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Lexus IS 2021 review: 300 Luxury

The new-but-not IS300 looks much better than before.

The Lexus IS sedan was, for many years, the backbone of the Lexus brand in Australia. Larger sedans came and went and the LS limo flew the uber-luxury flag, but it was the angular IS that really got people going.

We're now in the fourth-generation IS. Except, really, Lexus has a pulled a Land Rover trick on us. Take the third generation of a car, give it a thorough going-over and call it the fourth-gen without actually making any fundamental changes.

The new IS starts with the IS300 Luxury at $61,500. Spend another $3000 and you've got the hybrid option. You get 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, a hefty safety package, sat nav, reversing camera and a whole lot of good stuff, including a much improved entertainment system.

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What does it look like?

The new IS looks so much better. The old car had a lovely, low-slung profile, which is basically unchanged in the new car. But the bits where the IS wasn't particularly convincing - headlights, grille, guards front and rear - are now rather more so. 

The new IS looks so much better. The new IS looks so much better.

The engineers kindly pushed the wheels out further to widen the car's stance and the designers made the absolute most of that by really chunking up the front guards and sending the rear guards to one of those gyms where the guys struggle to get through the door without going sideways. 

The new headlights have a much cleaner look and now integrate the LED daytime running lights. The full width effect of the tail-lights accentuates the extra width of the car and now it looks properly sporty, even in entry-level Luxury specification. The only thing letting it down is meek looking alloy wheels.

The new headlights have a much cleaner look and now integrate the LED daytime running lights. The new headlights have a much cleaner look and now integrate the LED daytime running lights.

The cabin is pretty much the same as the old car, which is a double-edged sword. It's beautifully built, full of lovely materials, and it's a nice place to be but there's no real innovation. Well, I say there's no innovation - the new 10.3-inch touchscreen looks terrific and does help bring the cabin further towards 2020 while making the Lexus signature analogue clock look ever more naff, but you learn to ignore that.

How does it drive?

The great thing about the IS is that it has always felt a particular way, right back to the 2001 IS which was basically a late nineties BMW 3 Series with Japanese styling. 

Over the years Lexus has refined the way the car feels. The IS glides along and it always has. With slightly heavy steering, a smooth ride, and an engine you can barely hear when it's idling, it feels extraordinarily substantial.

The IS300 has a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder with 180kW and 350Nm. That's plenty of power to get you around, but it's the same engine from the 'old' car. 

The IS300 has a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder with 180kW and 350Nm. The IS300 has a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder with 180kW and 350Nm.

An eight-speed auto transmission sends power to the rear wheels, which means that despite the steering being heavily-weighted, once you're moving, it feels right.

The weak link here is the transmission. It can be a little hesitant to make a choice and then after the thinking time, sometimes makes the wrong one. 

Despite the steering being heavily-weighted, once you're moving, it feels right. Despite the steering being heavily-weighted, once you're moving, it feels right.

It's a shame, because if the engine and transmission worked better together, the IS would feel amazing. As an everyday car, though, it works really well.

How spacious is it?

Space has never really been the IS's thing. The rear seats are a wee bit tight if you're approaching 183cm/6'0" tall, as is the headroom. The big transmission tunnel also pretty much renders the car a four seater unless the middle seat occupant has tiny feet or is extremely short.

 The rear seats are a bit tight. The rear seats are a bit tight.

The boot is 480 litres (with the seats in place) and that matches the trio of Germans (Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class) who all say their boots are the same size. Be aware that the Hybrid version has 450 litres, with the battery pinching some space.

How easy is it to use every day?

The IS is a very comfortable, low-stress car. Most offerings in this segment are, but there's something about the way the Lexus goes about its business that easily makes it the lowest drama car of them all. 

The IS is a very comfortable, low-stress car. The IS is a very comfortable, low-stress car.

Everything is quiet, there are no loud beeps and everything works the way it should. It could do with fewer buttons - it's still pretty much the old interior - but the seats are enormously comfortable and it's all just terribly nice.

Access to the rear seats is perhaps a little trickier than you might expect, with an oddly-shaped and constricted entry. Happily, the boot opening is extremely wide and welcoming for your stuff.

The boot is 480 litres. The boot is 480 litres.

Front seat passengers score two cupholders which are joined by a slot which makes it handy spot to lay a phone if the wireless charging pad under the air-con/ventilation controls is already in use. 

The rest of the console is taken up with the pointless touchpad (the new screen is a touchscreen) and a drive select dial which feels lovely, but is unlikely to see much use in this version of the car.

While there are bottle holders in the front door, there's no room in the rears for them, but the centre armrest does have a pair of cupholders.

How safe is it?

To help you avoid a crash, and keep you safe in the event of one,  Lexus loads up the IS with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (with day and night pedestrian detection while between 10km/h and 80km/h, with cyclist detection during the day and car detection all the way up to 180km/h), active cruise control, lane departure warning, lane trace assist, turn assist (which tries to stop you turning across oncoming traffic), blind spot monitoring, road sign recognition and reverse AEB (up to 15km/h) and reverse cross traffic alert. That's a lot. 

Lexus is sticking with the five star ANCAP safety rating from 2016. Lexus is sticking with the five star ANCAP safety rating from 2016.

It also feature a tricky new feature that warns you if it thinks you're accelerating when you mean to brake.

For the kiddies, you get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether points to locate baby capsules and child seats.

Lexus is sticking with the five star ANCAP safety rating from 2016.

What’s the tech like?

The new 10.3-inch touchscreen and the media software system behind it are a huge improvement. 

There's a new 10.3-inch touchscreen and the media software system now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There's a new 10.3-inch touchscreen and the media software system now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The irritating console-mounted touchpad (with haptic feedback, no less) persists, but you can safely ignore it by stabbing the screen with your fingers. 

It looks lovely and the hardware is lightning quick so is a pleasure to use. On top of that, the system now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although annoyingly, that's USB-only despite the wireless charging pad.

The basic 10-speaker stereo is pretty good but you can get some Mark Levinson badges to go with the 17 speakers as part of the 'Enhancement Pack 2' which also features a sunroof, 19-inch alloys, 360-degree cameras and a few other bits and bobs that weren't on the car I had.
 

How much does it cost to own?

The IS 300 runs on premium unleaded and in official government-mandated testing returned 8.2L/100km

We had the IS 300 for a week and it spent a good deal of time getting around the suburbs but also took us for a pleasant trip to the Blue Mountains (around 120km west of Sydney) for lunch. Over the week it averaged 9.3L/100km, which is a pretty good effort.

The Lexus warranty spans four years/100,000km. It's an oddity in the segment because it goes for longer than Jaguar, BMW and Audi who offer unlimited kilometres, but it's shorter than Mercedes and Genesis who both offer five years/unlimited kilometres.

Newcomer Genesis also out-punches on the servicing front (free is hard to beat), the Lexus offering capped-price servicing at $495 for the first three services, which are required every 12 months or 15,000km. Free roadside assist runs for three years, too.

Lexus will come and get your car from you and leave you with a loan car or you can take a loan car when you go to the dealership. I've never met a cranky Lexus owner in my life, they seem to run faultlessly for - literally - decades and servicing never seems outrageous.
 


The Wrap

The new IS is a lot like the old one because it, uh, is. But there's a lot of new stuff onboard and a much fresher face on what was already a good car. It would be nice if the transmission went back to the way it was and perhaps the IS would be more competitive with a bit more space in the back, but you can't get away from just how nice a car it is. A rough and tumble kind of family might struggle a bit because you don't want to ruin the nice leather, but the quality is absolutely rock-solid, it's not outrageously expensive and nobody hates their Lexus.

I'd probably push on to the Hybrid for an even smoother drive or the F Sport for the sharper response, but the Luxury does everything it sets out to do. That is, look after you.

Likes

Lovely to look at
Smooth
Beautifully built

Dislikes

Indecisive gearbox
Tight rear seat
Ageing interior

Scores

Peter:

3.9

The Kids:

3.5

$63,500

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

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