Lexus IS (2013-2020) Review
The Lexus IS is well equipped and the hybrid powertrain is quiet and extremely efficient, but it still isn't as good as the competition
Strengths & weaknesses
- Packed with technology
- Hybrid versions cheap to tax and run
- Stands out from a bland crowd
- Mouse-controlled entertainment takes some getting used to
- Hybrid impedes on luggage space
- Not as sharp as a BMW to drive
Lexus IS prices from £15,999 Finance from £315.58 per month
Lexus has come a long way since its distinctly beige beginnings, with a model line-up that now boasts some of the most striking exterior lines, intricate front grilles and tech-laden interiors on sale today.
Of course, it's impossible not to talk about the Japanese marque without mentioning its German rivals, as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW have long ruled the compact saloon roost, meaning Lexus has a big hill to climb if it is to win affections.
But there is a lot to like about this 3-Series, A4 and C-Class competitor, because its innovative hybrid powertrain is both cheap to tax and run, while its use of batteries and electric motor assistance means the ride is pleasingly quiet and refined.
From new, it’s only offered as a hybrid. The clever Lexus regenerates energy to feed the on-board battery packs via the brakes and by recuperating kinetic energy when coasting.
The result is a car that can silently creep around town using electricity alone, albeit only for a few miles, and one that delivers impressive performance without guzzling excessive amounts of fuel or emitting a glut of nasties into the atmosphere.
An official fuel economy figure of 61.4mpg betters that of the comparative BMW 320d, for example, while a 104g/km CO2 emissions figure is one of the best in its class.
Inside, the Lexus IS 300h is jam-packed with premium technology, particularly at the higher end of the specification spectrum, with sumptuous heated leather seats, interior ambient lighting and a large 10-inch infotainment screen on F Sport (with Premier Pack) and Premier models giving a real sense of occasion.
Even the entry-level Executive Edition models, which start from £32,900 new, come with parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, a reversing camera, LED headlights and numerous other toys that drivers demand.
However, not all owners will get on with the entertainment system found on top-of-the-line models, as it's controlled by a mouse-like joystick in the centre console that can prove quite irritating to manoeuvre, particularly when driving.
On top of this, the menu screens and sound effects feel very much like a Japanese video game, rather than a premium user interface, while the addition of pinstripe wood veneers and two tone leather fascia can make the IS 300h feel a bit old fashioned.
There are also a few oddities that could grate, such as the cup holders that are bizarrely placed towards the rear of the centre console, making the whole business of inserting and removing coffee cups a bit of a faff.
Plus, the boot is a slightly odd shape and the floor is raised due to the battery packs, meaning it can be tricky to squeeze prams and other items in without a spot of Tetris. The battery packs also eats into luggage space, with the Lexus around 30-litres down on the rival BMW 3 Series.
Interior specification sensitivity aside, praise must be heaped upon Lexus for trying something different on the outside, especially considering that the Teutonic rivals are slowly becoming fairly homogenous, but those machines from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW in particular are more engaging to drive.
That said, the IS 300h is by no means sluggish - it accelerates from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds - but the steering isn't particularly dazzling and the extra weight heaped on by the battery packs is palpable when cornering.
High quality fit and finish, a quiet and comfortable ride, the innovative hybrid set-up and very competitive price tags make it a worthy, if slightly quirky, addition to this sector.
|Tax||£155 in the first year, £130 thereafter|
Best Lexus IS for...
Best for Economy – Lexus IS 300h Executive Edition
The cheapest version of the IS has the smallest (17-inch) wheels, which has got to be good for economy, no matter how minor the improvement in mpg.
Best for Families – Lexus IS 300h Advance
Mid-spec Advance models offer a nice middle ground for families while also bringing in a sat-nav system.
Best for Performance – Lexus IS 300h F-Sport
While F-Sport models don't actually have any more power than the other models, it does get a racy bodykit and larger (18-inch) alloys.
2013: The current-generation Lexus IS goes on sale
2017: A mid-life facelift introduces more safety technology, an updated front grille, new lights and sharper styling elements to keep it looking fresh. The IS 300h hybrid is the only model now available to UK buyers.
Understanding Lexus IS names
There are five trim levels on offer, with the mid-range F-Sport models offered with various packs. Each trim level sees more specification added to the car and sees the price increase.
Body style Saloon
The Lexus IS 300h is a compact executive saloon with four doors and a boot. No other body styles are currently available to UK buyers.
There's just one 2.5-litre hybrid petrol engine is offered at the moment.
Lexus uses an E-CVT gearbox, which is similar to an automatic.
Lexus IS Engines
There was a time when Lexus offered all manner of engine choice to IS customers, but in a push to innovate, it has chosen to get fully behind its hybrid technology and not present anything in the way of diesel alternatives, or high-performance V6 or V8 petrol engines to match those offered by its more established rivals.
This idea of hybrid only could be a stumbling block for many buyers, but the recipe should definitely be tested before completely discounted, because the addition of a potent electric motor and some cleverly stashed battery packs equate to some impressive performance without the associated fuel bills.
Floor the accelerator and there is some unpleasant droning while the E-CVT gearbox does its thing, but it's generally a refined set up that will certainly suit those with plenty of long motorway miles to complete.
Unlike other hybrids, which can be plugged in to recharge, the Lexus works its magic under the skin and doesn't require the owner to do anything. There's no range anxiety here but the downside is a limited all-electric driving range.
In most cases, the IS 300h will call upon the electric motor when crawling at low speed in traffic or around town, while additional assistance is offered to the petrol engine under heavy acceleration, which is how the Japanese marque manages such impressive fuel economy and emissions figures.
The official acceleration time is pegged at 8.4 seconds and it certainly feels brisk enough, while a top speed of 125mph is plenty for most use cases, but don't expect the sort of scintillating performance that was once associated with the V8-powered IS F.
As previously mentioned, the steering doesn't offer much feedback and the additional heft of the batteries means there is a lot weight transfer through sharp corners. This is a vehicle more adept at comfortable cruising, so probably best leave the performance stuff to the Audi RS4, BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63.
0 - 62mph
Lexus IS Trims
Executive Edition, Sport, Advance, F Sport and Premier
Lexus has always been known for its generosity in terms of build quality and the levels of technology offered on its more basic models and there is very little change here.
The IS 300h Executive Edition, which starts at £32,900, features an advanced safety system as standard. This includes: Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition, Sway Warning System and Auto High Beam.
On top of this, customers receive Adaptive Cruise Control, keyless entry, heated front seats, a reversing camera and LED headlights, which is a far more attractive package than base cars from German rivals.
However, the small 17-inch alloy wheels, seven-inch infotainment screen and Tahara cloth upholstery don't do much to add to the premium image.
Step up to Sport trim and the IS 300h receives some additional trim elements that make it appear slightly more menacing, including larger 18-inch alloy wheels and black body addenda.
Advance sees the wheels drop back down to 17-inches, which is best for overall ride comfort anyway, but leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, two-way electrical lumbar adjustment for driver an Lexus Navigation are added to the mix.
F Sport takes the performance finishes to the next level with special sports seats, racier body work and bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels, but customers can also add a Plus Pack to this that sees leather seats, a power adjustable steering column, auto folding mirrors and Lexus premium navigation added on top.
A Premier Pack for F Sport, which tops the range at £42,400, sees all the racy additions bolted on but also introduces the 10.3-inch entertainment system and the excellent Mark Levinson premium sound system.
Finally, Premier models come with everything mentioned in the F Sport Premier Pack model above, but swaps the sports seats for more conventional (and comfortable) front seats and does away with the sportier body kit.
Lexus IS Reliability and warranty
Lexus has a strong reputation for solid build quality and good reliability, which is backed up by a dealer network that has historically gone above and beyond customer expectations in order to distance itself from the competition.
As a result, three Lexus models featured in the top 15 places of the 2018 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with the IS only beaten by the Skoda Octavia and Honda Civic to the top ten.
Sister company Toyota also enjoyed several places in the top ten, which goes to show just how well built these Japanese cars are.
Used Lexus IS
Thanks in part to their excellent record for reliability and notable customer service experience, the Lexus IS will hold its value much better than previous models, although similarly specified German rivals will likely be worth more on the used market.
This is great news for those wanting good quality, nearly new examples, but could come as a bit of a blow to owners wanting to trade in after a couple of years of ownership.
There are currently 7 Lexus ISs available on BuyaCar, with prices ranging from £15,999 to £22,485 for nearly-new models. The car is particularly affordable on finance, thanks to high residual values. Monthly finance payments start from £315.58 per month.
|Lexus IS: used car prices||1 year old||2 years old||3 years old|
Best for performance Lexus IS300h F-Sport
Best for families Lexus IS 300h Advance
Best for economy Lexus IS 300h Executive Edition