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Lexus IS - Test Drive Review

Date: 04 June 2013   |   Author: Tristan Young

Category: Upper medium
P11D price: £30,940
Key rival: BMW 320 ED
On sale: July 2013

After a period of inactivity in the upper medium sector, Lexus is back, with a new IS aimed at taking a slice of the fleet market from premium German rivals.

Instead of going head-to-head with an ultra-efficient diesel, Lexus is offering a petrol-electric hybrid as its contender in the eco battle. The firm is also selling a 2.5-litre V6 petrol-only version of the IS, but due to poor emissions it expects this car to be a "retail only" proposition.

The figures for the diesel-rivalling IS300h, however, are impressive. Lexus has combined a 178hp 2.5-litre petrol engine with a 141hp electric motor and produced a car with CO2 emissions of just 99g/km in entry-level SE form or 103g/km in best-selling Luxury trim. Official fuel consumption is 64.2mpg for the best seller, while the combination of a low (12%) benefit-in-kind band, the good fuel figure and low SMR level mean the IS300h is close on whole-life costs with the class favourite, the equivalent BMW 320 ED with an automatic gearbox.

These figures alone would put the Lexus squarely in the upper medium fight. However, the IS300h has other advantages. Its styling stands out - in a positive way - from its rivals and this should attract user-choosers looking for something different in the market. The interior also shows a refreshing change with some very high-quality materials as well as perfect construction. Items such as a neat, touch-sensitive slider for the climate control or the comfortable and supportive front seats, which are also designed to allow maximum (and claimed class-leading) rear legroom, all add to the premium feel.

What lets the IS300h down, though, is the standard CVT automatic gearbox, which in 'eco' or 'normal' modes gives the driver the impression the car is unresponsive and lethargic. However, in 'sport' mode and using the wheel-mounted paddles to change gear there is better response. Ultimately, the car handles well, it's just that any driver used to the powerful shove of a modern diesel engine and the control of a manual gearbox will be disappointed. The CVT gearbox also means that what little noise that does enter the cabin isn't a pleasurable sensation.

Despite having two power sources, the IS300h is engineered so that a maximum of 220hp combined is available, but even then it is the slowest in the class in terms of top speed.

These negatives out of the way, if your drivers are more about covering long distances or do a lot of urban driving, then the comfort of the Lexus and overall refinement is impressive.

If the real-world mpg is as close to the official figures as any of the rivals, then those user-choosers who want refinement and an auto 'box will not be disappointed, while those fleets running them will be safe in the knowledge the WLCs will be class-leading.

Lexus IS300h Luxury 4dr auto
P11D price £30,940
Model price range £26,495-£38,495
Fuel consumption 64.2mpg
CO2 (tax) 103g/km (12%)
BIK 20/40% per month £61/£123
Service interval 12,500
Insurance (1-50) group 30 (est.)
Warranty 3yrs/60,000mls (hybrid parts 5yrs)
Boot space 450 litres
Engine size/power 2494cc/220hp
Top speed/0-62mph 125mph/8.3secs
On sale July 2013