We’ve had the 2017 Lexus IS 300h Sport in for review, the Lexus take on the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class with Sport trim and the hybrid powertrain.
That’s been the same since the IS was first introduced getting on for twenty years ago, and although Lexus has flirted, for a time, with a diesel IS, the only option you can now have is the petrol 200t or this, the IS 300h hybrid.
Lexus has also always focussed more on a premium compact which is best sorted for where it will spend most of its time – around town or on a motorway – rather than for the relatively short amount of time you may spend tackling an appealing back road.
It’s a very sensible and pragmatic take on what a compact premium car should be, but despite that the IS has struggled to match the sales of cars like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class.
But with a refresh for 2017, has the IS finally become the car that teaches the Germans that an appealing compact premium saloon doesn’t have to have a diesel engine and firm suspension to be an appealing buy?
IS 300h Sport Inside and Out
How a car looks is always subjective, but the Lexus IS is a fine looking car by any measure.
Lexus updated the IS last year, but feedback from owners told them not to fiddle too much with what was on offer. So they didn’t.
Which might seem like a bit of a cop out, but the IS’s mix of curves and angles – and that statement grille – really did need nothing more than minor tweaks to keep the IS very current and very appealing.
The same goes for the interior too, where, just like other Lexus models, the quality, fit and finish does feel like it’s from a car with a much bigger price tag.
The review car we’ve got in – the IS 300h Sport – is a couple of rungs up the IS trim list, and it really is very well-equipped.
There’s adaptive cruise, Keyless, Dual Zone Climate, very comfortable Sport seats with Tahara bolsters, Lexus safety system with Pre-Crash, Lane Keep Assist, Traffic Sign recognition, Sway Warning and auto high beam, Sat Nav, Black 18″ alloys, Auto Wipers, LED lights, Black grille and highlights and heated seats.
All that’s on top of the very decent standard spec the IS has, and in fact so well equipped is the Sport that the only cost option Lexus has bothered fitting is the paint.
On a practical note, the front seats are very comfortable and the back’s big enough to stick grown-ups in. The boot’s a decent size, although the hybrid is a bit less commodious than in the petrol version to accommodate the batteries.
IS 300h Sport Performance on the Road
The looks of the IS are distinctive, but it’s the way it drives, how it feels and how it’s powered that sets the Japanese Lexus apart from the German competition.
The hybrid powertrain under this IS isn’t the most potent of lumps, and the CVT gearbox not the most thrilling companion either.
But it’s become really rather refined over the years and now, except under very few circumstances, it offers a hushed and lively enough experience to keep you happy.
The headline 8.4 seconds to 62mph isn’t spectacular, but around town it’s very responsive with the help of the electric motor, and on motorways it’s almost an invisible waft.
Where you do notice it’s a bit more revs and bit less rush is when you’re having a blat, but a bit of a fiddle with the Drive Mode settings will give you a setting which responds well, and although revs arrive before speed it does make a decent fist of getting around more twisty stuff.
Despite an expectation that the Lexus is more likely to fall over in a bend than a German competitor, the IS actually delivers very little roll when you’re pushing on, it has good grip, the steering is nicely weighted, the brakes are very much up to the job and it all feels very capable.
Yes, back road blats aren’t the main hunting ground for the IS, but if you’re in traffic or coasting along a motorway it’s hard to think of a better place to be in this sector and at this price point.
IS 300h Sport Edition Verdict
As we said when we recently reviewed the GS recently, what Lexus has achieved through an obstinate obsession with hybrid power, and a focus on what the car is really used for, has delivered a car which is arguably more fit for purpose than any of the Premium competition.
It’s not the last word in dynamics, it’s not the most powerful and it’s not the most economical, but the combination of its strengths have delivered remarkably able and appealing car.
The lack of a diesel engine – once a hindrance – is now almost a plus, and although real world economy is around 40mpg rather than the official 60mpg, it’s on a par with a comparable diesel. But it’s cleaner and more refined.
The way the IS drives and feels is absolutely spot on for a young exec ploughing the highways on business, and although a 3-Series would probably shake it off on a back road blat, the IS still offers enough to be usable there too.
But when the miles are clocked up stuck in town traffic or on endless motorway runs, the IS is quiet and refined, the cabin is a very good place to be, it’s well-equipped and it delivers you where you’re going refreshed and up for business.
If you’re seduced by the ‘Dynamism’ of the German competition, and not open to sensibly looking at what 90 per cent of your driving really is, then the Lexus IS isn’t for you.
But if you’re up for making a balanced judgement, talk to your Lexus dealer and arrange an extended test and see for yourself before you part with your cash.
Lexus IS 300h Sport Specs
- Engine: 2494cc Hybrid Electric 220bhp
- Performance: 0-62mph 8.4 seconds / Top Speed 125mph
- Economy: 61.4mpg – Official / 41.1mpg – Test
- Emissions: 107g/km
- Price: £32,325/ Price as tested £32,935
- Test car supplied by Lexus UK