2013 LEXUS IS REVIEW
What’s Hot: Sumptuous interior, improved cabin space and on-road performance.
What’s Not: Thirsty V6s, styling may polarise opinion.
X-Factor: The 2013 Lexus IS is better than ever before; it’s the luxury alternative to the usual suspects from Germany.
Vehicle Style: Medium luxury sedan
Engine/trans: 153kW/252Nm 2.5 petrol V6 / 6sp auto | 133kW/300Nm 2.6 petrol-electric 4cyl / CVT | 233kW/378Nm 3.5 petrol V6 / 8sp auto
Price: $55,900 (IS 250 Luxury) to $84,000 (IS 350 Sports Luxury)
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.2 l/100km (IS 250), 4.9 l/100km (IS 300h), 9.7 l/100km (IS 350)
The new IS range is confirmation: Lexus is back.
The brand’s aggressive new spindle grille on the GS large sedan last year was just the opening salvo in a comprehensive image adjustment for the Japanese automaker.
The styling of the 2013 IS range may raise an eyebrow for some - and won’t be for everyone - but there’s no denying that the new IS has ‘presence’.
And there are more changes under the skin. It’s now bigger inside thanks to a stretched wheelbase, and although the petrol V6 engines carry over unchanged there are new transmissions, a thoroughly revised suspension and a completely-new hybrid variant.
With eight distinct models spread across the three powertrains - not to mention two option packages, ten exterior colours and five interior colours - IS buyers have never had this much choice.
It’s the broadest IS range Lexus has ever offered, and - so it turns out - the best.
The outgoing IS range had an interior that was well built and functional, but also cramped and a little bit boring. With the new car, it’s anything but.
The multi-tiered dashboard draws on the GS and LFA supercar for its styling cues, with strong horizontal elements and a high centre-console that puts the ‘Remote Touch’ controller for the onboard infotainment system close at hand.
The seven-inch colour display is positioned high in the dash, and its graphics and animations are substantially slicker than what’s offered in other Lexus vehicles.
F-Sport variants go one better, with an eight-inch LCD display that apes the high-tech instrument panel of the LFA.
The tachometer smoothly glides aside at the push of a button to reveal audio, navigation and trip computer data; it’s a hell of a party trick, and one that’s bound to impress in the showroom.
Another thing that prospective buyers will find attractive is the standard equipment list.
Sat-nav is standard, and so is cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, digital radio tuner, bi-xenon headlamps leather upholstery plus heated AND ventilated front seats.
The base audio system has eight speakers in total, and Bluetooth audio/phone integration is standard-fit. Two USB inputs are also standard - handy if you want to pipe music from a USB thumb drive while simultaneously charging your phone.
Move up the range and items like blind-spot monitoring, active cruise control, lane departure warning and a moonroof become available, among others.
Improvements in cabin packaging have resulted in more interior space front and rear. The front seats are now mounted lower for improved headroom and a sportier feel to the driving position.
F Sport models also get comfortable form-hugging front seats, and equally comfortable rear accommodation.
Below is a 70mm longer wheelbase. The outgoing IS had one of the tightest rear footwells around, but now Lexus claims the IS leads its segment for rear knee-room, but headroom is still fairly tight.
A bonus is the addition of a split-fold rear seat for larger items plus a bigger boot. The new IS 250 and 350 offer 480 litres of cargo space (398 litres previous model).
Even the hybrid gets a more sizable boot, thanks to its battery pack being located under the boot floor. At 450 litres, the IS 300h’s boot is a respectably practical size.
ON THE ROAD
Lexus has aimed high with the new IS. It claims handling dynamics the equal of its European competitors.
It’s a lofty claim, but there’s merit in it. The launch route encompassed around 200km of road and 16 laps of the Phillip Island circuit, and we were impressed by how well the IS handled both.
Starting the road drive in the IS 250 F Sport, both ride comfort and road noise were up to Lexus’ usual high standard.
The Bridgestone Turanza tyres also gave good grip in the slightly damp conditions, but generated tyre roar on coarse tarmac.
The suspension easily absorbs bigger bumps and only corrugated ripples introduced any kind of fidgetiness. Unfortunately the electric power steering gives little tactile feedback, though it is nicely weighted.
The IS 250’s 153kW and 252Nm 2.5 litre V6 is adequate for everyday motoring, but is no rocketship. With 1645kg to haul it’s simply overwhelmed by the IS’s weight, and progress can be slow if you need to accelerate up a hill.
Making matters worse is the fact that peak torque comes on stream at 4800rpm, meaning you need lots of revs if you want to move quickly.
Happily, the 2.5 litre V6 - and the 3.5 litre V6, for that matter - sounds throaty and bassy when given the beans, so it’s not all bad.
It’s thirsty though. At 9.2 l/100km on the combined cycle, the new IS 250 is actually less economical than its predecessor.
That’s difficult to excuse, but hardly surprising given the IS 250 makes do with a carry-over engine and an antiquated six-speed automatic.
The IS 300h hybrid was next in line, and we were pleasantly surprised by how athletic this car felt. Its electric-drive motor generates up to 300Nm of torque from very low in the rev range, and that translates into better driveability and a more relaxed powertrain.
At 8.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint the 300h is 0.4 seconds slower than the IS 250, but the gap doesn’t feel that wide when out on the road.
We’re looking forward to spending more time behind the wheel of Lexus’ latest hybrid sedan, as our first taste suggests that for many IS buyers the 300h is probably the one to get.
But for enthusiasts, the choice will undoubtedly be the IS 350 F Sport. We sampled it at Phillip Island’s fast and flowing circuit, and Lexus kindly provided a last-gen IS 350 F Sport to compare it with.
We immediately liked it. Not only is the lower driving position great, but the eight-speed transmission that’s been pinched from the IS F is a far better performance gearbox than the previous model’s six-speeder.
Operated manually, gearshifts are done in the blink of an eye, and pulling the left-hand paddle executes a perfectly rev-matched downshift (it’s not as sharp and much slower to change in auto mode though).
With eight gears to choose from you’ll rarely find yourself out of the 233kW/338Nm 3.5 litre V6’s powerband, and although this engine is virtually identical to the old car’s donk the new gearbox absolutely transforms it.
It’s no slouch either.
Its 5.9 second 0-100km/h time is respectable for a car of its girth (although the turbocharged BMW 335i is 0.4 seconds quicker), and by the end of Phillip Island’s front straight we were travelling at a hair under 220km/h - just 5km/h below the IS 350’s top speed.
Handling and stopping performance is equally good, despite the comfort-oriented Bridgestone Turanza tyres.
The balance however feels a bit nose-heavy and will understeer if pushed too hard, but a sharp lift of the throttle will tighten the line when cornering quickly.
The steering is fast and accurate, and, in Sport+ mode, the chassis feels tauter thanks to the adjustable dampers switching over to their firmer setting.
Put on some grippier tyres, and the IS 350 would surprise some on the occasional track day. Maybe not as sharp as a 335i, but awfully close.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new IS range will be a winner for Lexus; each is wonderfully smooth, comfortable, and very well-featured, and, in the case of the IS 350, a potent drive.
The only downside to the new range is that both the IS 250 and IS 350 are now thirstier than the previous models.
But thankfully, the 4.9 l/100km of the IS 300h balances the ledger. For commuting, or highway travel, it will serve you very well indeed.
And, at $3000 more than the equivalent base model IS 250, the premium for the IS 300h hybrid isn’t all that hard to stomach.
But whatever powertrain you choose, the F Sport is the trim grade to opt for. It has the best balance between price and specification, and you get what we reckon are the best seats in the segment - not to mention that snazzy LFA-inspired instrument panel.
As always, there’s also the value advantage offered by the Lexus. Adjusted for spec, the price of every IS variant comes out way ahead of their German equivalents.
We’ll be putting the full range through the wringer soon, keep your browser on TMR.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- IS 250 Luxury: $55,900
- IS 250 F Sport: $64,900
- IS 250 Sports Luxury: $77,900
- IS 300h Luxury: $58,900
- IS 300h F Sport: $67,900
- IS 350 Luxury: $65,000
- IS 350 F Sport: $73,000
- IS 350 Sports Luxury: $84,000