Hilton Holloway
4 December 2012

What is it?

This is an early prototype of the all-new Lexus IS. The IS isn't being launched until the Detroit show in mid-January so much of the car's detail, including the interior and exterior styling, was under wraps for this drive. The UK will be getting two models: a V6 petrol-powered IS250 (which is mainly for the model's UK private buyers), and the new IS300h driven here, which combines a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor and a battery pack.

This latter car is intended to be Lexus’s big breakthrough in the UK’s CO2-driven fleet market. Remarkably, Lexus is aiming to get the IS300h certified at "under 100g/km". The new car is based on the same new rear-drive platform as the recently-launched GS, although the wheelbase has been shortened and the track is also slightly narrower.

Lexus's engineers say the structure is extra-stiff, using 25 metres of adhesive, extra spot welds and a new technique called laser screw welding in its construction. The double-wishbone front suspension set-up gets stiffer anti-roll bars and softer spring rates (to try to improve the ride without sacrificing handling), and the multi-link rear suspension is new. The biggest advance is the redesigned CVT transmission, which finally eliminates the widely disliked mismatch between engine speed and vehicle speed so typical of previous CVT ‘boxes.

The interior styling is close to that of the CT compact hatchback. There are two centre console dials, one for the multimedia system and one for switching the chassis between Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes.

What is it like?

On the short track course on which we drove it, the IS300h was swift and surprisingly capable, with good brakes and fine stability. However, compared to the agile V6 petrol IS, the hybrid was slower to respond to steering inputs and was less keen on rapid direction changes. The extra weight of the electric motor in the nose and the battery packs in the rear are to blame.

On the road, the IS300h is refined and easygoing. It’s fluid on winding roads and has a decent amount of bite in the steering. The overwhelming sense is of effortless progress with a reasonable dash of driver involvement. It is also impressively swift to switch into EV mode in urban traffic, something other hybrids are reluctant to do. It was hard to be definitive about by the ride, which was excellent on smooth roads but thumped somewhat on broken Los Angeles concrete.

Should I buy one?

If you're fed up with rattling and thrumming four-cylinder premium-car diesel engines (which have generally become less refined since the EU5 regulations), the IS 300h could be a very tempting alternative to the German oil-burners. However, only when we establish the real-world economy and have driven it on European roads, and once the pricing is etablished, will be able to get a definitive answer.

Lexus IS300h

Price: £32,000 (est); 0-62mph: 6.9sec (est); Top speed: 140mph (est); Economy: 73mpg (combined, est); CO2: 99g/km (est); Kerbweight: 1765kg (est); Engine type: 4-cyls, 2499cc, petrol; Power: 240bhp (est); Torque: n/a; Gearbox: CVT

Join the debate


I doubt we will be offered

1 year 42 weeks ago

I doubt we will be offered one, but an IS250 manual would make an appealing prospect with the CT like interior and a GS influenced exterior.

Will a company user chooser prefer a 320d.

1 year 42 weeks ago

If Lexus wants to gain more than a few UK sales it will have to convince the user chooser company car driver, and the leasing company, that it is cheaper and more desireable than the benchmark BMW 320d fitted with the 8 speed auto box.

I've a close relative who has an IS 250, lovely finished car with all the toys but very high VED and fuel consumption. His fuel consumption is double that of my Honda Civic 2.2 diesel as is his VED tax.


Step in the right direction

1 year 42 weeks ago

Now that's a heavy car. The hybrid drive-train and the extra battery pack must be pretty heavy. If I were in the market for a premium segment car, I would give it a serious consideration. The fact alone that it's not a thrumming, noisy diesel, will make me a prospective buyer.


Hybrid is the way forward

CVT noise

1 year 42 weeks ago

If I am in a car with a CVT and I want maximum acceleration I would prefer that the engine goes straight to maximum power and stays there, rather than trying to mimic the sound of a conventional transmission.

As far as real world economy goes, it only has to beat 45mpg to better the average real-world economy of the 320d with an auto box. Add in the cost difference between petrol and diesel and i reckon it should be comfortably ahead.

What Lexus needs is a

1 year 42 weeks ago

What Lexus needs is a competitive diesel, because europe is diesel mad right now and I think without one the brand is going to struggle.  Its a shame because I like the Lexus brand, as it doesnt have the aspirational me first image of BMW/MERC Or especially Audi and Id consider a RWD Lexus IS with either a diesel or just a normal direct injection petrol engine.....

Europe is sloly turning away

1 year 42 weeks ago

Europe is slowly turning away from diesel, people are sick of the worsening refinement, DPF issues, the likelihood of ever increasing cost / complexity / reliability when Nox emissions regs kick in

Diesel was / is a means to an end, hybrid is another alternative 

And if you want a RWD Lexus IS with a normal direct injection petrol engine then you'll be able to buy one in the guise of the IS250

it will keep the brand out of market

1 year 42 weeks ago

 unless they put a decent diesel engine on it, it will continue to be forgotten.

no, there is no way consumers turn away from diesel power.

enterprises & fleets do not swallow hybrid-brainwashing by the simple reason there is no economic profit/viability on it.

...even Toyota admits it, they run diesel fleets...

Looks like a promissing

1 year 42 weeks ago

Looks like a promissing second hand buy.

Am I the only one who reads

1 year 42 weeks ago

Am I the only one who reads this and thinks they didn't actually drive it?


Descriptions of the drive are vague at best, and with Lexus' new sports mad mentality, one would expect "effortless progress with a reasonable dash of driver involvement" . The flaws or highlights are missing that anyone would pick up from actually driving any car, prototype or not.

My apologies if I am wrong!

Nose heavy?

1 year 42 weeks ago

I would like to see how the weight distribution compares to the V6.  Sure, you might add a couple of small electric motor/generators in the front but you lose an entire auto gearbox and replace a v6 with a 4 cylinder.  I suppose the real figures will be more interesting than the guesses in the data section.

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Our Verdict

The Lexus IS is a sleek junior exec that makes for an interesting alternative but lacks a decent diesel option

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