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 execs

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