New Lexus hybrid is compact and clean way to let off steam

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The Lexus IS 300h


IMAGINE a world where you can drive a compact sports saloon with plenty of muscle and promising 50-plus mpg – without waking up with a diesel clatter.

It may seem impossible but a Lexus dealer would say stop imagining and talk to me. Because the reality is that the latest generation Lexus IS delivers all that, and a lot more, while saddling the world with a CO2 output of only 107 g/km and whispering away from home in the morning without waking the neighbours.

You could achieve almost the same effect with a Stanley Steamer – we saw a 1914 example go through its paces at the rural fair we attended in the Lexus. Watching the driver fiddle a regulator on the steering wheel before the car disappeared in a cloud of water vapour was amazing. There is a downside, naturally, and apart from running on paraffin the Steamer would also need a bit of priming and planning before setting out on your daily commute.

Not so the Lexus. Hop in (well, squeeze really, as it’s quite low), press the start button – and hear nothing.

The car comes to life without a sound until you press the go pedal. Then it either whispers away on battery power or the 2.5-litre petrol engine kicks in if you’re on a slope or accelerating hard.

Lexus has impressed with its hybrid models for many years but this third generation is the first IS to get the full hybrid treatment. It’s not a plug-in, though, so you can’t charge it on the mains overnight to travel on electricity alone during your commute unless it’s short enough to be a walk, which is probably what you should do if you can!

Cars in this sports saloon niche are intended to appeal to those who feel they would like a supercar budget but don’t have one. To help them on the way to their dreams, the IS at least gets an interior inspired by the Lexus LFA supercar so you can feel as if you are there while spending a fraction of the cost.

Inside the Lexus IS 300h

The new IS is even more striking than previous generations, with a front that could alarm other drivers who see it in their rear view mirror.

For a marque that applies great attention to detail, it’s disappointing that the lines of the bumper, front wing, and bonnet are a mess of corners and curves that don’t meet. It’s a small detail but once it catches your eye it’s hard to dismiss from your thoughts. It’s surprising as ever since Lexus brought us the LS400 in the late 1990s everyone has been amazed by the meticulous approach Toyota applied to its flagship range. In America, to describe something as the Lexus of its type means to attach the pinnacle of achievement to it.

We’ve always been Lexus fans but the latest IS 300h moves the cars up another grade. The engine might be a four cylinder but it’s incredibly smooth and virtually inaudible unless you opt to use the active sound control dial which creates engine noise in the cabin via a dedicated speaker.

Riding up front in this car is a wonderful experience, maybe a little hard for some but with enough glide rather than bump to suit most. Getting in can be a struggle as the front seats automatically slide backwards as you turn off the ignition. The driving position returns to its previous setting once you get in and press the power button. If one half of a couple is short and the other tall there can be a meeting of chest with steering wheel depending on who was the last one to drive. The rearward powering seat can also make life difficult for rear passengers who may want to get in and out while the ignition’s on.

Driving the car is a pleasure. The hybrid system ensures there’s always a surge of power when you want it. The 8.4 seconds 0-62 mph time and top speed of 125 mph could probably be bettered by some rival cars but it’s difficult to think of any giving the same combination of performance and economy as the Lexus that don’t involve turbocharged diesel power.

With diesel sales and residual values falling, the Lexus has found its forte even though it only brings a £10 per annum road tax advantage. Its financial performance will therefore still match its hybrid credentials.

Maurice and Annette Hardy

Car: Lexus IS 300h Premier

Does it fit your ego…

0-62mph: 8.4 secs

Top speed: 125mph

Bhp: 178 @ 6000 rpm plus 141 bhp electric motor

Torque: 221 nm @ 5400 rpm plus 300 nm electric motor

…and your wallet…

Price: £39,875

Combined: 61.4mpg

CO2 emissions: 107g/km

Best bits: Lexus doing it right

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