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Lexus is no longer the geeky new kid in the fiercely fought sub-luxury car fight. The premium offshoot of Toyota is now well established in this country and this third generation IS range has plenty of appeal enough for its European rivals to be worried.
The trump card for Lexus is the value for money story when you look at how much gear comes standard. The cheapest version is the 2.5-litre IS250 Luxury at $55,900, placing it well under the luxury tax threshold. The 250 F Sport comes in at $64,900 and the Sports Luxury, which we drove, is $77,990.
Jump to the better performing 3.5-litre IS350 and prices lift by between $6100-$9100, which is a hefty premium for extra grunt. For the true green believers there are two all-new 2.5-litre hybrid versions, called the 300h, priced at $58,900 (Luxury) and $67,900 (F Sport).
Pick of the bunch: The IS250 is surprisingly good and it's hard to justify the extra dosh for the IS350. OK, it's quicker but I reckon the IS250 is more nimble. The real surprise was the hybrid. It's nowhere near as potent as the others but as an overall prestige performer it ain't half bad.
The ageing 2.5-litre V6 in the IS250 is good for 153kW and packs a reasonable punch when stirred thanks to good mid-range torque (252Nm). But it's time Lexus replaced it with a four-cylinder turbo and one is being developed.
The IS250 and 350 both offer a choice of ride and handling normal, sports or sports plus. Switching the centre console dial stiffens the ride and firms the steering effort as well as changing the engine mapping. The engine is well matched to a six-speed auto with sequential shifting (complete with throttle blipping) via steering wheel paddles or the gear selector when needed.
The carryover 233kW 3.5-litre V6 in the IS350 goes two cogs better, matched to an eight-speed auto box but the car's extra weight negates some of the gains even though the auto is a slick shifter and has a wide set of ratios. The hybrid's 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric system has a combined power output of 164kW, returning a claimed 4.9l/100km, which we beat. It's mated to a CVT transmission with a six-step paddle shift if you want to change gears yourself.
No question the IS models stand out with their sharp lines and oh-so-bold face. Inside there's a quality to the fit and finish. The cockpit is roomy, although cars of this ilk are not overly spacious, and comfortable. Stretching the platform has resulted in good gains to the rear seat and boot. Top marks also for the design of the dashboard and switchgear and the IS's party trick is that you can move the speedometer to the right to reveal another set of gauges behind it.
Tick the boxes as well for one of the best audio systems in the market, heated and vented front seats, standard rear camera displayed on a generous 7-inch screen, digital radio, Bluetooth, satellite navigation, tyre pressure monitoring and push-button starting. Bugbears: indicators don't cancel quickly enough, my wife found the gear shifter slightly too heavy, there's a foot-operated park brake and while the seat backs fold to increase boot space, rear seat bases are fixed. Storage space is generous and while rear leg room is good the sunroof limits head room.
Five-star safety rating, as expected. Nothing lacking here with up to 10 airbags, smart brakes, blind spot indicators in the wing mirrors, lane departure warning system and a pop up bonnet that's pedestrian friendly in a strike.
There's little doubt the rear-wheel drive Lexus sets the benchmark. But there is room for improvement, especially extra punch. The 164kW hybrid is, as expected, fuel efficient we were returning a stunning 4.4l/100km without too much effort. Fuel usage is the IS250's weak spot, gulping in my road test 11.7l/100km for a mix of city and spirited driving. Room here for improvement. The IS350 has a greater thirst. On the road the trio all shine. The new electric steering is spot on although the way the auto transmission decides to overrule when the car is being pushed can be annoying.
Well designed, well built, comfortable and big on value. My pick: take the feel-good hybrid.
Lexus IS250 Sports Luxury
Price: from $77,900
Engine: 2.5-litre 6-cylinder, 153kW/252Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 9.2L/100Km (11.7L/100km on test), CO2 213g/km
|IS250C F-Sport||2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$35,700 – 46,200||2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250C F-Sport Pricing and Specs|
|IS250C Prestige||2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$30,200 – 39,490||2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250C Prestige Pricing and Specs|
|IS250C Sports||2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$35,300 – 45,650||2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250C Sports Pricing and Specs|
|IS250C Sports Luxury||2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$41,400 – 52,910||2014 Lexus IS 2014 IS250C Sports Luxury Pricing and Specs|