Test Drives

Lexus IS 300h F Sport test drive



SINGAPORE – Singaporeans, being ever aware of the rule of law on our little island, love to beat the system any way they can. Like grabbing an extra ten minutes on parking coupons, it’s a small pleasure of life that can be enjoyed by people of all ages or backgrounds.

The latest top model from the Lexus IS line-up will let you do just that. What you do is drive repeatedly around the offices of the National Environment Agency (NEA) then park and sit inside your vehicle enjoying the air-conditioning. Since it’s an offence to leave your car idling while stationary (‘other than in traffic conditions’, according to the NEA), the unsuspecting NEA officer will jump out of the bushes and, noting the fearsome atmosphere-wrecking appearance of the new Lexus IS, attempt to wave a ticket your way.

But he/she will have lurked in the heat to no avail, since the Lexus IS 300h is a positively conscientious hybrid vehicle and spends most of its urban crawl-time running on battery power.

APPEARANCE AND STYLING

Lexus has banked its edge, as of late, on increased sporting visual-DNA throughout its entire range. The LFA supercar is the most overt example, but the styling language has permeated into vehicles like the new GS big sedan, which looks fabulous, and the refreshed LS luxury limo and RX sport utility vehicle (SUV). The IS, as the executive sedan, thus gets the most of this treatment.

Even in basic form, the new car looks decidedly purposeful – that’s because its design is full of points. Jokes aside, design features like the big spindle grille, the separate ‘arrowed’ LED running lights, the car’s LFA-esque rear ‘swoop’ that bisects the rear wheel and the sharply-angled wraparound taillamps, all lend the car a decidedly sporting air.

The IS is sold with a 2.5-litre V6 in IS 250 guise, or with the IS 300h hybrid drivetrain choice as tested here. Both cars can be optioned with the Luxury package (which adds $20,000 to the price, more on that later) or the F Sport pack (which adds $33,000 to the price). As the hybrid F Sport model, this is the most expensive IS on sale for now.

F Sport bits make the car look more funky, with the ‘3-D effect’ grille, 18-inch dark alloy wheels, a body kit and a rear ‘diffuser’ albeit one with the tailpipes hidden on purpose, ostensibly to add to its subconscious goodness quotient.

PERFORMANCE AND EFFICIENCY

The new third-generation IS shares much of its DNA with its bigger brother, the GS sedan, and runs on a shortened version of the latter’s platform. Lexus is sticking to its drivetrain guns by offering only naturally-aspirated or hybrid petrol-electric powertrains, but the IS packs a smaller, lighter hybrid module compared to the 3.5-litre-based GS Hybrid’s.

In fact, it uses the same 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder engine as found on the excellent Toyota Camry Hybrid, but now it’s even more efficient thanks to tech like ‘D-4S’ direct injection, low-friction coatings and exhaust gas recirculation for cooler, more efficient running. Unlike previous Toyota-family hybrids, it only uses one electric motor (or ‘motor-generator’ to use Toyota terminology) which packs 143bhp and 300Nm of torque. That, combined with the 180bhp of the inline four engine, gives a system total of 223bhp.

It prioritises smooth, efficient progress and delivers its power in a measured, easy-to-use fashion. 0-100 in 8.5 seconds is brisk, but not really quick when it comes to upper-crust executive sedans. The forced-induction German competitors are all faster in a straight line, but if you’re in the market for a Lexus (and a hybrid Lexus, at that) then you’re obviously not just looking for straight-line thrills anyway.

It delivers speed like an intravenous drug, the idea is that the refinement and delivery are so gradual and well-paced that before you know it you’re in license losing territory. The thing is, in the IS 300h, you never feel it from the driver’s seat, nor while you’re paying at the pump.

Given the Toyota tech underpinning this car, it’d be a disappointment if it wasn’t frugal in real life. Despite our 35-degree ‘heat wave’, with the air-conditioning on high and even both seat coolers engaged, the car managed 16km/L over 300km of commuting and city driving. Even on short urban trips, you’ll have to wring the car’s neck to get anything less than 12km/L and in cooler, cruisi-er conditions 18km/L is not out of the question.

As with all ‘full’ hybrids, the electric motor is prioritised at low speed and the batteries run everything while at idle or in the urban crawl. Toyota/Lexus has made advancements in its hybrid tech (smaller control units, faster response etc) but the most palpable difference is in the seamless blending of electric and gasoline power – wear earplugs and your ass (or foot) will struggle to tell the difference. The newer hybrid system also uses the electric motor more aggressively – if you’re gentle enough, it’s in sole use up to 80km/h, and the system ‘coasts’ the car more often than before too.

If you really want to turn up the wick, you can engage Sport mode with the drive controller dial on the centre console, which wakes the drivetrain up. The whirr of the inline four isn’t exactly stirring, although there’s now an artificial sound generator (electronic, speaker-based) to make the car feel more like it’s packing a bassy V6. But given the IS 300h’s proclivity to relaxed, saintly driving, you’ll hardly need those features.

RIDE AND HANDLING

Sharing platform with the excellent new GS means the new IS could never have gone far wrong. The hybrid version packs a 192-cell nickel metal hydride battery beneath the boot (which eats into 30 litres of boot space) and so has a increased rear weight bias. This, according to Lexus development driver Yoshiaki Ito, actually improves the front-engined, rear-wheel driven car’s balance to 50-50, as compared to 47-53 in the IS 250.

You’ll certainly feel it when slinging the car through wide corners with good road surfaces. There the IS 300h is in its element and with lots of grip on tap you can carry lots of speed without fear. It’s less dynamically compromised than you’d expect from a hybrid sedan – the F Sport kit adds stiffer suspension and uprated brakes too – although it’s not without some niggles. The car feels heavy over certain kinds of bumps, and heaves into dips in the road. The steering (now fully electric) loads up great when chasing apexes, but does lack essential feel just off-centre.

F Sport adds a glut of equipment (see the Options box) and includes Adaptive Variable Suspension that you can activate via the drive mode knob in Sport+ mode, but given the hybrid’s relaxed ride quality and extra rear weight, it eliminates more roll at the cost of increasing crashiness a bit too much so the car’s best enjoyed in Normal.

ON THE INSIDE

The car’s lower than before, and features a lower H-point as well, so the first impression when entering the cabin is almost one of a ground-hugging sports car, although it’s obviously not as extreme as an exotic (or the Toyota 86, for that matter). The dashboard plus the central tunnel is pronounced, with a high-shelved feeling that lets the driver feel firmly ensconced in the vehicle, much like a sports car. The F Sport trim with red stitching, red sport seats, an F Sport steering wheel and aluminium pedals up that feeling even more, while the new ‘transforming’ instrument display actually moves to become a one-binnacle unit with an LFA-inspired white tach.

It’s uniquely Japanese with lots of square edges and geometric shapes all clad in high-grade materials, and pleasingly unique too. We especially like thoughtful touches, like how the central tunnel is bolstered so your knee doesn’t get disjointed during hard cornering, or the fact that the USB ports in the arm rest are backlit and have their own cable tidy.

Standard on the car is the Lexus Remote Touch interface and multimedia system, which is now fully controlled by the mouse-like (control scheme, it’s not furry) joystick and comes with all the expected features, like navigation and Bluetooth connectivity. While the system’s 7.0-inch screen isn’t as sharp or responsive as competing systems’, it’s simple and straightforward to use.

Luckily the comfy, bolstered feel of the front isn’t replicated at the back, as the IS has grown by a massive 70mm, to 2,800mm (the 3 Series has 2,810mm, the A4 2,808mm) so there’s actually space to stretch out your feet (although headroom is still a little limited), a huge contrast to the cramped quarters of the previous car.

EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

Cast your eye down to the options list and you’ll see that the F Sport package is almost too good a deal to pass up. $33k isn’t chump change, but the amount of stuff you get does go some way to transforming the car’s nature – we expect it to deliver even more of a difference in the IS 250. The Luxury trim gets the 15-speaker Mark Levison sound system along with the additional Blind Spot Monitoring system, while the F Sport doesn’t have those two features but adds a whole fleet of other stuff. In its basic spec the car is comfortable enough but we highly recommend any of the two additional trim options, if only for the cooled front seats alone. What’s impressive is that even in upper level spec, the car packs lots of features for a sub $300,00 price tag.

VERDICT

Lexus is making a loud statement but definitely not following the ‘Continental drift’ by sticking to its guns and taking a unique, more extroverted tack with its styling choices. The IS 300h looks much different but still has a quintessentially Lexus feel – smooth and refined in a straight line and now with a much more spacious interior and cabin quality. It’s dynamically sound too, although not the most executive sedan to drive around, the fact that you can get 16km/L (and a thousand kilometres out of a single tank) is still its main halo.

CARBUYER SAYS

A Lexus Hybrid for the new generation – radical looks, classic Lexus values and packed full of goodies in F Sport trim.

 

TESTER’S NOTES

  • The brake master cylinder and stroke simulator were developed with techniques debuted on the LFA supercar.

  • The Active Sound Control generates additional engine noise through a speaker mounted in the centre tunnel, and you can control the sound level desired.

 

PRICING

$273,800 with COE
$1,792 annual road tax
3 year/100,000km warranty

SPECIFICATIONS – Lexus IS 300h F Sport

DRIVETRAIN

Capacity/layout/valves 2,494cc/inline 4/16V
Aspiration/Fuel Natural/Gasoline
Bore x Stroke 90.0mm x 98.0 mm
Power 181bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 220Nm at 4200-5400rpm
Transmission Continuously Variable
Electric Motor 143bhp, 300Nm
Battery 1.6kWh (est.) NiMh
System Total Power 223bhp

CHASSIS

Construction Steel
Tyre size (F+R) 225/40 R18 + 255/35 R18
Tyre type Bridgestone Turanza
Steering Electric

PERFORMANCE
0-100km/h 8.5 seconds
Top Speed 225km/h
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km )5.0 / 5.0 / 5.0
(Hwy/Cty/Com)
Range/tank 1320km
CO2 117g/km
CEVS band A2, $15,000 rebate

DIMENSIONS
Length 4,665mm
Width 1,810mm
Height 1,430mm
Kerb Weight (quoted)1,677kg (avg)
Wheelbase 2,800mm
Fuel Tank 66 litres
Boot 450 litres

SAFETY
Traction Control Yes
Stability Control Yes
ABS Yes
Airbags 8
NCAP rating Not yet rated
Equipment Highlights

Standard

Projector headlights, LED DRLs and taillights, electrically-adjustable steering wheel, paddle shifters, drive mode select, keyless entry and start, cruise control

Optional

Luxury Package, $20,000: Lexus Remote Touch and infotainment system, navigation, Mark Levinson 15-speaker surround sound system, auto folding/dimming side mirrors, auto dimming rear view mirror, parking assist monitor, Blind Spot Monitor, auto wipers

F-Sport Package $33,000: Luxury package minus Mark Levinson system, F Sport seats and interior in red, perforated leather steering wheel and shifter knob, aluminium pedals, metal interior trim, Adaptive Variable Suspension and more stuff we don’t have space to include.

ALSO CONSIDER:

BMW 3 Series ActiveHybrid $331,800 with COE

With 340bhp and 450Nm to dish out, the hybrid 3 uses its drivetrain to maximise performance, mostly. It’s fearsomely quick and capable, although the mass of the extra components dampens the fun, so it’s less frugal and it’s also rather expensive.

 

Photos by Derryn Wong

about the author

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Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.