The Lexus IS hybrid is a quiet and good-looking saloon, even if it is mostly outshone by alternatives.
The Lexus IS is a petrol-electric hybrid car intended to be an alternative to such executive saloons as the Volkswagen Passat GTE and BMW 3 Series. It looks great and provides you with a generous array of safety features, but it isn’t exactly fun to drive. Plus, some hybrid alternatives outdo the IS in terms of fuel efficiency.
The IS is a very striking car to look at. Its exterior has a plethora of extreme angles that lend a modern and lustrous appearance, from that unique grille to the harsh downward-facing turns of the rear lights. Every crease and angle directly points towards the large grille’s central Lexus badge, starting at the boot lid and continuing over the doors before tying everything together at the front end.
While the exterior of the Lexus IS is sleek and modern, it’s a different matter entirely once you step inside. The buttons and knobs found on the centre console both feel and look very dated; the universally black colouring of the dash itself definitely doesn’t help, either. Furthermore, the quality of the materials can’t hold up against the well-built interiors of the IS’s German alternatives.
The inside may look slightly old-fashioned, but the infotainment equipment list certainly isn’t. The IS packs all the features you would expect from a smart executive saloon such as this – entry-level trims get a seven-inch screen, built-in satnav, CD player, six-speaker DAB radio, and Bluetooth and AUX compatibility. Upgrading to the top-spec Takumi version of the IS will give you a 10.3-inch screen with a fifteen-speaker surround sound system. It’s a shame, then, that it’s one of the most frustrating systems on sale to actually use. It is controlled by a touchpad located on the centre console, and interacting with it is a struggle. The interface is not at all smooth, transforming the most minuscule touches into jerky onscreen movements.
The IS may be quiet and safe to drive, but it’s not as fun as a 3 Series, nor as economical as a Passat GTE.
The IS’s safety systems are far more impressive. Included on all models is Hill Start Assist – which keeps the footbrake active until you push the gas pedal – adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, traffic sign reading, automatic high-beam headlights, lane-keeping assistance and a total of eight airbags for the driver and passengers. The only chink in the armour is that reversing cameras are not included as standard; these can only be found on the top-of-the-range Takumi trim.
Speaking of trims, there are three for the IS – the standard edition, F Sport and Takumi – but all three include the same 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol-electric hybrid engine. This can take the car from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds, with a combined CO2 output of 109g/km. Unfortunately, these stats are both outdone by the Passat GTE saloon, which takes 7.4 seconds and puts out 39g/km of CO2.
The problems continue once you actually get behind the wheel. Admittedly, the IS is a very relaxing drive thanks to its quiet engine and noise-cancelling interior. However, you won’t have fun with it – the hybrid IS doesn’t handle as well as a Passat or 3 Series, lacking those cars’ grip and responsiveness. The F Sport trim improves things slightly, giving the IS 18-inch alloy wheels (as opposed to the standard’s 17-inch) and reupholstered sports seats. But even then, it can’t compare to the more exciting 3 Series.
All told, it’s hard to recommend a Lexus IS over its alternatives – especially the faster, more economical and similarly priced plug-in hybrid Passat GTE. Be that as it may, it’s still impossible to deny the IS’s stunning looks and generous safety features. If you want a quiet and secure – if uneventful – drive, then check out our deals page for the best prices.