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Lexus IS300 2020 review: Luxury

The Lexus IS certainly stands out from the crowd. Does it have the substance to match?
EXPERT RATING
7
The IS300 is now the sole Japanese answer to the might of the three German premium manufacturers and Jaguar's XE. It's getting on a bit, but does the way it consciously does things differently still keep it in the game?

This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now,  and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.

Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.

The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.

Lexus IS300 2020: Luxury
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.5L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$59,340

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range. At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range.

At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise controlsat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.

The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply. The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply.

The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.

This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements.

Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.

The front seats are uncommonly comfortable. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable.

This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.

Rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders. Rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders.

Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.

The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.

Boot capacity is 480 litres. Boot capacity is 480 litres.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.

Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine. Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine.

You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.

How much fuel does it consume?   6/10

The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.

That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.

Lexus' suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, the best I could manage was 12.7L/100km.

Lexus' suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, the best I could manage was 12.7L/100km.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.

The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016. The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.

There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.

The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

4 years / 1,000,000 km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.

Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.

All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.

The steering's weight is light. The steering's weight is light.

The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.

But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.

The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.

The IS300 Luxury drives on 17-inch alloys. The IS300 Luxury drives on 17-inch alloys.

As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.

Verdict

It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).

None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.

EXPERT RATING
7
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption6
Safety7
Ownership7
Driving7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$59,340

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data
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