2013 LEXUS IS300H REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium luxury sedan
Price: $58,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 164kW/221Nm 2.5 petrol-electric 4cyl | CVT
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.9 l/100km | tested: 6.0 l/100km
In markets where high CO2 emissions are penalised to a greater degree than in Australia, there's a race to create cars that emit nothing but the cleanest exhaust emissions and use next-to-nothing but the barest drops of fuel.
While Europe still favours diesel in this pursuit (though EVs are gathering momentum), Lexus has opted for a different path: the hybrid road.
Its IS 300h teams a frugal petrol motor with an electric one. And it is different - not just to drive, but to look at and to sit in.
The individual and appealing IS 300h does things its own way in a crowded luxury market.
Quality: Inside the fastidious attention to detail is evident everywhere. The new horizontal-themed interior looks first class and the dash and door trims are covered in soft-touch finishes and finely-detailed plastics.
The assembly is first-rate. Nothing rattled, moved or creaked when grabbed, pulled upon or pummelled over rough roads.
The plastics on the bottoms of the doors are still a bit Toyota-esque and the metallic-flecked centre console around the drive mode dial looks a little scratch-prone. Those were the only gripes to be found though.
Comfort: Wide, with electric adjustment and trimmed in supple leather, there’s plenty of space and comfort for front occupants. Although a little firmly padded there’s genuine comfort for long trips.
The rear seat, although more spacious than the previous IS, is still lacking in a few dimensions. There’s plenty of leg and foot space, but the low roofline and sweeping C-pillar restrict headroom even for shorter occupants.
The centre position is for emergencies only - it’s higher than the outboard seats, uncomfortably firm and upright and divided by a gargantuan transmission tunnel.
Equipment: Standard features include leather trim, electrically adjustable steering column, heated and ventilated front seats with power adjustment, leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles and power adjustment, analogue instrument cluster with multi-function display, a seven-inch media display (operated by 'Lexus Touch', which is now easier to use) plus sat-nav and digital radio tuner.
There’s also dual-zone climate control, proximity key with push-button start and a reversing camera with rear park-sensors.
Additionally, the car tested featured the $14,000 'Enhancement pack 3' that includes 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, radar cruise control with emergency braking, memory seats, sunroof, LED headlights with auto high beam, auto-dimming rear view mirrors, powered rear sun-blind and rear seat side-airbags.
Storage: Boot space measures 450 litres, meaning the hybrid IS 300h loses just 30 litres capacity compared to V6 models. There’s also split folding rear seats for the first time in the IS for added versatility.
Cabin storage includes a compact glovebox and centre console, plus two front cupholders uncomfortably placed where passengers would ideally like to rest their right arm. Small door pockets up front with bottle holders and rear cupholders in the folding centre armrest round out the limited storage options.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The 2.5 litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine in the IS 300h is related to the similar (but transversely mounted) 2AR powerplant used in the Toyota Camry.
In combination with the electric motor, fueled by a nickel-metal-hydride battery-pack stored under the boot floor and charged by either the petrol engine or braking regeneration, and channeled through a planetary CVT transmission, it adds up to a highly sophisticated drivetrain.
Combined outputs total 164kW at 6000rpm with peak torque of 221Nm available at a lofty 5400rpm. Oddly, Lexus lists peak torque for the petrol engine only, with the electric motor capable of 300Nm (and 105kW) in isolation.
Don’t be fooled though, the torque-rich nature of the electric motor kicks in early, so it's rare to find the IS 300h wanting for more.
It has, of course, its hybrid-centric quirks and party tricks. Under light acceleration, and provided battery charge is sufficient, the car will run on electric power at up to about 45km/h (until there's a harder prod on the accelerator).
The introduction of the petrol engine causes a noticeable hesitation in power delivery, an odd sensation.
Otherwise, around town or on the open road, the combination is hard to fault.
Acceleration doesn’t ever feel as punchy as some of the Euro diesels, but the completely linear operation of the CVT gearbox can be deceptive.
Needless to say, overtaking or merging onto a freeway from a country on-ramp is rarely an issue.
Zero to 100km/h comes up in a claimed 8.5 seconds, just 0.4 slower than the IS250, and fuel consumption is an official 4.9l/100km though we recorded 6.0l/100km without a hint of hypermiling.
Refinement: The benefit of electrification is that the cabin is dominated by silence.
For luxury buyers the IS 300h offers sublimely smooth and quiet operation, particularly when EV mode is selected.
Unfortunately, the petrol motor isn’t quite as forgiving. It’s relatively vibration free at low engine speeds, but, when coupled with the rev-holding nature of the CVT, it can drone unpleasantly at high revs when accelerating rapidly.
Wind noise is almost completely absent too, with the only real cabin disturbance coming from the tyres - not too vocal, but in the absence of other distractions still a little noticeable across Australia’s widely varied tarmac surfaces.
Ride and Handling: The technical specifications read well; double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear end, the basic design of which is borrowed from the larger GS.
On the road the focus seems to be comfort biased, and, if not for the slightly stiff protestations of the run-flat tyres, the IS 300h would pull this off brilliantly.
Should the need arise to hustle it through bends, it performs quite well and without fuss.
The extra weight of the hybrid running gear is noticeable, but the weight sits low in the chassis and the IS 300h feels less nose-heavy than the IS250.
Braking: The IS 300h runs four-wheel disk brakes with 296mm vented rotors up front and 290mm rotors in the rear.
Thanks to the energy recuperation system, used to feed the hybrid battery, braking has a slightly inconsistent feel around town with mushy initial stopping followed up with an abrupt transition to friction braking.
Out on the open road the brakes feel more substantial, and despite the IS 300h’s 1720kg kerb weight, secure stopping from high speed isn’t an issue.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety features: Standard safety features include eight airbags (driver and passenger knee, dual front, dual side and full-length curtain) as well as ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, vehicle stability control, front seatbelts featuring height adjustment and load limiting pretensioners, three point seatbelts in all positions and height adjustable head restraints.
Also available as part of option packages is lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear side airbags and distance-keeping radar cruise control are also available.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km
Service costs: Service costs may vary, consult your local Lexus dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW 318d ($57,800) - Just a breath away on price, performance and fuel economy, but the 318d doesn’t quite match the base spec of the IS 300h.
On the road though, the BMW's dynamic handling and sharp eight-speed auto has the Lexus licked. (see 3 Series reviews)
Audi A4 2.0 TDI Multitronic ($57,900) - With no hybrid competitor in the A4 range yet, Audi also takes the fight to Lexus with a diesel model.
With enormous torque and a seamless CVT transmission the A4 is as smooth as the Lexus and a little more swift. Audi’s top notch interior also betters the Lexus for style. (see A4 reviews)
Lexus ES 300h ($63,000) - Even though it asks a little more money, could Lexus’ biggest threat come from within its own model range?
With front-wheel-drive and a lower engine output, the ES isn’t as dynamically sharp. But, if rear seat passengers are a priority, the expansive legroom of the ES could be just the thing. (see ES reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.'
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Lexus has declared its hand on diesel engines: it won't be muscling up to the European competition with a diesel under the bonnet any time soon.
Instead, with parent company, Toyota, Lexus has placed its cards on hybrid technology.
And, the wealth of experience shows. For relaxed around-town cruising, there can be few cars to match the refinement of the petrol-electric hybrid IS 300h.
But, as a luxury mid-sizer, the IS still faces some hurdles. Although rear-seat space has been improved, the swooping roofline and compromised rear seat make it a bit cramped for adults.
The way the CVT transmission operates and the slight hesitation in transition between electric-running and petrol motivation, also won't suit all.
But there’s something to be said for being different. It's well priced, and beautifully-built. The Lexus IS 300h is certainly worthy of consideration.
- 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