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The Top Gear car review: Lexus IS
For:Hybrid smoothness and quietness in town. Low tax, potential economy
Against:Hybrid's odd antics at full throttle, V6's thirst
300h SE 4dr CVT Auto
The sound of one hand clapping. Engine’s character doesn’t agree with the (excellent) rest of the car
Finally a decent alternative to a 3-Series or A4? Paul Horrell finds out…
Minor tweaks evolve the IS-F, but don’t transform it. Still good. Still not an M3
Good-looking alternative to the battery-farmed BMW 3-Series, let down by limp engine
A great rival for the Merc C63 and BMW M3, yet lacks their pace and finesse. Fine choice for the discerning thundersaloon buyer.
Likewise the Yamaha-fettled 417bhp/371lb ft 5.0-litre V8 engine, which is a bored-out version of the lump that powers the LS460 limo. It doesn’t...
As impressive as Lexus’s new IS250 is, the lion’s share of buyers in this sector are still going to see it playing second fiddle to BMW’s...
There are four grades IS250, SE, SE-L to be topped off with the Sport (due early next year, along with the IS220d diesel).
All cars, from...
It’s a bit galling that this car is available at pretty much half the price in its homeland, where it carries the more downmarket Toyota badge....
Back in our February issue, we put our long-term Lexus IS200 Sport on trial (see TG 89), charged with masquerading as a sports saloon, and with...
Sit in the Lexus and you instantly notice a set of dials that are clear and communicative but designed and approved by Spirograph inventors. ‘I’m...
The handbags are out again in our previously-harmonious TG workplace. Perched innocently at the midst of the kerfuffle is our Lexus IS200 Sport...
Recently, it’s been alarmingly easy to provoke a bout of fisticuffs in the Top Gear office. You simply needed to make a suggestion as to what the...
What we say:
It's a diesel-free zone for Lexus' junior exec. No 3-Series to drive, so BMW isn't worried
What is it?
Lexus’s entry into that fierce bloodbath that almost defines whether a brand can succeed as premium: the compact sports saloon. For if you can make it against the 3-Series and C-Class and A4, you’ll get great visibility on the road, and a decent chance of drawing buyers into bigger cars later. Lexus has been conventional enough in many respects: the size and the chassis and the rear-drive layout are bang on the money. But the drivetrain choices are pretty eccentric: no diesel, but instead a 2.5-litre petrol with hybrid for the IS 300h giving fine economy and CO2, and a thirsty and none too powerful petrol V6 in the IS 250.
For gentle running, the hybrid powertrain is fine. It’s extremely quiet, and the CVT slurs away almost unnoticeably. This is the way to get excellent economy, although we do wish the hybrid system defaulted to electric more often. Trouble is, when you demand any performance, the system feels laggy, and the rise and fall of the revs is disconcertingly out of sync with changes in road speed. It’s acceptable for occasional overtaking, but no fun on a twisty road. And yet the chassis is very capable of being thrown around. Almost invites it, actually, thanks to well-damped body motions, sharp steering and good balance. And the ride isn’t at all bad. It’s firm-ish, but traverses most sharp road events with quiet equanimity. The bodykitted F-Sport gets useful extra spec for drivers: sportier seats, adaptive dampers and clever reconfigurable instruments, as well as a noise synthesiser to cover up some of the oddball revving behaviour.
On the inside
Fine build quality and decent materials have always been part of the Lexus proposition. This time it comes with a dose of design flair too. The dials are clear, with plenty of information to help you get the best economy from the hybrid system. You get a good stereo to take advantage of the quiet mechanicals, with the option of an excellent Mark Levinson upgrade. In the back, legroom is OK thanks to a longer wheelbase, but foot and head room are still tight.
Lexus is renowned for dependability and the quality of the dealers: customers are happy bunnies. And the durability of the hybrid system is proven by thousands of Priuses. Costs are contained in other ways: depreciation is on par with diesel automatic rivals from Germany, but company car tax is significantly lower: the base model even slips under 100g/km, although the wide tyres of all the others push up thirst and deny them that rating. Even so, over 60mpg for every single hybrid version is impressive.