When it comes to finding yourself a compact executive-sized sedan, the Germans have traditionally cornered most of the market with their three offerings; Mercedes-Benz with their C Class, BMW with their 3 Series and Audi with the A4.
The fourth constant in this stable of cars here since almost the turn of the century, has been the Lexus IS; a driver’s sedan if you may, and you would not be wrong that this is aimed at the BMW 3 Series buyer.
The extensive re-working of the Lexus IS comes to us as no surprise, since the Japanese luxury car marque’s mantra of ‘The Relentless Pursuit Of Perfection’ seems like something that they do not take quite lightly. Their re-skinned RX SUV we tested a little over a year ago, was proof that getting a car right should always involve some serious re-thinking… and this has to be so much more than a simple nose and tail job.
The re-styling of the IS not only involves a simplified set of headlamps, and a more purposeful rear end. Lexus had even gone on to improve on the IS’s body rigidity and they mentioned that they have even eliminated noise and vibration, through the re-working of the car’s C-pillar. Underneath that bodywork, unsprung weight has been brought down, with the intent of reducing unnecessary body movement, especially around turns.
A revised interior sees Lexus going as far as to reposition the 10.3” infotainment screen, moving it closer to your field of view by 5.9”; while the odd-looking “Kong Guan Biscuit” controller has been replaced with a touchpad, now found in quite a few of their other models, like the ES. The infotainment system that offers users both Apple and Android connectivity, is easy to navigate, though the user experience does pale in comparison to what the Germans have brought to the table today.
While the electric front seats are comfortable and supportive, the less costly Executive trim which our test car comes with, has reduced bits of equipment; the most important to us is seat memory, which we feel is a must have, whichever trim a car in this class is sold at.
Most of the interior otherwise remains largely unchanged, meaning that given the IS’s packaging, rear leg and knee space can easily be compromised, especially when someone like me, who sits with the backrest tilted back further-than-average takes to the wheel.
Boot space at 480 litres is among the best-in-class, and it is quite like the Japanese to leave you with a wider rear section of the boot… just ideal for dropping in that golf bag.
The IS is available here with one high-performance V6 and two “bread and butter” power sources; which are a 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder we took a drive in earlier this year, and this one… a 2.5 litre natural-breathing Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder, that is paired to an electric motor, driving the rear wheels, through a CVT transmission.
The hybrid mill delivers 219bhp and takes the compact sedan to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds. While on-paper performance is more than decent, the IS300h shines in how it drives. A liner accelerating car is always appreciated for its soothing delivery, but the IS300h coaxes you forward with a smoothness and briskness that is difficult to replicate. While I am personally not such a fan of CVT transmissions, the one on the IS300h rates highly in my books as it is not sluggish, but rather happy to oblige a heavy right foot. While we managed a combined 18.3km/l, we believe that you can milk more out of this fuel-sipping sedan if you were even easier on the throttle.
Where you would find absolute magic is how the padded interior puts you in a world away from the harshness of what is out there. Lexus certainly deserves praise in damping out NVH issues. The petrol engine, when it chooses to kick in, is nearly seamless in delivery, with the only hint that it is now feeding power to the batteries and driving the car, is a muted hum seeping in from the front.
New swing valve shock absorbers that were first seen on the ES, equipped with ultralow-velocity valves, play a large role in how refined the IS rides. While it is firm enough to plant itself in just the right way around turns, is still pliant enough to “steamroll” over the gaps in areas where our roads may be not-so-pristine. Steering accuracy, coupled with how well it communicates to you makes the IS truly a driver’s dream. With a squeeze of your right foot, the IS300h simply obliges, sending drive to the rear wheels while you power out of a turn… all this with a silky-smooth delivery that is truly quite hard to replicate.
And I do go back to how well insulated the car truly is, that is what a Lexus is truly intended for, a refined drive… And a refined drive it truly is.
If what you find missing is that little bit of jab when you drive the hybrid variant of the Lexus IS, that can be found in the turbocharged IS300, which while it does perform better, and costs about $8,000 more due to the VES disadvantage, the Hybrid is a more satisfying drive, especially for those who will spend heaps of time (benefitting from the better fuel economy and smoothness) in their car.
Credits: Words and Photos by Clifford Chow. Cover Photo By Jaden Low