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Lexus IS review | first drive

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Bill Buys road tests and reviews the Lexus IS at its Australian launch.

2013 Lexus IS 3.5

A hybrid, running on electric power, with a throaty V8 growl? It’s one of a bagful of features in the Lexus IS 300h, the luxury brand’s first hybrid in its sports IS range, newly uprated to give its trio of Teutonic rivals some real trouble.

DESIGN

The car is an attention-grabber with a bigger, three-dimensional spindle grille, wider stance and dramatically swoopy rear end styling. A 70mm longer wheelbase has given it greater interior space, the seating is lower and sportier and the driver-oriented cockpit is derived from the Lexus LFA supercar.

The hybrid has 60/40 split-fold rear seats and its battery pack is mounted low, under the boot floor, so there’s 450litres of cargo space, just 30litres less than the petrol-powered models.

PRICES AND RANGE

The IS 300h joins the IS 250 and IS 350 models in the model’s just-launched third generation, with prices starting from $55,900. The 300h is quite a performer, with a combined output of 164kW from its 2.5litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor. It runs just as well as the 153/252Nm V6 IS 250, and uses only about half the fuel.

IS 250 Luxury is $55,900, the F Sport from $64,900 and Sports Luxury from $77,900. The IS 300 hybrid starts from $58,900 and the F Sport is from $67,900. IS 350 Luxury is $65,000, with the F Sport from $73,000 and Sports Luxury from $84,000.

Despite being dubbed ‘all new’ the 250 and 350 have not altered their existing V6 motors. However, transmissions have changed in that the 233kW/378Nm 3.5litre V6 now has an eight-speed auto. The 250 retains its six-speed auto and the 300h gets a six-stepped CVT.

The 300h is the first Lexus to use a Atkinson Cycle 2.5litre petrol electric/hybrid powertrain, which apart from lots of pep, makes it a sensation in the economy and clean air section, consuming and average 4.9litres/100km and emitting 113g of CO2/km. By comparison, the IS 250 data is 9.2litres/100km and 213g/km and the 350 uses 9.7litres and emits 225g/km.

Lexus says the hybrid’s figures are unmatched by any rival petrol, diesel or hybrid vehicles in the segment, and expects growing awareness of fuel prices and exhaust emissions to lift its hybrid sales  from their present 18per cent to close on 50 per cent.

EQUIPMENT

There’s the expected suite of electronic driver aids, plus eight airbags (10 of them in Sports Luxury models), a reversing camera and tyre pressure monitoring. Option packs add Automatic High Beam, Lane Departure Alert, Blind Spot Monitor and a Pre-Collision system. The cars also have a bonnet that pops up to minimise pedestrian injury. Lexus says it’s confident of a five-star safety rating.

The standard Luxury models all have powered, ventilated front seats, keyless entry, satnav, dual-zone climate control, digital radio, Bluetooth with audio streaming, bi-xenon headlights with daytime running lights, reverse-view camera, 7-inch colour media display, and Drive Mode select.

A telematics system called Enform, will be available late this year, offering a vast range of data, including customer care, internet search, fuel station finder with fuel prices, weather, plus downloadable destination guides.

DRIVING

We were able to compare an existing IS 350 with the latest one on the famed Phillip Island racing circuit, and the improvement, especially in grip, was immediately evident.

Smoother lines and a stiffer body gave the newie better balance and its fast-shifting gearbox, complete with auto-blipping, was a delight. The rear-wheel drive IS has super balance – close to 50:50 front to rear – and that translates to very sporty road manners.

However there’s no masking the considerable weight of the vehicle, and that undermines both off-the-line acceleration and cornering. Doesn’t destroy it completely, but leaves you with the wish that it could just make that extra leap to true performance characteristics.

But it’s not performance most Lexus IS buyers will be looking for – it’s luxury and refinement. They won’t be disappointed. Cruising on public roads in various models, every kilometre was a pleasure. 

As for the burbling engine sound from the hybrid, it’s from something called Active Sound Control, presumably to counter the comparative silence of hybrid power. It can be customised or switched off, but we thought it hilarious.

Passengers would never know the snarl came from under the dash, and if they didn’t see the ‘h’ badge on the tail, they’d never know the car was a hybrid.

VERDICT

Given that few Lexus owners will venture onto the race circuit, we’d make the 300h our pick. It has all the prestige and luxury of the others, with phenomenal savings in running costs. And switchable joy sound.

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