One market that Lexus really ought to have cracked by now – with something like the Lexus IS – is the European compact executive saloon segment.

That's not because it’s necessarily the most prestigious segment, but because it has a broad spread of profit and volume suited to the aspirations of the world’s biggest car maker.

Yet in nearly a quarter of a century of existence, Lexus has failed to make anything other than a mild dent in exec buyer consciousness. The IS has been on sale in the UK since 1999 but is probably better known as Alan Partridge’s former ride than it is for its brief popularity peak in 2007.

The original Lexus IS, which had already gone on sale in japan as the Toyota Altezza, was introduced to Europe in 1999. With a front engine/rear-drive design, upmarket interior and sporting bent, the car was intended to take a bite from the German-dominated market.

The follow-up, launched in 2005, added better looks and the diesel engine that the line-up sorely needed to compete. This generation also spawned the V8-engined IS-F, with more than 400bhp and, in a world first, an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

This, the third generation, must overcome two significant hurdles to do any better. First, it must be counted as a true rival to the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-class and, of course, the BMW 3-series – arguably the finest all-round prospect currently on sale. No previous IS has managed this.

Second, it must accomplish the feat without a diesel engine. Instead, Lexus intends to court our affection with the IS300h, a hybrid destined to lead the class on its most important buying criteria: CO2 emissions.

We find out if that’s enough to put Lexus towards the head of the field.

Top 5 Compact saloons

  • The Jaguar XE - the big cat's new compact exec
    Jaguar's new four cylinder 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine comes with either 161bhp or 178bhp outputs

    Jaguar XE

    1
  • BMW 3 Series saloon
    BMW 3 Series is priced from £24,975

    BMW 3 Series

    2
  • Ford Mondeo Titanium 180PS

    Ford Mondeo

    3
  • The 2015 Audi A4

    Audi A4

    4
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class
    The C-Class shares a lot of its looks with the new S-Class, furthering its desirability

    Mercedes-Benz C-Class

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Lexus range

Driven this week

  • Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI S-Line
    First Drive
    26 June 2016
    The Audi Q2 is the German brand’s smallest SUV yet. Can it impress in production guise on European roads?
  • Ford S-Max Vignale
    First Drive
    24 June 2016
    The Ford S-Max Vignale is the company's premium executive express. Can it really be worth the extra over the standard S-Max?
  • Volkswagen Scirocco GTS
    First Drive
    23 June 2016
    Still a really fun and likeable coupé but the extra power doesn't justify the VW Scirocco GTS's high price
  • Ford Fiesta ST200
    First Drive
    23 June 2016
    Fresh from testing it abroad, we've just got our hands on the Ford Fiesta ST200 for a blat on UK roads
  • Alpina B4 Biturbo Convertible
    First Drive
    23 June 2016
    Alpina's appealing BMW M4 alternative arrives in convertible form with a more relaxed nature than BMW's M car but still impressive performance and handling