of the IS 250’s 202 horsepower output. It also has “ultra smooth and predictable throttle response”, making a nice change from today’s turbocharged engines.

No, the IS 250’s issue is that it’s an older engine, and therefore massively off the pace on fuel economy and emissions. Combined MPG is just 32.8 (30.7 in the F Sport), and it puts out 199 g/km of CO2 (213 g/km) for a £260 annual bill. For the record, that’s twice the CO2 of the free-to-tax hybrid…

The IS 300h doesn’t, as you might expect, have a 3.0-litre engine. Instead, it’s Lexus-speak for a four-cylinder, 2.5-litre unit that, thanks to hybrid assistance, has the power of a 3.0-litre engine. Combined output is in the 200-horsepower ballpark and an 8-second 0-60 sprint results.

Start to use that performance, and most testers say you’ll be frustrated – the continuously variable transmission isn’t the enthusiast’s gearbox of choice. But be a bit more gentler and it’ll while away the miles far better than a diesel – the word “relaxed” crops up in just about every review! And like most hybrids, gentle driving around town will use little more than the electric motor. The real benefit of course is tax – 97 g/km for SE models means zero VED.

These are general, non engine-specific reviews of the Lexus IS. They give you a good idea of what the car is like without going into detail on one particular model.

Reviews for the IS 250 would suggest a generally positive outlook, but if anything the engine itself is the weak link in the car's chain.

Even then, there's little wrong with the way the engine goes about its business - reviewers quite like the tuneful naturally-aspirated V6, which "warbles" above 4,000 rpm where you'll also find most of the IS 250's 202 horsepower output. It also has "ultra smooth and predictable throttle response", making a nice change from today's turbocharged engines.

No, the IS 250's issue is that it's an older engine, and therefore massively off the pace on fuel economy and emissions. Combined MPG is just 32.8 (30.7 in the F Sport), and it puts out 199 g/km of CO2 (213 g/km) for a £260 annual bill. For the record, that's twice the CO2 of the free-to-tax hybrid...

The IS 300h doesn't, as you might expect, have a 3-litre engine. Instead, it's Lexus-speak for a 2.5-litre unit that, thanks to hybrid assistance, has the power of a 3-litre engine. Combined output is in the 200-horsepower ballpark and an 8-second 0-60 sprint results.

Start to use that performance, and most testers say you'll be frustrated - the continuously variable transmission isn't the enthusiast's gearbox of choice. But be a bit more gentler and it'll while away the miles far better than a diesel - the word "relaxed" crops up in just about every review! And like most hybrids, gentle driving around town will use little more than the electric motor. The real benefit of course is tax - 99 g/km for SE models means zero VED.

These are general, non engine-specific reviews of the Lexus IS. They give you a good idea of what the car is like without going into detail on one particular model.

Backed by standard features like eight airbags, ABS, and stability control, the Lexus IS bagged a five-star rating in Euro NCAP’s crash tests.

As you move up the range into the ‘Premier’ spec, the equipment list becomes heavier with additions such as blind spot detection – a system that detects and notifies you if there’s a vehicle in your blind spot, helping avoid embarrassing last-minute motorway swerves – or worse!

If running costs are key, the IS 300h represents strong value indeed: the base SE model has 11 per cent benefit in kind, zero VED (road tax) and 64.2 mpg ratings. The latter isn’t as high as some diesel rivals and some reviewers express concerns that it’s difficult to hit that figure – but What Car? returned almost 60mpg during its ‘True MPG’ testing.

With the launch of the Jaguar XE, as well as the impending arrival of the revised BMW 3 Series and the all new Audi A4, the Lexus IS range was in need of reinvigorating and that’s come in the form of price cuts and lower CO2 ratings for 2015.

The latter means that the IS 300h SE (with 16-inch wheels) is now free to tax, while the rest of the hybrid range costs just £20 a year.

A new top-of-the-range trim level – called Advance – represents a £3,000 saving compared to specifying the same equipment from the options list. It adds leather upholstery, heated/ventilated electrically adjustable front seats and a reversing camera to Luxury trim’s already generous list of kit. The price of F-Sport models, meanwhile, has been slashed by £1,000.

Conclusion

Lexus will sell just a fraction in IS numbers what BMW, Audi and Mercedes will sell of their own compact executive saloons, and is somewhat limiting its market by not offering a diesel engine in the lineup. But for some drivers, the relaxed hybrid will be a smoother, quieter, more pleasant choice than the usual diesel options, and is sure to find fans for its low company car and VED tax ratings too.

The IS 250′s market may be rather more limited – high tax scuppers it here – but for a select few, it’s an entertaining alternative to the default BMW 3-Series choice for driving thrills.