Lexus IS300h F Sport review: the key to sedan survival
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Lexus IS300h F Sport
- Truly individual design
- Standout quality
- Slick rear-drive chassis
- Not the latest hybrid tech
- An e-CVT isn’t exactly sporty
- IS could be an endangered species
It’s a sign of the times that we’re no longer marveling at electrified vehicles. Now we’re talking about how advanced the e-tech in a particular model is.
On the surface, the new Lexus IS 300h F Sport is not exactly cutting-edge. It’s not a plug-in, for a start (the first Lexus Battery Electric Vehicle, the UX300e, is coming this year). So no Clean Car Discount for this IS until 2022. Sorry.
Its petrol-electric powertrain doesn’t even have lithium-ion batteries like the Yaris hybrid; it sticks with the nickel-metal hydride hardware Toyota has been using since the first Prius.
But then, the IS sedan is all about refining familiar themes, rather than breaking new ground. Essentially a major update of the previous model rather than an all-new product, it’s probably lucky to be here at all given the overwhelming buyer preference for all things SUV (don’t worry, Lexus has oodles of those). The larger GS sedan hasn’t survived.
In fact, the availability of a hybrid model probably has a lot to do with its continued survival. The 300h is expected to account for half of all IS sales in New Zealand going forward, despite the availability of some very whizzy petrol-only models.
And whizzy (technical term) the IS has always been. Perhaps not the obvious choice in the compact-executive world among the BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes, but high style, high quality and a beautifully balanced rear-drive chassis have kept it on the shopping list of those in the know.
It’s significant that this is the first time the IS 300h has been matched to F Sport specification, which brings dramatically different styling, a Sport+ mode, Adaptive Variable Suspension and a trick LFA-inspired instrument panel that slides back and forth at the touch of a button.
In short: Lexus wants you to know that the hybrid can be cool too. But is it really?
It does look amazing, from its angular nose to that delicately curved light bar at the back. Not to all tastes perhaps, but the most interesting cars seldom are.
As an executive commuter the 300h is really in its comfort zone. Lexus/Toyota has been quietly refining its hybrid system over two decades and this little Lex is really adept at crawling along on battery only power. Technically it only has the EV power to run for a few hundred metres, but thanks to efficient regeneration it seems able to keep itself topped up for long periods of time.
As a sports sedan, which is really the place the IS hails from, it’s also very impressive – with a few provisos around the hybrid powertrain.
The steering and chassis are brilliant – the latter benefitting from some customisation that comes with F Sport specification. It’s a very traditional-feeling car and that’s a good thing. You sit very low and revel in the communication between mammal and machine.
The chassis has been updated with the usual Lexus fanatical attention to detail. The track is wider and every suspension component has been finessed: new alloy mounts, 60g-lighter coil springs… even the bolts on the wheels are high-tech.
It’s a strong performer too, although the hybrid system isn’t anywhere near as sporty or responsive as the conventional petrol models. They have a slick eight-speed gearbox, whereas the 300h sticks with an e-Continuously Variable Transmission (e-CVT) that does the job in terms of efficiency but still groans and flares when you’re trying to have a good time.
You can address this somewhat by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but it’s impossible to disguise the gearless nature of the technology at work. That’s opportunity cost for a brilliantly smooth urban commuter that can do 5l/100km all day long.
The cabin is familiar, but stunning as always. Lexus has never made the mistake of populating its dashboards with parts-bin stuff from its parent company (pay attention, Infiniti), save some smile-inducing switchgear like the stubby cruise control button that’s been sprouting from the steering columns of Toyota products since the dawn of the automobile.
But the rest is exquisite and we can even now live with the fiddly Lexus touchpad thingy, because the latest infotainment system has a touch screen and phone projection. Which means you can just use that instead.
A sportier 300h is a truly welcome addition to the range. It’s not the most involving IS by any stretch, but it’s definitely the one that gives this traditional sedan the best chance of staying relevant for the next few years.
LEXUS IS 300h F SPORT
ENGINE: 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol with hybrid system
POWER: 164kW/300Nm (combined)
GEARBOX: Continuously variable, RWD
0-100KM/H: 8.5 seconds