Lexus is convinced that it can take on and beat the premium establishment with one hand tied behind its back. Whereas every other premium manufacturer has developed very popular diesel models you can’t buy a diesel Lexus. Instead Lexus is staking its fortunes on petrol-electric hybrids.
The IS is clearly a product of a lateral thinking company. Not only is the drivetrain a departure from the norm, the styling is also a departure with a blend of Japanese and European tastes that creates a distinctive look. It isn’t entirely successful from every angle but crucially it does have road presence and looks markedly different to German rivals, giving customers a choice.
You can’t talk about the IS 300h without mentioning the hybrid system as it has a defining impact on the character. Like the rest of the car it is beautifully engineered making it almost impossible to tell what proportion of the work is being done by the electric motor or the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Indeed driven smoothly and conservatively the Lexus system is the last word in refinement.
However Lexus has chosen to market the IS as a sporting saloon and if you do want to press on a bit the refinement goes out of the window thanks to the CVT gearbox which also dents the sense of involvement. The Lexus hybrid system has major benefits in terms of torque, efficiency and resulting low CO2 emissions, but out-and-out fun isn’t one of them.
If you approach the IS 300h as a decent to drive, individual, exquisitely made, highly efficient premium saloon we think you will get on really rather well. If you are expecting a sports saloon, you will be disappointed by the drivetrain. We hope Lexus’s mislabelling doesn’t put people off as there is much to like for business users (BIK) and private buyers (mpg and VED).