Lexus IS300h hybrid (2015) long-term test review

Published: 02 April 2015

► It’s goodbye to our Lexus IS long-termer
► A real rival to the BMW 3-series
► Shame about the infotainment, ride quality

Month 10 running a Lexus IS: long-term test conclusion

The IS300h isn’t perfect. Far from it in fact, and once you start to list its faults and foibles you’ve soon run up an extensive list of niggly annoyances: the ride in F-Sport guise is too tough; the infotainment system’s graphics are woefully outdated, its mouse-style controller is tricky to use, the sub-menus are a muddle, and the lack of a postcode input for the sat-nav continuously irks; and the hybrid powertrain comes with a weight penalty but no obvious mpg advantages over a diesel.

Some of those faults will be easy to fix come mid-life facelift time, such as the ride. Our car doesn’t have the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension, but Lexus really needs to follow Audi’s lead, as it now (finally) lets you spec S-line models without the stiffer S-line suspension, meaning sporty looks but not the accompanying leaden ride. If you could pair the F-Sport bodykit with the standard dampers, the ride should improve – and the IS would still look mega.

Meanwhile, the mouse’s days are numbered, as a new touchpad is already in the NX SUV and RCF coupe – though I hear from Chris Chilton it’s better but far from best-in-class, so the sooner Lexus accepts that the rotary controllers of iDrive, Comand and MMI are the way forward the sooner it can start to catch up. As for the batteries, there’s little a term at Weight Watchers can do for the extra kilos until the next-gen IS potentially switches from nickel-metal hydride to lighter lithium-ion. Which starts the whole hybrid debate…

Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK

So, Lexus doesn’t do diesel, preferring hybrid, but our IS300h is heavier than a BMW 320d by at least 100kg, and despite the promise of 60mpg, has struggled to better 40 to the gallon. Some training from a man sent by Lexus saw us top 50mpg and get close to 60mpg, but the reality is a 320d will do 50mpg with ease, and soar past 60mpg if you drive it economically.

To counter that, the IS300h’s e-motor fills out the torque curve of the four-cylinder engine so it feels plenty pokey, the combination of electricity and petrol is smooth, refined and quiet, especially in comparison to the clatter of compression engines, and you never have to fill up from a stinky black pump. Ultimately, it comes down to your driving habits: just as living in a city, buying diesel and doing a paltry mileage is silly, so mega mileages just don’t make sense in the IS300h.

Having said that, the fact that our IS has racked up nearly 20,000 miles during the past 10 months is the real indicator of how much we all really like this Lexus. There’s no better looking ‘junior exec’ on the market and, short of an Aston Rapide, no better looking saloon, full stop. The interior is pretty cool too, with an LFA supercar-inspired rev-counter that slides sideways across the digital dash, metal strips you slide your finger along to adjust the temperature, windows that glide rather than slam shut, a reversing camera that’s stayed impeccably clean and shows a pin-sharp picture, and a gearstick that couldn’t be more perfectly positioned.

Pity it’s linked to a CVT rather than a slick six-speed manual then, but the drive is still damn decent, with direct steering via a great-to-hold wheel, a tight front-end (helped by double wishbones, one up on the 320d’s struts) and a chassis that shines despite the batteries in the boot. And if you’re not hurling it around, the seats are comfy and it’s a great long-distance cruiser too. Our solo experience with a dealer, in Milton Keynes for the 12k service, was faultless.

Essentially, we can’t praise the IS highly enough. The fact is its shortcomings stand out because the rest of the package is so sorted. The first-generation Lexus IS was brave, the second was bland, the third is almost brilliant.  

By Ben Pulman

The best hybrid cars on sale


Month 9 running a Lexus IS: we go back to hybrid driving school!  

Horrified our 36.6mpg is nearly 50% off the official figures, Lexus sent a man to teach me how to drive our hybrid IS properly. And you can leave your preconceived ideas there, as Steve Croughan (from DriveSense) has an E30 M3, didn’t arrive in a hairshirt, and wasn’t interested in teaching me the tricks of hypermiling either.

What is a hybrid car? Our guide to hybrids, PHEVs and plug-ins

Steve encouraged me to get up to speed quickly, and maintain momentum through junctions and roundabouts. That doesn’t mean driving like a nutter, rather reducing how much you accelerate and how hard you brake. Eg: the sooner you reach your desired speed, the sooner you can back off the throttle, then the e-motor can maintain that speed, and with the petrol engine off that’s where the biggest mpg gains come from. And if you brake early and gently, you’re off the throttle sooner, the batteries can better recover the regenerative energy and you have extra time to assess the situation as it’s everyone else’s behaviour that impacts most on how you drive.  

I managed 55mpg over a 45-mile route, and Eco mode (which reduces throttle sensitivity) had me nearer 58mpg. We’ve one month left with the IS, so it’s best behaviour until then.

By Ben Pulman

Lexus IS300h

Month 8 running a Lexus IS: meeting the first-generation IS

A holiday in Pembrokeshire, rather strangely, has demonstrated just how much the motoring landscape of the UK has changed during the past 15 years. Rewind a decade and a half, and the driveway outside the holiday cottage rented by the Pulmans would have featured two Mondeos and a Honda Civic. Jump to 2014 and one set of grandparents has switched Civic for Jazz, the others have a Mk1 Lexus IS, and mum and dad amble around in a Hyundai ix35. Japanese and Korean brands all, and one’s a crossover – no wonder Ford is struggling with its straight-bat range.

And what reason do any of them have to go back to British? The Hyundai has had two parking cameras replaced under a warranty that’ll run and run, the Honda never goes wrong, and with less than 50k on the clock in ten years and an annual service at the dealer that sold it to my grandad, the Lexus can’t go wrong. The IS is hardly abused either: it still has the instruction sticker on the cassette deck(!) and the radio has never been used. 
Not that my Lexus-owning grandparents were particularly taken with the new IS though. ‘It’s got one of those big grilles,’ said my grandma, and my grandad voted with his feet and didn’t ask to be taken for a ride.

Still, I’m rather taken with the Lexus. I just find it interesting, to look at, to be in, to drive, and one of the few faults (poor fuel consumption) is creeping up, with the last six tanks averaging 39mpg. That might increase further next month, when the man from Lexus arrives to teach me how to drive a hybrid properly.

By Ben Pulman

Month 7 running a Lexus IS: time for its first service

Whoops. The IS declared ‘maintenance due soon’, and with 11,500 miles on the clock I presumed a visit to the dealer was due at 12k. Unfortunately a visit to the owner’s manual revealed a visit to the dealer was due at 10,000 miles. I blame computers. We’ve become too used to the vehicles flashing up when services are due, and none of us reckoned the Lexus would need attention so soon. By contrast our long-term Jaguar F-type will run to 16,000 miles before it requires work.

I phoned our nearest dealer, Lexus Cambridge, the receptionist answered before the first ring, and although the aftersales team was busy, I was promised a call back. It never came, so I phoned Lexus Milton Keynes, who booked the IS in for few days later. I was offered a loan vehicle, but they had to cancel it 24hrs before the appointment after another customer was kept away on a family emergency.

Promised the work would take only 45 minutes I chose to wait in the showroom. I handed the keys over at 8.22am and was on the road again by 9am, along with a 10% discount for the inconvenience. And because I declined the valet, I was invited back whenever I wished to get the IS cleaned. Cost for oil and filter change aside, I left impressed.

By Ben Pulman

Month 6 running a Lexus IS: is it parking proof?

I sat, still tensed, in the IS’s supportive, comfy driver’s seat in disbelief. The car was silent – in Park, running in EV mode – but my brain was whirring. You know how it is, when your mind enters ‘HD Record’ mode. You’re taking in the time and location, noting position of your vehicle, and most importantly how exactly the monumental arse in the Citroen C4 currently removing his hatchback from the IS’s toothy front grille had managed to reverse into it in broad daylight.

My friend Ginny, perched in the IS’s equally supportive and comfy passenger seat, summed up the preceding 10 seconds rather astutely: ‘Has that actually just happened?’

Yes, coming just months after Stephen Worthy suffered a rear-ending (behave) in the IS, now its front has suffered a similar fate, hilariously explained by a similarly flimsy S.M.I.D.S.Y excuse: Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You. Or rather, ‘I didn’t check in my mirrors before slamming my car into reverse…’

In fairness, the IS stood up to its assault extremely well. I expected the intricate plastic front grille to have been shattered beyond repair, but in fact the only visual scars were a bent front numberplate – the IS, curiously, has a metal rather than plastic plate. Inside, the digital dashboard warned that the car’s pop-up pedestrian-friendly bonnet had malfunctioned, but otherwise the car continued to work faultlessly. We liaised with Lexus and got the IS booked in for a small nose job and a software reset. All told, the damage came to £1043.91 + VAT.

As I’m now departing CAR for pastures new, I’ll be leaving the wounded IS behind. Good luck to its new custodian – it’s a lovely if slightly flawed machine, but one that having been squashed from both ends, is now potentially due either a T-bone or a rollover incident. Drive safely.

By Ollie Kew 

Month 5 running a Lexus IS300h: comparing it with a CT200h

The Lexus CT200h should, having spent several months tooling around in our likeable IS300h, be a really appealing prospect. Yes, it’s a little older, having just been facelifted with the ‘spindle grille’, but you’re still expecting it to be a breath of fresh air for all those poor sods in their 1-series and A-class diesels.

Nope. I’ve run one for a week and, in no particular order, here are the problems. Inevitably, the hybrid powertrain isn’t as efficient as claimed, with a 40mpg test average compared to the claimed 74.3mpg. Sure, that’s better than our IS’s 37mpg, but the CT is much slower, feeling every nanosecond of its 10.3sec 0-62mph crawl. Then there’s the styling. While the IS F Sport is the most handsome car in its class by an embarrassing margin, the CT is so dumpy it looks like a Toyota Auris in a Weightwatchers ‘before’ shot.

Classy interior? No. Feeble pop-up knobs for the heated seats, a cheap, tiddly infotainment dial, and yet the controls you’ll never touch – for Sport mode this and traction control that – are weighted and tactile. At least it has the IS’s smaller steering wheel – albeit without paddles to stifle the howling CVT. Yes, Lexus has sorted the CT’s ride with a stiffer body, but the rest makes me grateful for the IS, flaws and all.

By Ollie Kew

Month 4 running a Lexus IS: the in-car infotainment system

So, Ben P signed off his report on the IS300h last month with a mournful thumbs up for its interior, doing its best to offset the car’s thoroughly un-UK-motorist-friendly drivetrain. And that seems a good place to pick things up, because besides cooing over the IS’s low-slung driving position and BMW-shaming material tactility, there’s some true attention to detail inside the IS – a sense of occasion no rival can match.

Normally, I pride myself on learning the geekiest intricacies of in-car features, largely so I can embarrass their owners. ‘Oh Steve, you haven’t tried the RS Clio’s launch control mode yet? For shame!’ But until I prodded the ‘multiple window’ button on the IS’s steering wheel, I was completely unaware its central instrument display shuffles six inches right in a motorised whirr, as per the LFA supercar’s trick dash. Besides the novelty, the benefit is opening up a larger ancillary screen for navigation, entertainment and trip computer readouts, supplementing the central screen. It’s a lovely piece of titillation that actually becomes rather useful when cycling through playlists or approaching a nasty junction.

Same goes for the touch-sensitive strips that change the climate control temperature. Stroke for a big change, or simply tap the cool metal to jump up or down half a degree. Sounds gimmicky, but it’s just as intuitive as an ugly rubberised knob, and much more aesthetically pleasing. What else would you expect from a car maker which slows the closure of its products’ electric windows so they don’t ‘THUNK’ upon sealing? A 3-series can’t hold a candle to it. Can anything else? Ask again in June when the new Mercedes C-class arrives in Britain.

By Ollie Kew

Month 3 running a Lexus IS: comparing our hybrid with the IS250 petrol

We’re rather keen on our IS300h, but its hybrid powertrain is returning fuel consumption figures nearly 50% off the official claim. Granted it’s not helped by spending most of its time on the motorway, lugging its electric motor and battery pack along at 80mph with neither able to do anything constructive, but what’s the alternative?

The Lexus IS300h on the open road

Enter the Lexus IS250. It’s the only other IS, but rather than a four-pot turbodiesel the engine is actually a 2.5-litre V6. So it makes a wonderful, sonorous howl when you wind it out to over 6000rpm, but struggles to return even 30mpg. Other downsides include steering that’s determined to constantly un-centre, and a knobbly ride on the F Sport suspension. It’s worse than on our own F Sport-spec 300h, so what Lexus really needs is to copy Audi, which lets you de-select the stiffer suspension if you’ve specced a sporty S-line model. Lexus also needs to copy Audi by offering a good diesel engine, but says sales won’t justify the investment. Sadly, as Europe is taxed on CO2 and we all want 50mpg and 500+ miles per tank, sales won’t grow until there’s a 2.0 TDI.

Pity, because rest of the IS is superb – it looks spectacular, feels special, and the interior is exquisite.

By Ben Pulman

Month 2 running a Lexus IS: a bash in London

Last time we left you with just how struck we were with the IS’s beauty. This month we begin with the tale of how something else struck us – a 54-plate silver Ford Focus. It can be tough on the mean streets of Mill Hill, especially if the 241 bus to Turnpike Lane pulls out in front of you. You put down the anchors, fine, but the fella behind? Eyes flick up to rear-view mirror. He’s not braking, he’s not braking, he’s… not… oh.

I was expecting to be presented with something a bit messier at my rear end. Focus Man had a broken reg plate, while I suffered some abrasions on the Lexus’s plastic bumper, and the diffuser-style rear valance had dropped down a couple of millimetres having lost a few plastic ‘pins’ on impact. ‘My fault, mate. Tried to stop but it was the ice, y’know…’

At least it gave us the chance to sample that famed customer service, which has Lexus sitting pretty towards the top of the JD Power satisfaction charts year in, year out. While it looked driveable, it needed expert assessment to make sure the damage was only skin deep. It was in and out within a few days, both bumper and diffuser replaced – well, we weren’t paying were we? No fuss, no head-shaking, no chin-stroking, just action. Or maybe I shouldn’t have bothered? The pearly white paintwork gets mucky just by staring at it, so the bumper contusions were hidden under a cake of grime anyway. Perhaps a couple of battle scars (okay, more like a couple of razor nicks, if we’re being honest) adds to the character of the IS. I say this because the general consensus among the CAR team is that it looks better when wearing a lived-in look. Beards are cool again, aren’t they? Please say they are.

One month and a further 2000-odd miles driving has allowed the IS’s talents and foibles to reveal themselves more fully. The tall, wafer-thin gearshift paddles on the unfussy, functional steering wheel put many others to shame; the sports-car-style cockpit feeds the impression that this is a driver’s car, something enhanced by the ride and steering. It’s supple and compliant at cruising speed, the F Sport’s stiffened chassis breeding confidence when twists and turns hove into view. Oh, and it’s surely not beyond other car manufacturers to provide two USB ports, as Lexus does?

Sounds like we’re in love, doesn’t it? Ah, not so fast. We have grievances too, some potentially deal-breaking. Firstly, the infotainment centre. And no, it’s not about the computer-style mouse and cursor, which you soon get used to once you’ve toggled with the sensitivity settings. Instead it’s the way it defaults to a homepage if you’re in anything but nav mode. Want to switch channels frequently or see what’s playing on the DAB radio or check track lengths when using your iPod? You get 10-15 seconds and then BIP! – you’re back at the homepage (typically showing map, fuel consumption and minimal audio info). You can’t lock it and it’s infuriating.

More seriously, we’re still returning 40% less than the official mpg. Lexus’s quest to do away with nasty diesels in the IS range and go all-in on hybrids (a token petrol engine aside) is entirely understandable given that their biggest markets by far – Japan and the US – are becoming almost puritanically stringent when it comes to emissions.

So, for a moment, just imagine it fitted with a clean, quick diesel, like the Germans have perfected. Looks and efficiency? Away with such rationalism!

By Stephen Worthy 

Month 1 running a Lexus IS: the welcome

It would be all too easy to waste 600 words introducing our new Lexus IS300h long-termer by focusing entirely on its looks. Unless you have ice coursing through your veins, who couldn’t be stirred by one of the most handsome devils committed to four wheels in recent years? But it’s going to take more than curves and a fancy grille for the latest IS to seriously challenge the pervading German hegemony of the premium compact saloon market. It not only needs to be better than its 3-series/C-class/A4 rivals but offer something different too.

How different? What about a hybrid? Unlike its Teutonic counterparts, the new IS has a modest line-up, powertrain-wise. There’s a 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine in the IS250, but the real headline-grabber is the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol mated to a 105kW electric motor that powers this new arrival to our fleet. That’s right – there’s no diesel in the range.

On paper, economy figures for the IS300h F Sport would suggest the diesel won’t be missed. Lexus’s official rating says 60.1mpg (rising to 64.2mpg in the IS300h SE), although there’s a ‘but’ coming here. My own personal but (oh, don’t be so childish) is that I rack up around 40,000 miles a year travelling to and from CAR towers, mostly on the A1. As the hybrid is activated only at low- to mid-range engine speeds and not the motorway lick that’s my default, there’s a danger the electric motor could nod off due to inactivity. Add in whining CVT and suddenly the absence of a diesel option looks like Kryptonite for high-milers like me. This extended, real-world assessment should help expose any folly in Lexus’s plan.

My last long-termer, a Mercedes A200 CDI, came with a litany of extra kit that bumped its price up from £24,745 to £33,425. That’s just £70 less than the OTR figure for this IS. We’ve not gone option wild simply because there aren’t many to play with. Bi-xenons come as standard on the F Sport, as does DAB radio and 18-inch 10-spoke alloys (shimmering in gunmetal grey). To that we’ve ticked the metallic white paint option on the F Sport (£610) and a Premium Navigation unit (£1995), taking the total to £36,100. Sounds positively conservative in comparison to the Merc, doesn’t it?

What isn’t conservative is the way it looks, both inside and out. In previous iterations the IS preferred to melt into the background, an exercise in milquetoast design that only showed flashes of ‘what if?’ when clad in F Sport kit. The new IS incorporates design elements culled from 2012’s LF-LC Detroit Motor Show concept. The spindle grille figures across the Lexus range but it’s at its most brashest in F Sport trim, dominating the nose. Those Nike swoosh-style daytime runners cut a dash at night too. It makes the 3-series look like its overdone it on the Christmas pud in comparison.

Inside, Lexus quality holds sway, all raised stitching, soft surfaces and piano-key black with a well-appointed, LFA-inspired cockpit. There’s a 70mm premium apportioned to the wheelbase over the model it replaced, adding 50mm in legroom to rear passengers. That’s unlikely to be the cause of too many celebrations in chez Worthy, as its main occupants are both under the age of five with their own seats, but the wife has already chipped in that the rear bench isn’t wide enough.

Dishing out lunch on the go – a bit like a mid-flight refuelling, but with more tomato throwing – forces her into contortions that may require a visit to the chiropractor at some point. Perhaps I should start saving now in case, but at the current rate of 35.0mpg I’m going to have to amend my driving style considerably to pay for it.

By Stephen Worthy

Stephen Worthy, the Lexus IS300h's first keeper, eyes our new hybrid